Progressivism and Prohibition – History and implications

Progressivism – which I believe is a key element and ally of Transnational Socialism (Tranzis) and which I think of more and more as “Regressivism” – has been an unfortunate and evil facet of American society and politics for a long time. Alcohol Prohibition was an integral part of that impact. (16 January 2020 is the centenary of national Prohibition.)

While usually traced back to the 1880s and 1980s, its roots lie decades before that.

We can trace Progressivism back to Alexander Hamilton (as does El Neil). But I’ll go back just to 1848, when thousands of refugees from the failed socialist-nationalist European revolutions fled to the United States. Among other actions, they formed the core of the Republican Party, promoting abolition (of slavery) as a cover for their Marxist agenda, corrupting American government and society. This commenced with the Republican victory of 1860, fracturing the Union, and then waging of war against the South. Again using abolition and slavery as the pretext for their vast changes in society. After the war, with Radical Republicans in control and Reconstruction in the South, the effort picked up.

It was not all their way, of course. Many attempts to “reform” government (state and federal), “modernize” banking, regulate business, and more failed. Still, it reached a high point with the Roosevelt and Wilson Administrations. Among other things there was creating the Federal Reserve, militia reorganization, the income tax, colonization of the Philippines and Puerto Rico, numerous interventions in Latin America, and direct election of Senators. It was NOT a good era.

What is often unrecognized is the close connection between Progressivism (their own name for themselves, regardless of their political affiliation) and Prohibition of alcohol. And in turn, the close relationship of these movements with the Social Gospel movement which drastically impacted American religion during the era (and to the present) – especially the Protestant churches.

The ugliness of the Prohibition movement is shocking.

Temperance movements had begun in the 1830s. The first legal restriction was in 1847 (in Maine). But the arrival and influence of the same people that powered abolition and “reforms” accelerated the process of prohibition.

Maine, (a new state split from Massachusetts by the Compromise of 1820 to balance Missouri’s admission) actually prohibited (1847) the sale of alcohol in quantities of less than 15 gallons – making legal alcohol a rich man’s vice. But Maine outlaw the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in 1851. In just four more years (1855), it was one of THIRTEEN states to ban production and sale of alcoholic beverages.

Following the War between the States, two important organizations coalesced. The National Prohibition Party (which still exists) was established in 1869. In addition to prohibition, it promoted many “Progressive” causes. In 1873, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was formed. Like many other socialist and progressive organizations with “christian” in their name, it was not very godly, but claimed to be and gained major influence among religious people. It also worked for other “Progressive” issues, and was an important sponsor of the Social Gospel.

In 1881, Kansas was the first state to constitutionally adopt Prohibition. Not yet degraded into a full democracy, people of the era felt it necessary to go to an “extreme” length to ban alcoholic beverages. (Unlike the later Prohibition of Some Drugs). This became an excuse for violent aggression against people who used or had alcohol, including attacks on saloons, destruction of booze, and more. Only a dozen years later, the Anti-Saloon League was founded nationally, and still operates today, nearly 130 years later.

These organizations worked tirelessly to implement change to American society. Federally, they succeeded in 1913 in getting the Interstate Liquor Act passed (over President Taft’s veto). This (clearly unconstitutional) law was an attack on free trade between states – it banned transporting liquor from wet states to dry states, and (to me) seems similar to the Fugitive Slave Act.

But real success came during the Great War. Congress sent the 18th (Prohibition) Amendment to the States in 1917. The Wartime Prohibition Act used the Great War as the opportunity to ban production of beer and whiskey to protect “war-essential” grain crops from being turned into booze.

The 18th Amendment was ratified in just 2 years with Wyoming’s approval in 1919. It was to go into effect in 1920, but Congress and the prohibitionists did not wait: the Volstead Act was passed (incredibly, over Wilson’s veto) in 1919: enforcement in advance of the Constitutional power granted.

Prohibition had vast, even overwhelming, public support. At least 29 states had already inserted prohibition in their constitutions by 1918. Oddly, most states and the 18th Amendment did NOT make DRINKING illegal: just the manufacture, transportation, and sale. Was this some little vestigial idea of liberty?

It was another victory for big government, for the “progressives” and for the nannies and the nanny state. Prohibition was a vast expansion of governmental power – and the 18th was a huge step “forward” for FedGov power to meddle in the daily lives and liberty of the people.

It should come as no surprise that it all went bad and wrong very quickly. But that is a discussion we are all familiar with. In some future commentaries I plan to discuss both the Social Gospel and the collapse of alcohol Prohibition.

We need to learn the lessons we can from historical disasters like this. The problems with alcoholism and drunkenness and consumption of alcohol were real. Solutions were (and are) needed, but using government power to try and solve these problems was doomed from the start. And it only took about three-quarters of a century to demonstrate that.

Afterword: I should point out that I do not (never have) consume alcoholic beverages. My consumption of ethanol (grain alcohol) has been limited to medicines – and I HATE taking medicine. I also believe that alcohol consumption – especially in excess – is wrong and damages body and soul. But that is NOT the same as believing that such should be outlawed, or that alcohol should be controlled or banned by government.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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3 Responses to Progressivism and Prohibition – History and implications

  1. Pingback: Glibertarians | Despite All My Rage

  2. Pingback: Progressivism and new prohibitions – implications for the future | The Price of Liberty

  3. Pingback: Progressivism and Prohibition – the awful aftermath | The Price of Liberty

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