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16 The End of the Beginning:National Prohibition
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The End of the Beginning:National Prohibition

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, forbidding all trade in alcoholic beverages, was ratified in January 1919; a year later national Prohibition went into effect. It remained in effect until the amendment was repealed in December 1933. For the fourteen years of Prohibition the wine industry, like the beer trade and the distilled spirits trade, was legally ended.[1] As it turned out, the measure intended to kill Demon Rum[2] in this country managed to give it hardly more than a flesh wound. Liquor of all kinds continued to be made by one means or another, and people, perhaps in larger numbers than ever before, continued to drink liquor of all kinds. Yet the interruption to the normal growth and functioning of winegrowing in this country had disruptive and destructive effects that are still being felt and will continue to be felt for as long as one can foresee.

It is often said, or suggested, that Prohibition was the result of a sudden aberration in the American public, something that came out of the dislocations of World War I. On this view, it was an unlucky accident rather than an expression of any important tendencies in our national life. That view is quite wrong. A little history will help us to understand what happened.

The ideal of temperance is perennial and permanent, as old as morality itself. It is an ethical ideal, to be achieved, if at all, by the inner will of the individual, acting freely. It is inclusive rather than exclusive, judicious rather than violent, permissive rather than dogmatic, complex rather than simple. It is also very difficult to achieve. Prohibition is everything that temperance is not: exclusive, violent, dog-


matic, and simple. It is achieved, if at all, not by the free consent of the individual, but by the communal imposition of external control. It, too, is very difficult to achieve. The story of this chapter is, in part, of how the American temperance movement turned into the prohibition movement, or, in other words, how the campaign to reform the individual drinker became a campaign to control the producers and sellers of drink.

Before the nineteenth century there were, of course, many advocates of temperance in drink, but they appeared intermittently, were unorganized, had no program, and can hardly be described as constituting a movement. Their typical plea was not for abstinence from drink but for decent moderation, not only in drink but in all sensual indulgence. In secular thought, Aristotle was the great authority for the ethical doctrine of "nothing too much." For the essentially Protestant culture of the United States, there were many authorities from the churches to provide the same counsel. It is a mistake to think that Christian temperance had anything austerely and rigidly prohibitory about it. Even the stern and unbending Calvin held that the pleasures of food and drink were given to us by God for our enjoyment, an evidence of divine benevolence not to be despised but welcomed. The Puritans, whose example was so powerful in the formation of early American cultural life, would have stared at the idea of prohibiting alcoholic drink. The greatest poet of the Puritan tradition, John Milton, praised wine; its greatest popular writer, John Bunyan, held that the Bible approved alcoholic drink. More practically, as we have already seen, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay planted vineyards for wine almost as soon as they had set foot on dry land: no doubt they had the scriptural precedent of Noah in mind, without necessarily meaning to imitate him in detail. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist communion in the eighteenth century, was in fact a prohibitionist so far as distilled spirits were concerned; the vastly increased production and consumption of gin and other spirits in Wesley's day had given a new character and scope to drunkenness. But Wesley had no idea of preaching, much less enforcing, total abstinence.[3] The first Methodist bishop in the United States, Francis Asbury, followed Wesley in preaching against hard liquor, but, like Wesley, never thought of suggesting prohibitory laws.[4]

Apart from the spiritual idea of moderation, there were arguments for temperance based on purely physiological grounds. The most influential of these was set forth by the distinguished Philadelphia physician, scientist, and patriot Benjamin Rush in a widely influential essay called "An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body," published in 1784. "Spirituous Liquors" especially rum and whiskey—were cheap and abundant in late eighteenth-century America: rum came from New England, where the molasses to make it from came. as part of the traffic in slave trading. Whiskey came from the corn fields of the western states, whiskey being a concentrated, portable, and saleable form of a corr crop otherwise difficult and expensive to transport to distant markets. In a society where whiskey and rum were everywhere available, and everywhere cheap, there was plenty of evidence of their destructive effect. The poor Indians, especially, had


been devastated by firewater, and there were prohibitory laws passed to protect the Indians long before they were enacted for the whites.[5]

But one did not need to look to the Indians to find disease and social suffering produced by addiction to hard liquor. A generation of travellers and commentators on the American scene had noted the native style of excess in drink before Dr. Rush produced his essay, in which he took up and developed an already familiar theme. With zealous exaggeration, Rush attributed almost every physical malady and social problem to the abuse of strong drink: falsehood, fraud, theft, uncleanliness, and murder, as well as yellow fever, jaundice, dropsy, diabetes, gout, epilepsy, gangrene, and madness all flowed from strong waters.

The most vivid part of Rush's pamphlet was his scheme of a "moral thermometer," measuring the different degrees of moral and physical sickness caused by increasingly strong drink. Thus "toddy" would produce, on the moral side, "peevishness," and, on the physical, "tremors"; "grog," a stronger drink, led morally to "fighting" and physically to "bloatedness." The poor sinner who had progressed through grog, flip, and morning drams to the ultimate tipple of "pepper in rum" would find fraud, anarchy, and murder in his path, with the gallows at the end. But all of this extravagant denunciation was aimed against spirits. So far from prohibiting the temperate use of wine, Dr. Rush actually prescribed it for health and longevity. He was, we may remember, one of the investors in Legaux's Pennsylvania Vine Company, which was to be a source of wholesome wine to the new republic. "It must be a bad heart, indeed," Dr. Rush wrote in his "Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors," "that is not rendered more cheerful and more generous by a few glasses of wine."

The principal ideas of the temperance movement are the two just described: first, the spiritual idea of the general virtue of moderation; and second, the secular idea of the physiological healthfulness of moderation in drink. Most of the early American temperance movements are clearly based on one or the other, or most often on both of these ideas, with varying degrees of religious sanction and clerical support behind them. The churches were associated from a very early period with temperance in America; but one must not think that the movement originated with the churches or that it in any way depended on them for its essential principles—not, at any rate, at first. In time, it is true, fundamentalist Protestantism and tee-totalism became almost indistinguishable, but it is only an accident of our culture that the morality of bone-dry prohibition and of fundamentalist Christianity should have been so mixed up as they were, especially in the South and Midwest.[6] Biblical teaching is patently unclear and divided on the subject of alcoholic drink, and there have always been at least some churchmen candid enough to admit that there is nothing biblical about prohibition nor any demonstrable connection between abstinence and piety.

Who was "first" among organized American temperance groups is disputed, and is probably not a very important question anyway, since the early organized groups were not the causes of the temperance movement but were themselves the


response to a feeling spread through the community at large. One of the very earliest of such groups was founded in 1808, at Moreau in upstate New York, under the inspiration of a local doctor. They called themselves the Union Temperate Society and had only a local purpose in mind; that is, by subscribing to a set of rules and by holding regular meetings, to help their members to do without strong drink. True to their name, the Temperate Society aimed at temperance rather than at strict abstinence. Hard liquor was prohibited, but wine and beer were not. A system of modest fines was the only safeguard against the dangers of backsliding.[7] Though the Moreau society did not remain active very long, it struck a responsive chord and was widely imitated in other communities of the Northeast. The purely secular and purely voluntary character of this early model are worth noting.

A rather different sort of model was created not far away and at about the same time. This was the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance, organized in 1813 by clergymen in Boston. It differed from the Union Temperate Society in two evident ways: its scope was statewide rather than local, and its direction was not in the hands of members who sought mutual support against their own weakness but of professional moralists who were bent on public reform.[8] The name of the society echoes those of the many reforming societies founded by the Evangelicals in England in this same period of intense reforming sentiment: the Anti-Slavery Society is the best known, but it was accompanied by a swarm of others, all christened after the same ungainly fashion: the Society for the Suppression of Vice, the Society for the Suppression of Mendicancy, the Society for the Suppression of Sabbath Travel, the Society for the Suppression of Blasphemy, and so on and on. The Massachusetts society also resembled its transatlantic models in another important particular. Like them, it was not content to work on individuals by moral suasion; it was out to change the laws. The main object of attack was hard liquor rather than wine and beer, so it was not devoted to total abstinence. But its concern with legislative means put it much closer to the later tendencies of the prohibition movement than were the easy-going and individualistic methods of the Union Temperate Society.

The Massachusetts society had its first legislative triumph in 1838 (by that time the original society had been several times reorganized and rechristened as it grew in strength and numbers); in that year the state of Massachusetts passed a law requiring the purchaser of spirits to buy not less than fifteen gallons at a time and to take his purchase off the premises.[9] Though this obstructive law was quickly removed from the books, it deserves notice as an early piece of prohibition law in this country. It was, despite its own brief life, a portent of the future. At the risk of being tedious, one may repeat that beer and wine were still not included among the objects of this kind of attack.

Whether by persuasive or by coercive means, the temperance people had much to do in the first third of the nineteenth century. All testimony agrees that this was a period of appalling public drunkenness in the United States. In the phrase of the


Reverend Lyman Beecher, one of the first and most prominent clergymen to advocate prohibition, Americans were "a generation of drunkards."[10] Beecher was no doubt exaggerating, but such statistics as we have give some color to his assertion. In 1810, for example, there were more than 14,000 distilleries reported in the United States; their production was estimated to be in excess of 33,000,000 gallons, a figure yielding a per capita consumption of spirits of 4.7 gallons.[11] In 1823, per capita consumption was put at 7.5 gallons.[12] By way of comparison, per capita consumption of distilled spirits in the United States in 1985 was 2.54 gallons.[13]

In early nineteenth-century America drinking was a part, and a large part, of almost every social occasion, sacred or profane: dances, barn raisings, weddings, militia meetings, elections, funerals, husking bees, college commencements, log rollings, ordinations, or "any other reason why," as the old song puts it, were occasions for breaking out the jugs. In the North some of those jugs would be filled with cider; in the South, with peach brandy; but North or South, rum and whiskey were sure to be in plenty. Beer was not a common general drink in the early re-public—it had to wait on the large German immigrations after 1848.[14] And wine was even less common than beer. But distilled spirits were available everywhere. They were largely untaxed; the Jeffersonians had repealed Hamilton's modest whiskey tax in 1802, and except for a wartime tax from 1813 to 1817, whiskey and other spirits were tax-free commodities until the Civil War. In 1860 the average retail price of whiskey was 30 cents a gallon.[15] The combination of cheapness and availability would seem to be a sufficient explanation for the notorious American habit of heavy spirit drinking, though students of the subject have suggested any number of other reasons as well: the anxieties of pioneer life, for example, or the self-conscious spirit of democracy, which compelled a noisy, boozy, gregariousness even on those who would gladly have done without it. Whatever the reasons, the fact was clear to all: that Americans drank heavily and they drank hard stuff.

The style of much early temperance activity was to offer a kind of counter-attraction to the pleasures of social drinking. Meetings at which lectures were given and at which a kind of revivalist fervor could be enjoyed in the hearing of confessions and the receiving of pledges were the staple entertainment. Such groups as the Washington Temperance Society, founded in Baltimore in 1840, added the attractions of brass bands, parades, uniforms, and mass meetings to the business of redeeming the drunkard.[16] Another way that temperance societies could distract their members from the temptations of drink was to imitate the secret and fraternal societies, complete with oaths, rituals, regalia, degrees, honors, and mutual benefits. The Sons of Temperance, the Templars of Honor and Temperance, the Independent Order of Rechabites, the Independent Order of Good Templars, and others, all took this route.[17] For all of the temperance societies, whether open or secret, exclusive or comprehensive, the main means of enforcement was simply the Pledge. This had various forms, a familiar instance of which ran thus: "I hereby pledge myself, God being my helper, to abstain from the use of intoxicating liquors


A late form of the temperance Pledge, probably from 1917 or 1918, by which time most of the loopholes
 had been closed and the commitment required was complete, though still quite voluntary. (From  The 
Temperance Songbook

(including wine and cider), except in cases of necessity."[18] The only sanction for the pledge was the individual's uncoerced consent, however much that might be supported by solemn public profession in company with crowds of other penitents.

With no punishment beyond the guilt of the sinner, one may readily imagine that backsliding went on wholesale. Huck Finn's Pap illustrates the deplorable pattern: after tearfully taking the pledge at the new judge's house, Pap feels himself powerful thirsty in the night, gets hold of a jug of forty-rod, has a high old time, falls off the porch, and breaks his arm. When they find him in the morning he is nearly frozen to death. As for the new judge, "he felt kind of sore. He said he reckoned a body could reform the old man with a shot-gun, maybe, but he didn't know no other way."[19]

The judge's conclusion neatly summarizes what actually happened: if free will did not work, perhaps force would. Huck Finn's Pap was a low-down sort of human being, but there were enough who were not so very different from him to make the sterner reformers despair of any movement that depended on voluntary participation and that permitted any sort of indulgence—as in that saving clause of the pledge, "except in cases of necessity." The ultras in the temperance movement wanted legal compulsion, and they wanted total abstinence. Both of these ideas came into prominence in the 1830s, after a generation of temperance agitation seemed to have made no important difference to the drinking habits of the nation. It is interesting to note that in both England and the United States this development took place at about the same time. Teetotalism is in fact a word of English coinage,[20] expressing a sort of logic of despair. Since experience had shown that


people who drank no spirits might still get drunk on beer and wine, and that people who drank no beer or wine might still get drunk on spirits, the only conclusion was total abstinence from alcohol, not moderation or temperance. And the prohibition should be binding on all, not just upon the weaker brethren.

A national temperance organization had been created in 1833 through the cooperation of dozens of county and state groups (the American Temperance Union, it was called), but it soon split apart on the rocks created by the extremist doctrines of legal prohibition and teetotalism.[21] As the conservative and moderate elements departed over these issues, control of the national organization passed to the ultras. Hereafter the story of prohibition in this country is the story of the successive legislative victories gained by the ultras—let us call them the Drys—working through a variety of organizations.

The first wave of laws passed in response to this pressure came in the 1840s: Portland, Maine, voted itself Dry in 1843, the first American city to do so; in 1844, the remote Oregon Territory passed a law forbidding the sale of spirits—striking evidence, on that distant frontier, of the general spread of prohibitionist sentiment. The most important and most publicized early legislation was the passage of a law prohibiting all intoxicating liquors in Maine in 1851.[22] The "Maine Law," as it was called, became the model for convinced prohibitionists throughout the country and the leading exhibit of American intolerance to liberals throughout the world—John Stuart Mill, for example, gravely condemned it in his classic essay On Liberty .[23] The Maine Law was quickly followed by similar laws all over the Union—Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Nebraska Territory all followed suit in the next four years.[24] So did many smaller localities. Evanston, Illinois, for example, declared itself Dry from the very moment of its founding in 1855.[25]

These victories were, for the time at any rate, more apparent than real. It was comparatively easy to pass legislation that put an end to public drinking. It was quite another thing to enforce the legislation. The fact that liquor had been prohibited in state after state did not mean that people stopped making it, selling it, and drinking it. Whatever the law might say, where there were few means for enforcing it and even less will to do so, people went on doing what they wanted. Between 1850 and 1860, while the legislative triumphs of the prohibitionists were coming thick and fast, the per capita consumption of beer, wine, and whiskey in the country actually increased sharply.[26] So sensationally obvious a contradiction between law and practice greatly injured the cause. It might also have taught the Drys that legislation was not enough; yet that lesson did not seem to sink in. Not the least curious thing about the whole story of prohibition is the fact that the Drys always appeared to take it for granted that once the laws had been passed the laws would be obeyed. Thus, when national Prohibition was at last achieved, they were quite content to accept only the most rudimentary provisions for enforcing it, with, for them, catastrophic results.


The Dry cause was sharply, but only temporarily, set back by the Civil War, which gave the nation something else to think about. The war also led to a development that was afterwards to form a serious obstacle to the Drys. In order to raise money for the expenses of the war, Congress passed an Internal Revenue Act in 1862 that required a licensing fee from every retail liquor dealer and put a tax on every barrel of beer and gallon of spirits and wine produced in the country (the tax on wine was 5 cents a gallon).[27] Though it was intended simply to raise money, the act had the effect of "authorizing" the making and selling of liquor in the United States, since the government in effect recognized these as legitimate taxable activities.[28] It also provided a major argument in defense of the liquor interest, since the liquor trade was now important to the government's revenues. After the war, the taxes were reduced, but like so many emergency measures they remained in force when the emergency had long passed.

The war was, after all, only an interruption for the Drys; their activities were quickly reorganized and reenergized as soon as it had ended. Some sense of the quietly growing power of Dryness may be given by its effects in a region where the wine trade had once been important. In southern California, the cradle of California winegrowing, temperance communities grew up side by side with the vineyards. The town of Compton, founded in 1865 by the Methodist church, was teetotal from the beginning. So, too, was the bigger and richer settlement of Long Beach, where the deeds to town sites contained a provision by which the property would revert to the seller if the buyer engaged in the liquor traffic. And the city of Pasadena, which included several vineyards from the earliest days of viticulture in the San Gabriel Valley and which lay in sight of the great vineyards and wineries operated by Shorb, Rose, and Baldwin, declared itself a Dry town and kept itself so simply by force of community sentiment. When a merchant challenged the system by stocking liquor for sale, the city passed a prohibition ordinance and successfully defended its constitutionality before the state supreme court. By 1890 nearly fifty towns in southern California had local option in one form or another, in a place where, but a generation before, the prospect of winegrowing was being hailed as the brightest hope for the region's future.[29] California was far from Dry, but more than a small beginning had been made to that end. And as more and more migration from the Midwest poured into the state towards the end of the century, the Drys grew steadily stronger. There was plenty of opposition to the Dry campaign; but the opposition successes were tactical only. The direction of long-range strategy was in the hands of the Drys.[30]

Elsewhere, just as in California, the aim of that strategy was to get a firm legal basis for prohibition; the main work was therefore all concentrated on acquiring political power. At first the Drys worked to obtain laws obstructing or prohibiting the liquor traffic in whatever way seemed possible or appropriate. But experience showed that this piece-work, uncoordinated policy was unsatisfactory: statutory laws provided too many loopholes, too little uniformity, and too much vulnerability to the shifting fortunes of party politics. What the Democrats had passed the


Republicans could repeal; and while one administration might prosecute the saloon keepers without mercy, the next might allow the policeman to turn a blind eye to even the gaudiest saloons.

Furthermore, "Dry" was almost always a relative rather than an absolute term; large exceptions might be permitted, and special cases allowed, that made it possible for people to continue drinking in some fashion. When Virginia, for example, enacted statewide prohibition, it was at first proposed to allow the winemakers and brewers in the state to continue to operate on condition that they sold their product outside the state; and since Virginia is a large grower of apples, it was also proposed to allow 6 percent cider to be made and sold in the state. These proposals did not pass into law, but when Virginia did finally pass its prohibition law, it allowed every householder to buy, out of state, one quart of spirits, three gallons of beer, or one gallon of wine per month.[31] Niggardly measure, no doubt, but not exactly bone Dry. In fact, the distillers of Maryland prospered greatly from prohibition in Virginia, a contradiction that was bound to disturb any thoroughgoing Dry.

The Dry strategy was changed in the light of such results: the goal now became to base prohibition, not on state and local laws, but on a constitutional amendment, first in the states and then in the nation. The Drys did not abandon the work of getting state and local laws passed in their interest—indeed, they remained busy at that without interruption: but the new goal had been perceived and the policy of pursuing it became more and more distinct. Kansas was the first state to adopt prohibition by constitutional amendment (1880), but in the years immediately after, that hopeful example was followed by only four more states (Maine, Rhode Island, North Dakota, and South Dakota).[32]

The bold idea of amending the U.S. Constitution was first revealed in 1876, when the newly formed National Prohibition Party made it a plank in its platform. The party was pitifully weak at the polls, but it provided the idea that its stronger associates would ultimately succeed in carrying out. Chief among these were the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1874 and heroically directed by Frances Willard, and the Anti-Saloon League, founded in 1895 and the outstanding leader in the work of propaganda and politics for the Dry cause. The last, successful phase of the Dry campaign, culminating in national Prohibition, may be said to have been carried out by the Anti-Saloon League.

The league did not make national prohibition an explicit object all at once, but pursued whatever policy seemed likely to work in the circumstances. This kind of politic flexibility was the hallmark of league activity and its greatest strength. As Bishop James Cannon, the "Dry Messiah," once said, the league was "intensely practical" in seeking to "attain its ideal."[33] If it was expedient to deny any wish to achieve national prohibition, then it simply did so. But whatever the league people might say at any particular moment, they in fact aimed at national prohibition. And the league would support any candidate who could stay sober long enough to vote Dry.[34]

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the long and patient labor of the


Drys was at last making all obstacles yield. The most important practical element in this success was the Anti-Saloon League's policy of supporting any candidate, regardless of party, who was friendly to prohibition or could be scared into voting for it. By this means the Drys found themselves, in no very long time, in control of state legislatures throughout the South, the Midwest, and the West. And then began a dessication of states in rapid fashion. Georgia went Dry in 1907, Mississippi and North Carolina in 1908, Tennessee in 1909, West Virginia in 1912, Virginia in 1914. The process accelerated, so that by the time that the national prohibition amendment was passed in 1919, thirty-three of the forty-eight states were already Dry.[35] In 1913 a decisive victory had been won when Congress allowed Dry states to enforce their own laws on interstate commerce in liquor, a remarkable and troublesome exception to the commerce clause of the Constitution.[36] With this evidence of their new national power, the Drys determined that the time had come to strike for their ultimate goal, a prohibition amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The last push turned out to be surprisingly easy. Dry influence on the elections of 1914 returned a friendly Congress, and by the end of 1914 a resolution proposing the Eighteenth Amendment had been introduced into the House and passed by a majority, though failing of the necessary two-thirds.[37] The Dry forces prudently waited for the next election, in 1916, and were rewarded. In the newly returned Congress a resolution to submit a prohibition amendment to the states passed the Senate in August 1917 and the House in December. Barely more than a year later the amendment had been ratified by the required two-thirds of the states: constitutional prohibition had been achieved.

The campaign that had at last succeeded in pushing it through had occupied only a very few years, but was the culmination of efforts stretching back over the better part of a century. And the victory, when it came, was apparently a popular victory, supported by large majorities in all but two states (for the record, Connecticut and Rhode Island refused to the end to ratify the amendment; yet Rhode Island had once had constitutional prohibition itself. Such were the ups and downs in the struggle between Wets and Drys). As Herbert Asbury has written, after surveying the complicated history of the prohibition movement, "it seems clear that the American people wanted prohibition and were bound to try it; for more than a hundred years they had been indoctrinated with the idea that the destruction of the liquor traffic was the will of God and would provide the answers to most, if not all, of mankind's problems."[38] "American people" is too sweeping a term, as the defiantly law-breaking behavior of millions during Prohibition made clear. But it is inconceivable that it could have been achieved without a wide and solid basis of support for the agitators.

And what were the terms of this experiment, "noble in motive and far reaching in purpose," to use the solemn phrase of President Hoover, so often sarcastically invoked afterwards? The article amending the Constitution was directed exclusively against the "traffic" (a favorite word of the Drys) in liquor, declaring that "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the impor-


tation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited." Turning this principle into enforceable law was the task of the National Prohibition Act, usually called the Volstead Act after its chief designer, that went into effect a year after the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment. That act defined the "intoxicating liquors" of the amendment to mean any drink having more than one-half of one percent alcohol by volume, which meant that beer and wine were not excepted.[39]

Thus the hope that the winemakers had fondly clung to as Prohibition drew closer and closer, that wine would be recognized as an exception, was lost. There was, of course, a strong tradition, even in the United States, that wine was the drink of temperance rather than intoxication. Thomas Jefferson's is perhaps the best-known statement of the view: "No nation is drunken where wine is cheap," he had written in 1818. And there were many, both before and after Jefferson, to agree with him. Dr. Rush, in the very act of urging abstinence from spirits, recommended wine for pleasure and health alike. John Bartram dreamed of establishing viticulture in America for the sake of leading men away from strong drink. The federal government lowered the tariffs on imported wines in 1819 in order to encourage temperance,[40] and, as we have seen, granted lands to the Swiss in Indiana and to the French in Alabama in hopes of creating a plentiful source of native wines. And most of the early temperance societies had had no quarrel with wine, only with distilled spirits. Clearly, though, it was unwise of the wine men to think that this view of the question had much of a chance after the idea of total abstinence had come to dominate the prohibition movement, as it had from the 1830s onwards. The absolutist thinking of the confirmed teetotaller simply had no room for accommodating a "temperance" drink like wine, yet the wine men seemed to have gone on without recognizing that absolutist character. They hoped against hope that the reformers would see a clear distinction between the products of distillation and the milder products of unaided fermentation.

Their sense that they were different, not to be confused with the real enemies of temperance, appears to have confused and paralyzed their abilities to meet and respond to the threat of prohibition. If they separated themselves from the manufacturers of distilled spirits, the winemakers would seem to give their support to the prohibitionists; but if they threw in their lot with the distillers, they would then be identified with Demon Rum and be indiscriminately attacked with it. Finally, if they went their own way, they would have both distillers and prohibitionists as their enemies. Given these alternatives it is not surprising that the wine industry as a whole had no idea of how to fight the steady attack of the Dry forces. The one side knew what it wanted and how to get it; the other could merely protest its innocence and hope, in vain, for the best.[41]

National prohibition was enacted, but it had still to be enforced, and it was here that its unreality was made clear. The police arrangements of the Volstead Act were superficial. The Internal Revenue Service (not, as many thought should have


been the case, the Justice Department) was put in charge of enforcement, through a commissioner who presided over a national system of regional directors and inspectors. They were armed with various powers of searching and seizing defined by the act, and the courts were empowered to impose appropriate fines and sentences on persons convicted of violating the act.[42] Yet the machinery of enforcement was absurdly slender and flimsy in relation to the job to be done, a fact that makes clear the innocent expectations of the Dry workers.[43] They imagined that once the law was made, compliance would follow. But that was not what happened. Prohibition instead created a nation of law breakers. All the provisions of the act were defied systematically and persistently by large sections of the population. And if the numbers of prohibition agents had been multiplied a hundred times, they would still have been powerless to stop what happened. The liquor "traffic," so far from being ended, was simply driven into the hands of bootleggers and gangsters; drinking, so far from being stopped, seemed actually to increase. And while the main objects of prohibition were being completely defeated, there was growing up in the country a general contempt of law. Seldom in the history of moral legislation can there have been a completer contradiction between expectation and result. It almost seems that the sharper and shrewder the Drys grew in political experience, the more simple-minded they grew in moral perception.

The intention of the law was simply to shut down all traffic in liquor—production, transportation, sales—and essentially it succeeded so far as the regular trade in wine was concerned. Spirits were far more attractive to the bootlegger than wine could ever be. And such wine as the bootlegger did deal in was likely to be homemade. All that most wineries in the country could do was quietly go out of business. And so they did. Production of wine in the United States in 1919 was over 55 million gallons; in 1920 it sank to 20 million; in 1922 it was just over 6 million, and by 1925 it reached a low of 3,638,000 gallons.[44] That some wine continued to be made was owing to special provisions in the Volstead Act. Sacramental wine could be legally made, under license, and so those wineries that managed to secure a license could maintain a precarious hold on existence. Wine could also be prescribed as medicine. Wine could be made for sale to the manufacturers of vinegar, and to the manufacturers of wine "tonics" of more or less medicinal character. Wine could also be used as a flavoring, in cooked foods and in tobacco, for instance. Since much sacramental wine was fortified and so required brandy, some wine could be made for the purpose of distillation into brandy to supply this need. There were thus several legal provisions allowing the continued production of wine, and since this very limited production could be legally carried on, it could be—and no doubt was—illegally extended. I have no figures that even suggest to what extent the legal permissions were abused. All writers on the subject take it for granted that abuses were widespread, but there do not seem to have been enough prosecutions to allow a guess at what was going on.[45]

Besides producing wine for the authorized purposes, some wineries tried to keep going by making juice (in the East especially, where Concord grapes were


available) and other grape "products": jams and jellies mostly. And there were experiments with "non-vinous" commodities like concentrated juice and winebricks; the bricks were whole grapes pressed into solid form and wrapped for sale. Both concentrate and winebricks were sold with yeast tablets, and a caution against allowing illegal fermentation to take place.[46] Towards the end of the Prohibition era, a combination of wineries called Fruit Industries, organized by the resourceful Paul Garrett, undertook to deliver grape concentrate to the buyer's home and there to supervise its conversion into wine and to bottle it for storage and consumption. This complete domestic service was assisted by a large grant to the grape growers from the federal farm relief program, and it advertised itself in this remarkable way:

Now is the time to order your supply of VINE-GLO . It can be made in your home in sixty days—a fine, true-to-type guaranteed beverage ready for the Holiday Season. VINE-GLO . . . comes to you in nine varieties, Port, Virginia Dare, Muscatel, Angelica, Tokay, Sauterne, Riesling, Claret and Burgundy. It is entirely legal in your home—but it must not be transported. . . . You take absolutely no chance when you order your home supply of VINE-GLO which Section 29 of the National Prohibition Act permits you.[47]

The company's confidence in the legality of its operation was bolstered by the fact that it had succeeded in hiring as its attorney Mabel Walker Willebrandt, who for eight years had been assistant attorney general in charge of prosecuting violations of the Volstead Act. It is even stated that Willebrandt had helped to work out the terms of the Vine-Glo scheme before she left her public office to return to private practice.[48] In any case her quick change of sides inevitably provoked a lot of smart remarks, among the best of them this one by Al Smith, who had suffered much as the recognized leader of the Wets in American politics and who had no reason to feel kindly towards Willebrandt:

I congratulate the Fruit Industries in securing the services of so competent a person as Mabel. She did two things for them, two wonderful things. She convinced the Department of Justice that this 12 per cent wine was not intoxicating. That was some stunt when you figure that old Andy Volstead fixed it at half of one per cent, and she jumped it up 11½ per cent and still robbed it of every intoxicating character. But she did something else for them that was equally important. She got the Farm Board to lend them $20,000,000.

So when all is said and done, Mabel collected a beautiful fee for making the Volstead Act look like thirty cents.[49]

But, after all, Willebrandt failed to turn this astonishing trick. The Justice Department threatened to bring suit against Fruit Industries, and Vine-Glo was taken off the market at the end of 1931.[50]

The most striking paradox of Prohibition, in California at any rate, was that it led to a large increase in the planting of vineyards. The provision of the Volstead Act allowing the legal production of "fruit juices" in the home led to an immediate


demand for fresh grapes all over the country. The result was remarkable: the price of grapes shot up from $10 to $100 a ton and even higher as the produce agents competed for each carload of grapes. An episode in Alice Tisdale Hobart's novel of the wine country, The Cup and the Sword , describes the California scene in the early days of Prohibition:

Passing the station he saw a steady line of men coming out of the freight office, bills of lading in their hands. They did not get ten feet before they were accosted. Sometimes there were half a dozen men trying to talk to the same grapegrowers at once. Buyers from the East, was John's quick conclusion. . . .

"What's up, Dietrick?" John called out.

"Just sold my grapes for seventy the ton."

John whistled.

Dietrick grinned. "Sold 'em first for fifty. Bought 'em back when they went to sixty. Now I've got seventy."[51]

California had about 300,000 acres of vineyard in 1919; by 1926, after six years of Prohibition, that acreage had almost doubled, and shipments of grapes had grown by 125 percent.[52] Then, unluckily for the growers, the market was oversupplied. The boom went bust, and the years of Prohibition ended as they had begun, with the spectacle of discouraged growers pulling out their vines.

Worse than that, over the long run, was the fact that the grapes that shipped well and looked good in the market were not the best wine varieties. Alicante Bouschet, a splendid-looking grape, with large clusters of dark thick-skinned berries loaded with color, was the popular grape for amateur winemakers. But though it pleases the eye, the Alicante Bouschet at best makes only a mediocre wine.[53] Flame Tokay and Emperor, which are not wine grapes at all but table grapes, were also much favored. There was no encouragement to plant the superior, more delicate, yet less attractive-looking, varieties; indeed, there was every reason not to, when the market demanded the coarse, heavy-bearing sorts. The result was that the vast new plantings that went in during the Prohibition years were of the poorer sorts. The damage that this deterioration in the varietal quality of California's vineyards did to the reputation of California wines persisted long after Prohibition was a thing of the past. Table grapes, raisin grapes, and inferior, but productive, varieties of wine grapes were the overwhelming basis for California winemaking for years after Prohibition. Even as late as 1961, a whole generation after Repeal, there were only about 800 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon to supply the entire American wine industry! The same sorry figures held for the other distinguished varieties: 600 acres of Pinot Noir, 450 of Riesling, 300 of Chardonnay—absolutely appalling numbers at a time when California already had 424,000 acres of vines.[54] And no adage is truer in winemaking than the one that says the wine can be no better than its source. The degradation of the California source was a direct and lasting effect of Prohibition.[55]

Still, the "fruit juice" provision of the Volstead Act certainly helped to reduce


the economic disaster of Prohibition for California grape growers. It also made an obvious, yet legal, mockery of Prohibition, since home winemaking did not need to be concealed. In San Francisco at vintage time, according to a New York Times reporter, this was the scene:

A walk through the Italian quarter reveals wine presses drying in the sun in front of many homes. The air is heavy with the pungent odor of fermenting vats in garages and basements. Smiling policemen frequently help the owners of these wine presses to shoo away children who use them for improvised rocking horses.[56]

No doubt there were not many places quite so vinous as the Italian quarter of San Francisco, but what one saw there was only the extreme form of a situation to be found in every considerable town and city of the country.[57]

People are perfectly able to live with all sorts of contradictions and inconsistencies, but those created by Prohibition were impossible. Repeal, when it came in 1933, was met not so much with loud rejoicings as with a great public sigh of relief. Obviously the wine men had more reason than most to be joyful. But they had much to make them rueful too. The degenerate state of the vineyards has already been noticed. And of course the closing of the great majority of the wineries meant that the material basis of the industry had to be built all over again: buildings were out of repair or converted to other uses; machinery had been dispersed, or, if still in place, was out of order or obsolete; the vats and casks had been broken up or had dried out and fallen apart. More serious yet was the absence of experienced workers and managers: the continuity of tradition had been broken, and though there might be survivors who could pass on what they knew, there had been no young generation to receive it. That was the view on the production side. The market was equally derelict. The whole system of packaging, distributing, advertising, and selling wine had to be made anew.

Long before Prohibition the movement of wine through the United States had been complicated by the crazy-quilt patterns of local laws. Now, after Repeal, things were made even worse, perhaps more by accident than by design. The Drys, though they had been routed, were by no means dead; when the Twenty-first Amendment, the Repeal amendment, was drawn up, it recognized the persistence of Dryness in its section 2, which reads: "The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited."

Section 2 was clearly meant to allow state prohibition, even at the very moment that national prohibition was being swept away. A further question of interpretation was raised at once: did section 2 mean that "intoxicating liquors"—spirits, wine, and beer—were to be denied the protection of the commerce clause of the Constitution? They had been so denied even before Prohibition, when state and local option laws were upheld, beginning with a Supreme Court decision in 1847.[58] Now, after Repeal, that special status was affirmed by the language of the Twenty-


first Amendment and supported by a number of decisions written by Justice Louis Brandeis of the Supreme Court. In effect, the states—not just Dry states but all of the states—were given absolute authority to do as they pleased in regulating the liquor traffic within their borders.

The result has been a chaos of varying and conflicting practices and regulations. Taxes vary wildly—from the 1 cent a gallon for table wine in California to the $1.75 a gallon exacted in Florida. Regulations vary wildly—some states have complete state monopoly of all liquor sales; some states have only a partial monopoly; some turn over everything to private licensees. In some states, you may buy table wine in a private store but dessert wine only in a state store, or wine by the bottle but not by the glass, or wine in drug stores but not in a grocery store, and so on through literally dozens and scores of other irrational permissions and prohibitions. In those states that allow for local prohibition, some put it on a county basis, some on a city basis, some on both. In other states, local option is not allowed at all.

Pricing is equally erratic, having little to do with costs; instead it is in large part the outcome of state and local taxes, licensing fees, and state-required minimum markups. A bottle of California wine in Washington, D.C., bought 3,000 miles from its source, may well cost less than the same bottle bought in Arizona or Nevada, states neighboring California. The catalogue of conflicting and arbitrary regulations is immense, so that any firm engaged in interstate commerce in wines requires the services of a professional staff to see that the rules are identified and complied with. The daily labor and confusion created by this tangle of balkanized regulations tells us at least two things: one, that we are still suffering from the legacy of Prohibition; and two, that we are still far from regarding wine as a simple commodity just as much entitled to unrestricted sale and consumption as, say, bread and cheese. If the federal government had simply undertaken to regulate alcoholic beverages on a national basis, this balkanizing would have been avoided; its failure to do so may be seen as another unwanted effect of Prohibition: after the failure of that experiment, the federal government seems to have wanted nothing so much as to wash its hands of further responsibility. Since then, it has confined itself to tax gathering and to monitoring such matters as the form and content of wine labels.

The Drys made themselves felt in another significant way just after Repeal. Among the projects of Franklin Roosevelt's first administration was one designed to help American winemaking get back on its feet. Rexford Tugwell, an assistant secretary of agriculture, planned to have the department again take up its historic role of assisting grape growing and winemaking through research and educational programs. Under his direction a model experimental winery was built and equipped at the department's Beltsville, Maryland, experimental station; another was put up at the department's research station in Meridian, Mississippi. Tugwell, who came to Washington from his position as professor of economics at Columbia, had a special interest in agricultural history and knew how important a role the federal


government had played in the earlier history of American winegrowing. What he had not reckoned on was the entrenched strength of the Drys in strategic places. A power on the House Appropriations Committee was the veteran Missouri prohibitionist Clarence Cannon; when he learned of Tugwell's plans, Cannon threatened to block the whole departmental appropriation: the wicked work on "fermentation" must be stopped, or the whole work of the department would be brought to a halt. Faced with this desperate choice, the department gave way; the model wineries, still virgin, were converted to other uses and their machinery sold.[59] So shaken was the department that for the next generation it did nothing that could in any way be construed as having to do with winemaking. It hardly dared mention the word "wine" in its publications or to hint that grapes might in fact yield anything more exciting than "juice" or "jelly." As in the case of the government's abandoning the commerce in liquor to the chaos of state regulations, here was another evidence of the timid anxieties created by the experience of Prohibition. Repeal had been achieved, but not that frame of mind in which wine could be regarded as a valuable and decent commodity, to be produced, sold, consumed, and studied without apology.

That was the worst consequence of Prohibition—the way in which it had warped American attitudes towards drinking. The very extravagance implicit in the idea of enforced total abstinence seemed to have provoked an answering extravagance: if one was not austerely Dry, one had to be flamboyantly Wet.[60] The notion of decent moderation was overwhelmed in the conflict between these absurd opposites. Even now, more than half a century after the repeal of Prohibition, anyone who knows anything about the patterns of American drinking can observe the continuing effects of this conflict: for many Americans, it is hard to be natural and straightforward on the question, whether one drinks or does not drink. There remains something problematical and troubling in the subject, whatever side one takes.

The immediate question for the winemakers looking over the desolate scene left behind by the Dry years was to educate the American public in the renewed use of wine. If they were older Americans, they had forgotten what the civilized use of wine was; if they were younger, they had never known. How this was done lies outside of the scope of this history, which must shortly conclude. From what has already been said it will be clear that a hard and bitter labor faced the American winegrowers: their vineyards were debased, their wineries decayed, their markets confused by arbitrary and unpredictable barriers, and their public ill-instructed and corrupted by the habits of a hard-drinking bootleg style. Add to this the facts that Repeal did not take place until the country was plunged in deep economic depression, followed by the disruptions of a world war. Perhaps no activity ever knows anything like "normality," but it is hard not to feel that the American wine industry, passing through the uninterrupted sequence of Prohibition, depression, and war, has had particularly hard measure.

Yet it has, despite all these things, both survived and prospered. That it has


managed to do so is a tribute to the persistence of many individuals—vineyardists, winemakers, scientists, publicists, dealers—who worked with a dedication more often associated with a cause rather than with mere commerce. Some of that growth was also owing to the roots already sent down during the life of American winegrowing before Prohibition. To make clear what that life was, and to suggest something of the connection between past and present, has been the aim of this history.


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