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Document-Based Question ­ Temperance and the Spirit of Progressivism

In the twentieth century prohibition spread by states passing local option laws which permitted local governments to prohibit the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages.  After an intensive campaign by the Anti-Saloon League and other prohibitionist organizations and reform groups, the United States government instituted Prohibition throughout the United States with the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919.  As you read the following documents think about how each document might be used to construct an answer to the following questions:

What accounts for the success of the prohibition movement in the United States during the progressive era?  In what sense was it a progressive reform?

Document A
Source: Carry A. Nation, The Use and the Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation (1908)

"The first thing that struck me was the life-size picture of a naked woman, opposite the mirror... It is very significant that the pictures of naked women are in saloons,  Women are stripped of everything by them.  Her husband is torn from her, she is robbed of her sons, her home, her food, and her virtue, and then they strip her clothes off and hang her up bare in these dens of robbers and murder. Truly does a saloon make a woman bare of all things! The motive for doing this is to suggest vice, animating the animal in man and degrading the respect he should have for the sex to whom he owes his being, yes, his Savior also!"

Document B
Source: Anti-Saloon League Poster (c.1907)

Document C
Source: Thomas West, a businessman, "Back with the Saloon as a Safety First Measure" (1913)

"There are three distinct conditions that demand special consideration, any one of which would justify refusing licenses to saloons seeking to be near industrial plants:  First, saloons should be kept back from all industries that have work of a hazardous character.... Second, industries that are called upon to work men at night time especially should be free from the danger of quarreling , trouble, strikes, and accidents due to the existence of near-by saloons. Third, all saloons should be refused licenses wherever girls and adult women who pass them must traverse lonely or squalid districts in their journeying to and from their homes."

Document D
Source: The Commercial and Financial Chronicle, a leading business periodical (1919)

"We cannot preserve either our liberties, our institutions, or our peculiar form of government, if we are to let the self-appointed guardians of the public weal seek the cover of general law for the purpose of obtaining their self-satisfying ends.  This prohibition measure and mandate is but one of these ends.  It is ... a theory of the proper social life.  In precisely the same manner theorists are seeking to control the individual life in commerce."

Document E
Source: Charles Stelzle, A Son of the Bowery (1926)

"It was the saloon that the working men in those days held their christening parties, their weddings, their dances, their rehearsals for their singing societies, and all other social functions.... Undoubtedly the chief element of attraction was the saloon-keeper himself.... He was a social force in the community.  His greeting was cordial, his appearance neat, and his acquaintance large.  He had access to sources of information which were decidedly beneficial to the men who patronized his saloon.  Often he secured work for both the working man and his children."

Document F
Source: Governor Ben W. Hooper of Tennessee, Speech Accepting Renomination (1912)

"When I appeal to the people for a legislature free from saloon domination, my appeal is not based alone upon grounds of temperance and morality.... No valuable reform measures of any character can be secured at the hands of a legislature controlled by the whisky power.... The saloon lobby will always be found in alliance with every other corrupt and evil influence that infests the legislative halls...."

Document G
Source: Clarrence Darrow, lawyer, Speech on Prohibition (1924)

"Now, I donít believe in encouraging prohibitionists.  There isnít anything that they would now stop at.  They would pass a law to make you go to church ­ as they have done.... They would send you to jail if you didnít do to it.  And then they passes a law against you sleeping in church ­ and that took all the pleasure out of religion.

I say that nobody in their rights senses would trust their individual liberty to the people who believe in that sort of legislation....

Now, suppose we admit, for the sake of argument, that sixty percent of the people of this country would vote dry.  If sixty percent of the people do not believe in something that the other forty percent believe in, should they send the forty percent to jail for what they do?"

Document H
Source: A Chicago Minister quoted in American Issue, a pro-prohibition newspaper

"Yes, deliverance will come, but it will be from the sober and august Anglo-Saxon south, unspoiled and unpoisoned by the wine-tinted, beer-sodden, whisky-crazed, Sabbath-desecrating, God-defying and anarchy-breeding and practicing minions from over the sea, and [it will come from] the vast and virile countrysides where the bible is not yet effete, nor Christ a myth."

Document I
Source: Residence of Prohibitionist Leaders Compared to the Total United States Population, 1910
% of Prohibitionist Leaders % of Total U.S. Population
places of 100,000 and over 
places of 2,500 ­ 99,000
places of under 2,500

Document J
Source: Occupations of Prohibitionist Leaders 1890-1913 and their Fathers
Occupations % of Prohibitionist Leaders % of Fathers of Prob. Leaders
Temperance/Social Worker
Skilled Laborer

Document K
Source: John S. Gregory, "A Saloonless Nation by 1920," The Worldís Work (1915)

Here, then, in an age especially marked by religious doubt and materialism, we have a movement... which represents pure religious exaltation.  Every step it takes it regards as an act of Divine intervention.

But the national prohibition cause implies more than Divine assault upon the Powers of Evil.  It represents an attempt of the rural communities to regenerate the towns.  Kansas is warring on the wickedness of New York; North Dakota and Oklahoma propose to purify Pennsylvania.  The liquor problem in this country at the present moment is largely a city problem.... Two thirds of all the saloons in the U.S. are found in ten states.

Document L
Source: Wet and Dry County Map of the United States, 1904 then 1917

Document M
Source: Frederick Davenport, "The Persistence of the Pioneer Conscience," The Outlook (1915)

"I saw in Minnesota a most unbiased and significant... Letter from a brewer in Oregon.  Oregon has just gone dry.  The brewer in Oregon was writing to a large brewing corporation in Minnesota requesting them to buy his surplus hops.  In the most straightforward and open manner he related the woes of the business in the West...  And these were the dangers against which he warned the brewers of MinnesotaÖ womenís suffrage, the initiative and referendum (by which the people start trouble themselves without intervention of the Legislature)... and, finally, the low character of saloon keepers..."

Document N
Source: Gordon Brown, retired businessman of Montclair, NJ (date unknown)

"Our attitude toward prohibition was fairly typical of the community we lived in. We were thoroughly sold by the Anti-Saloon League and the Womenís Christian Temperance Union.  We accepted the notion that liquor was bad for the economy, bad for the country in every way.  We were no teetotalers, but we were willing to give up the small amounts of liquor we did enjoy for what we had been told was the common good.  You might say we were motivated by a certain kind of idealism."

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