“Two Kaisers within the Identical Grave”: Prohibition at 100




Prohibitionists knew they owed their victory in 1919 to the nexus of conflict, faith, and reform. Prohibition triumphed due to a robust combination of three elements: complete conflict mobilization of manpower and the financial system, the self-mobilization of a selected form of American Christianity, and the reformers’ determination to capitalize on the “plastic” second created by the conflict to rid the nation of its best ethical evil. Highly effective people and establishments, having labored for generations to stamp out the detested “liquor site visitors,” achieved their objective by enlisting the church buildings, the broader public, and authorities at each degree. Above all, they turned historic Christianity’s rhetorical and religious warfare right into a literal conflict of flesh and blood within the trenches of France and the trenches of American society.

The victory they gained precisely a century in the past had not come simply. The Eighteenth Modification’s ban on the manufacture, distribution, and sale (however not consumption) of “intoxicating liquors” got here on the finish of a protracted battle reaching again one other hundred years earlier than that. When the Home and Senate voted on the proposed modification in 1914, it failed to achieve the required two-thirds vote. In December 1917, as nationwide preparedness to ship troops to Europe ramped up, it handed. Nebraska’s ratification early in 1919 put the modification “excessive,” and with that, the clock began ticking all the way down to full enforcement in a single 12 months’s time, as specified within the regulation. Congress took up implementing laws known as the Nationwide Prohibition Act (higher often known as the “Volstead Act,” its language was drafted by the Anti-Saloon League) in the summertime of 1919. The “wets” did legislative battle in opposition to the “bone-drys,” led by Minnesota Republican Consultant Andrew Volstead. On the finish of October, it handed, over the President’s veto.

“Christianity Plus Science Will Convey within the Kingdom of God”

It so occurred that by this time, and due to the exigencies of conflict, america was largely dry already. Preparations to go “Over There” appeared to demand intervention within the financial system and within the lives of Individuals. Conservation of assets topped the record, however every improvisation made restrictions on alcohol manufacturing and consumption tighter. Congress, cupboard officers, and federal businesses restricted the quantity of grain and coal brewers may purchase; made the navy after which all of the armed forces dry; banned alcohol at or close to military cantonments, naval bases, and munitions vegetation; eliminated alcohol from prepare depots and ads from prepare automobiles; ended the importation of alcohol from overseas; and in the end engineered the Struggle Time Prohibition Act (set to take impact July 1, 1919) authorizing President Wilson to ban alcohol till America’s forces had been demobilized.

And that pertains to Wilson’s veto of the Volstead Act. The veto was issued on October 27, 1919, simply weeks after his large and debilitating stroke. The veto message was written by his non-public secretary with the approval of First Woman Edith Wilson. However, there was nothing in it that was inconsistent with President Wilson’s views. He had by no means been a tough “dry” or “moist.” He most well-liked to permit beer and wine manufacturing, particularly to keep away from alienating America’s industrial laborers. His objection to the Volstead Act centered on a slender technicality: the regulation’s continued enforcement of wartime Prohibition together with enforcement of the brand new constitutional modification. The Nice Struggle was over; the Treaty of Versailles doomed to defeat within the Senate.

Prohibition, Wilson’s veto however, was the quintessential reform of the Progressive Period. The progressives’ articles of religion have been all there: confidence within the experience of technocrats, in enlightened public coverage infused with sentimentalism about “humanity,” in social management for the sake of the general public welfare, within the energy of utilized science, within the knowledge and justice of majoritarian democracy, and in nationwide consolidation because the surest solution to finish social evils. The Christian Century proclaimed in 1918 that “Christianity plus science will carry within the Kingdom of God.”

Not each prohibitionist was motivated by the model of Christian activism represented by the Christian Century, the Federal Council of Church buildings, the leaders of mainline or different denominations, or the numerous reform associations. The extra technocratic prohibitionists emphasised industrial effectivity, security, and medical science somewhat than moralism or the Bible. However an enchantment to faith pervaded the marketing campaign as a complete. Within the case of some Christians, conflict and Prohibition united them as by no means earlier than—with such success that Protestant ecumenists thought of it yet one more signal of the approaching Kingdom of God (no matter that may imply). Struggle and Prohibition divided different Christians; however for the second, fundamentalists and modernists fought on the identical facet when it got here to Prohibition.

The baseball star-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday and William Jennings Bryan, who had resigned as Wilson’s secretary of state in 1915 however supported the President’s home program, joined forces with theological progressives within the Presbyterian Church in america of America and on the Christian Century. Bryan and Charles Scanlon of the PCUSA collectively headed the Nationwide Dry Basis. All of them wished to make America righteous irrespective of how a lot they differed over the Bible and doctrine.

Outdoors this cultural consensus lay the much-abused “confessionalists”: the extra high-church, liturgical clergy and laity who adhered to distinctions of theology, types of worship, ecclesiology, and the distinctive, religious activity of 1’s church over in opposition to amalgamation into what was shaping up right into a nationwide faith of social service and politicized pulpits. Confessional Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Catholics had identified for a very long time that they may by no means be pulled into the form of nationwide religion Prohibition demanded. They have been “old fashioned” in an epoch through which all issues have been being made new. The century of Prohibition-crusading that led to the passage of the Volstead Act is affected by tales of exasperated clergy. Although prohibitionists had been numbered amongst them, their cussed adherence to creeds, confessions of religion, catechisms, and a safe border between Church and State turned them ipso facto into heretics and schismatics within the Church of America.

Previous to the motion to rid america of slavery, probably the most highly effective reform campaign of the mid-19th century had been temperance. The temperance-spawned disputes regarding Biblical interpretation and the church’s mission predated the abolitionists’ efforts and the political upheaval over slavery. The older ethic of clerical self-restraint—by no means common—got here underneath great stress, particularly when the silence of the apolitical pulpit appeared nothing lower than tacit approval of evil. Reform causes have been embedded in wider controversies over the revivalism of the so-called Second Nice Awakening (1790 to 1840), the unfold of Arminianized Calvinism, Charles Finney’s perfectionism, and the demand that true religion bear fruit in radical private and social transformation.

No Christian disputed the Bible’s condemnation of drunkenness; be it famous, although, that temperance reformers tolerated beer and lightweight wine early on. A flood of books and pamphlets appeared within the 1830s and 1840s selling a novel interpretation of the wine used within the Previous and New Testaments. Their arguments marshaled all kinds of doubtful historic and exegetical proof to show that wine had been a low-alcohol beverage. They claimed that Jesus had turned water into the sort of libation as a result of God would by no means give his folks such a pernicious evil. They usually urged clergy to make use of grape syrup within the sacrament. (This was maybe probably the most ironic of the improvements, since even the Volstead Act would defend sacramental wine.)

Reform of “the Alcoholic Republic”

Quickly sufficient, non secular leaders moved towards outright prohibition. What may have been saved a matter of prudence and expedience within the Christian life was was an uncompromising customary of holiness. For a lot of church buildings, complete abstinence turned a normal for church membership, a qualification for church workplace, and a requirement for admission to Holy Communion. And make no mistake, Prohibition was an try to handle actual issues in American society, at a time of heavy consumption in what William J. Rorabaugh has known as the “Alcoholic Republic.” For good purpose, reformers blamed “ardent spirits” for poverty, crime, financial inefficiency, ethical degradation, and the destruction of marriages and houses.

These considerations continued by means of the Civil Struggle and into the Gilded Age. Reform associations proliferated, perfected their strategies, mixed forces, printed magazines, held nationwide conferences, and rallied the church buildings. To at least one diploma or one other, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, and others turned lively within the trigger, whether or not as people or as establishments. In 1881, the PCUSA turned the primary denomination to sanction a standing Committee on Temperance, a board that might make itself central to the marketing campaign for nationwide Prohibition through the Nice Struggle.

As soon as Congress declared conflict in April 1917, prohibitionists made certain the battle would “kill John Barleycorn” together with autocracy. Reformers continued what they’d lengthy been doing: blaming un-Americanized foreigners for “moist” resistance; criticizing any “excessive church” that positioned creeds, liturgies, and “ecclesiasticism” above cooperation for social motion; championing the church because the conscience of the nation; espousing a grand imaginative and prescient of American exceptionalism and mission; and mixing non secular justifications with knowledge and medical science.

Now a international conflict and the prohibitionists’ home conflict turned two sides of 1 idealist campaign. “If America breaks the isolation of her water-barricaded shores to assist make the world secure for democracy,” stated an editorial within the Christian Century, “she should additionally cross them to assist make it potential for that democracy to be sober and environment friendly. . . . Our subsequent transfer ought to be to arrange the world for the ultimate battle on Kaiser Alcohol; allow us to bury the 2 Kaisers in the identical grave.” Like all conflict idealists, non secular prohibitionists made extravagant guarantees and exhibited little capability for irony or anticipated unintended penalties.

In 1918, the PCUSA’s Temperance Committee, constructing to a rhetorical crescendo, requested the denomination’s normal meeting to vote to reaffirm Presbyterianism’s “historic, open and irrevocable opposition to the beverage liquor site visitors in each kind and in each place, as unscriptural, unethical, unsocial, uneconomical, unpatriotic, and hails with pleasure and gratitude the prospect of its total and speedy extermination in our beloved nation.” In a separate report, with an American flag emblazoning the duvet, the committee rejoiced that “beliefs rule the world” and expressed its Wilsonian confidence that “the battle which as we speak is drenching Europe within the richest blood of the race is a final nice battle for supremacy between autocracy and democracy, between the lessons and the lots, between may and proper, and as God is stronger than all of the powers of evil, so certain is the suitable to win.”

Within the heady days of 1919, as reformers basked within the glow of their “new period,” the Nice Struggle nonetheless appeared like a conflict of success. The nation’s conscience had been woke up, the folks had amended their Founding doc to strike out in opposition to “Kaiser Alcohol,” and the nation, in liberating itself of an amazing evil, was now rendered morally match for its mission. The Christian Century requested church buildings to rejoice “Victory Sunday” close to July 1 to inaugurate the “nice ethical victory” of Struggle Time Prohibition. Among the many ideas? Sermons suited to the event, patriotic music, particular choices, and actions for the kids, “who’re all prohibitionists.” However the worship service wouldn’t be full with out waiting for “world prohibition.” In spite of everything, “The world can by no means be secure till it’s sober.”

Shunting Apart the “Private-Liberty Plea” 

The Kingdom of God didn’t go away many free evenings, as Oscar Wilde may say. As soon as the Eighteenth Modification and the Volstead Act took impact on January 17, 1920, prohibitionists needed to show that their experiment would work. Activists pushed for full enforcement, enlargement past america, and no compromise with those that, within the decade forward, would foyer Congress to switch the Volstead Act to exempt beer and lightweight wine. Alcohol had had 1000’s of years to work its mischief; absolutely Prohibition wanted quite a lot of years to show its manifold blessings.

In testimony earlier than a particular subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1926, the Federal Council of Church buildings outlined its report of undeviating dedication to Prohibition. The council retained all of the wartime language of democratic idealism, enlightenment, progress, civilization, social management, science, complete options, disparagement of particular person liberty, and the consolidation of nationwide energy. Its president known as “the personal-liberty plea . . . a delusion and a snare.”

Church leaders behind Prohibition favored to current themselves as talking on behalf of total denominations and boasted of the thousands and thousands united behind them. That declare masked deep divisions inside American Christianity throughout World Struggle I and into the 1920s. There have been in actual fact Christians who rejected the entire superstructure of Prohibition and its ethical and authorized premises.

Baltimore’s James Cardinal Gibbons had all the time opposed Prohibition as a confusion of morals, as a supply of political corruption and public dysfunction, an affront to non-public liberty, and a violation of states’ rights. Spirited opposition additionally got here from an Episcopal vicar named John Cole McKim in such essays as “Prohibition Versus Christianity” (1918) and “Prohibition and Precept” (1922). Columbia College’s John Erskine requested in 1922, “Should Christians Select Between the Bible and Prohibition?” Erskine questioned whether or not the prohibitionists thought they’d added the Eighteenth Modification to the Structure or to the New Testomony. He charged that Prohibition had change into nothing lower than its personal faith. Princeton Seminary’s J. Gresham Machen was handed over by the PCUSA for appointment to an essential workplace in 1926 partly over his stance in opposition to Prohibition, at the same time as Charles Scanlon, stalwart head of the denomination’s stalwart Temperance Committee, testified earlier than the Senate in favor of leaving the Volstead Act intact.

The Everlasting Answer to Man’s Vexing Issues

In an article for the Presbyterian New Period journal in 1919, the PCUSA chief took inventory of Prohibition’s achievements and prospects. He gave credit score for victory to the “ethical earnestness and persistence” impressed on America by a century’s expertise with alcohol’s hurt, bolstered now by the “sanction of faith,” the marked change within the nation’s “social customs,” the testimony of contemporary science, and the growing demand on the a part of aggressive trade for sober employees. Tellingly, Scanlon praised the work of faith particularly for having “mounted within the minds of thousands and thousands of Christian women and men” the “feeling that not solely precise intemperance was sinful, however that the site visitors in alcoholic drinks itself was fallacious.” Fortunately, “This laid a basis for a revolution in ethics, social customs and Biblical interpretation, which as definitely forecasted the doom of the site visitors as the expansion of democracy sealed the destiny of autocracy.”

As we now know, what appeared like everlasting victory at dwelling and overseas in 1919 turned out to be short-term. However for the second, the objective the Christian Century set forth in 1918 had been reached: two Kaisers buried in the identical grave. Simply as each struggles entailed making unrealizable guarantees about how nice the positive aspects for humanity could be, each underestimated the prices. Each challenged the American custom of non-public liberty, the institutional constraints of federalism and states’ rights, and the alleged inutility of church buildings nervous extra about theology and ecclesiology than about social activism. Each embraced a dizzying optimism about human rationality and benevolence within the midst of probably the most harmful conflict the world had ever seen. In some way now finally, at this second in historical past not like at some other, humanity would present its capability to flee expertise and constraints. In the end, it was not two wars for righteousness however all one conflict for everlasting, common options to man’s most vexing issues.

Prohibitionists fought to rid America and the world of “ardent spirits” however have been themselves probably the most ardent spirits of all. What are the results when an issue that would have been dealt with pragmatically, as a matter of widespread sense and mundane public coverage, is was religious warfare?

Regardless of Prohibition’s much-touted discount of consumption and alcoholism, improved employee security and productiveness, and a few decrease crime charges now that the saloon was gone, the whole ban on alcohol inspired organized crime, bootlegging, and harmful dwelling brew, and turned unusual residents into petty criminals as they resorted to the black market and speakeasies. These rich sufficient to personal well-stocked wine cellars and liquor cupboards may after all afford to trip out the ban.

Everlasting Answer Repealed

It lasted till the New Deal. On December 5, 1933, the Twenty-First Modification to the Structure was ratified, ending at the very least one experiment with centralized social management. Repeal was superior extra as an financial measure to create jobs and commerce through the Despair and fewer as a concession to states’ rights or private liberty, although the case for particular person freedom and duty remained compelling arguments amongst repealers. What adopted, nevertheless, was not a convincing victory for civil liberty however the jumble of state and native prohibition legal guidelines wedded to particular pursuits and incomprehensible to unusual residents underneath which we nonetheless dwell. The church buildings have been left to implement complete abstinence amongst their members, which they’d finished for 100 years, and to assist extra native and state restrictions.

The campaign’s results may not appear to have lived on into our time—but its tendencies are evident on the Left and Proper in our politics as we speak, and within the nation’s politicized church buildings. Intoxicated by conflict and reform, the prohibitionists raised the stakes to the heavens, made regulation a matter of absolute proper and fallacious, noticed the world in Manichean phrases, outlined social issues as ethical “evils,” stood on the suitable facet of historical past, brooked no compromise, handled their opponents as perverse, and fought political battles as final conflicts over the which means and future of America.

Intemperate politics and wars come from many sources. It will be too straightforward to single out the fashionable political Left because the inheritor to this fashion of appearing on the planet. The woke up church has led to greater than the “woke” church. No traces in historical past run straight. Clearly, the political Proper additionally deploys this technique. Either side moralize politics and international coverage, each increase the stakes in any debate to apocalyptic ranges, each nationalize each query, each condemn compromise, and each anticipate their church buildings to assist implement their imaginative and prescient of America. The centennial of Prohibition is a chance to retrace our steps and take into account afresh the duty of the church, the boundaries of politics, the capability of conflict as an agent of social change, the excessive value of unintended penalties, and at what degree of society and authorities reform is greatest achieved. In any other case, politics unchastened by historical past will bury us in the identical grave.

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