When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. Intemperance: The Lost War Against Liquor is one of my sources.
The parts I generally took notes from were either about the drugs themselves or the prohibition of drugs. You’ll find the information garnered from these books throughout the Prohibition Politics section of this site. It will also have informed some of my own postings stored in the older Prohibition Politics archive.
If you find this information useful, you will want to search out the books themselves to read the text in context. All of the books here are at least moderately interesting.
Larry Englemann’s Intemperance is a great history of prohibition. The bumper sticker “Don’t shoot, I’m not a bootlegger” could just as well be transported to homes today for overeager, paranoid police: “Don’t shoot, I’m not a drug dealer.” Companies such as Ford fired people based on their opposition to prohibition. And people claim heaven if we just step up enforcement.
Now I lay me down to sleep-
My life and limb may Hoover keep,
And may no Coast Guard cutter shell
This little home I love so well.
May no dry agent, shooting wild,
Molest mine wife and infant child,
Or searching out some secret still,
Bombard my home to maim and kill.
When dawn succeeds the gleaming stars,
May we devoid of wounds and scars,
Give thanks we didn’t fall before
The shots in Prohibition’s War.
“The Patriot’s Prayer”, Arthur Lippman
Billy Sunday said, when the Eighteenth Amendment was finally passed (January 16, 1920), “Good-bye John [Barleycorn], You were God’s worst enemy. You were hell’s best friend. I hate you with a perfect hatred. I love to hate you… the reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile and children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.” [and the BATF rented it.]
“Prohibition made the liquor business good business. The profits proved astronomical. Champions of the dry law appealed frantically to patriotism, religion, common sense, and bullets to stop the flow of illegal liquor. But they failed.”
“When the federal government sought a proving ground for prohibition enforcement, then, Michigan was selected. Beginning in early 1920 the state became the “beneficiary” of concentrated drive after drive by law enforcement officials. At one time in the late 1920s the federal government was expending as much as 27 percent of its enforcement budget in Michigan. The southeastern section of the state was regularly referred to as the “Detroit Front,” and orders for men, guns, and ammunition for that front were filled with few questions asked.
‘Every section of the state became a battleground in the 1920s, a testing place for prohibition enforcement…. For thirteen years the federal government warred against illegal liquor in Michigan in order to make a point, but by 1933 the point was obvious to all but a few. It wasn’t worth the effort.”
Michigan had led the way by being the first eastern state to break the ‘wet wall,’ the wall of Catholics, industrial workers, and foreign-born, by enacting state prohibition; and was the first state to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment repealing prohibition, in 1933.
Billy Sunday was one of the front-line men of the temperance movement; during 1916 he conducted his “Detroit crusade” to convince Michigan to vote dry. “If a man says to me, ‘I have never been a drunkard, I say, God be praised that your wife has never known what it is to see you stagger and vomit and puke and maunder and mutter and blaspheme in her presence.” [one has to wonder what brand he drank.]
“The Anti-Saloon League of America was formed in 1895 by a group of men interested in a nonpartisan political approach to the problems of the saloon and of the liquor traffic.”
It called itself “the federated church in action against the saloon.”
“The Ford Sociological Department visited workers’ homes to find which men drank to excess. Heavy consumption of liquor by a Ford worker could bring either dismissal from the job or exemption from the minimum five-dollars-a-day wage. The REO Motor Car Company hired private detectives not only to report workers who drank but also those who smoked and voted against prohibition. A drinker’s job in the automobile plants was never a secure one.”
Michigan voted dry on November 7, 1916. Saloon dry, not liquor dry. However, due to a peculiar federal law, it became illegal to buy or make alcoholic beverages in any state where the sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited.
The Cheerful Spring
Prohibition is that rare law that benefits those who disobey it. In Detroit, underworld figures were soon able to afford diamond rings and fancy cars. But, after all, such people were merely “aliens of the lowest type.”
From a popular automobile window sticker in the 1920s: “Don’t Shoot, I’m Not a Bootlegger.”
Prohibition became law in Michigan in 1918, on May 1.
“Between 1918 and 1920 the entire nation watched a preview of the prohibition future as it manifested itself in Michigan. What they saw was both encouraging and disconcerting. Tens of thousands of citizens dabbled in teetotalism for the first time and found the experience both privately and publicly enriching. But tens of thousands of citizens also dabbled in criminal behavior for the first time and found the experience equally enriching. Prohibition appeared to be the rare kind of statute that benefited both those who obeyed it and those who disobeyed it.”
At first, citizens tried to smuggle bottles across the border; Ohio was still wet. Gradually, they grew more imaginative: Liquor was wrapped in baby blankets, and coddled by innocent-looking women. Placed inside dolls, and baby diapers. One agent discovered false rubber breasts filled with booze. [How?] “One Detroit mechanic made a small fortune by altering gasoline tanks so that half of the tank could carry gasoline and half could be filled with booze. These and other types of “suitcase smugglers” were classified officially by the police as “casuals” because they were persons endeavoring to smuggle comparatively small quantities of booze for themselves or for their friends.”
State Food and Drug Commissioner Woodworth: “We have the support of 99 percent of the people. Violations now come from professional bootleggers, 80 percent of whom are aliens of the lowest type. These folks constitute about the only problem that is left.”
“Members of the old [Detroit] underworld were rapidly taking up bootlegging. They were wearing diamond rings and fine clothes and driving expensive new automobiles.”
In January 1919, on the 23rd, “state troopers ordered a car to halt on the highway between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The driver, fearing highwaymen, did not obey the command. The troopers opened fire, hitting one of the passengers in the neck. The troopers subsequently failed to find any liquor in the car, apologized to the passengers and offered to drive them to a hospital. Such incidents aroused individuals concerned with violation of civil liberties by law enforcement officers.”
The Damon law [making importation and possession of liquor illegal] was “declared unconstitutional on a technicality” on February 18, 1919. On February 19, cars lined up on the road to Toledo, bumper to bumper. “The price of liquor doubled in Toledo, while in Detroit it was cut in half.” At noon on February 20, federal agents arrived to make mass arrests based on the Reed Amendment [making possession illegal if the state banned selling], the Webb-Kenyon law [dealing with transfer between states], and the Wiley Act [originally meant as the law-enforcement teeth of the Damon law]. “The Great Booze Rush” came to an end.
People also home-brewed. “Siphons, used for removing brew after fermentation, and isinglass, used for settling the mixture, were sold in five and ten cent stores, including those owned by prohibitionist S. S. Kresge…. Local merchants reported an abnormally high demand for raisins, noting that the demand had doubled since 1917.” These were for brandies (or cordials?).
According to the Detroit Saturday Night, murders doubled in 1917, and auto thefts increased by 400%. In 1918, crime did drop: but 140,000 young men had left the city for the draft. The war (not yet over — no peace treaty signed) raised employment, wages and consumption (prohibitionists were claiming that increased consumption was due to prohibition).
When the war ended and recession replaced prosperity, crime again increased, and the prohibitionists simple cause-and-effect assumptions came back to haunt them. “The press and the public were well-conditioned to look to prohibition as the causative factor.”
Across the River and into the Trees
Liquor flowed easily across the border between Canada and Detroit. One way or another the liquor was going to get across, so the police joined in for a piece of the take. Prohibition was a jobs program for criminals, employing tens of thousands of people to bring liquor to Michigan. And in a taste of things to come, free from the law sellers began targeting schoolchildren.
Wartime Dominion prohibition expired in Canada on January 1, 1920.
“On maps a dotted line representing the international border runs down the middle of the [Detroit] river and skips back and forth between several islands. But as Prohibition Commissioner Roy Haynes lamented, it is impossible to prevent liquor from dripping through a dotted line.”
He also said, “The Lord probably could have built a river better suited for rum smuggling, but the Lord probably never did.” A journalist surveying the area said that it was “a rum runners’ paradise; it is as though a sympathetic creator had fashioned the district expressly for such a purpose.”
Canada became a major exporter when the British-American Brewery company won its court case. The company operated under a Canadian charter; it had an unlimited right to export to any other country, regardless of provincial liquor laws.
“With the announcement of the Grundy decision, large investors began moving into the export business. On August 16, 1921, a charter was granted to the Essex Export Company, Ltd., which was formed to “have liquor for export sale, either in a bonded liquor warehouse or any other warehouse.” The charter was only the first of several to be issued in the next weeks to companies set up to sell liquor specifically consigned for delivery in the United States.”
The government of Canada made even more money from this: they charged $9 per gallon tax on all liquors. This was refunded when the exporter produced a customs receipt from the country to which it was exported. Rumrunners, of course, did not get receipts from United States Customs. “By 1928 the Canadian government was gathering an estimated $30 million in taxes each year from illegal liquor exportations to America.” (p. 77-78) And this didn’t include taxes on the profits that the manufacturers and exporters made. Liquor eventually became one-fifth of all Dominion and provincial revenues.
The rumrunning fleet was called the “mosquito fleet.” [yes, them skeeters get pretty big in Michigan.] The “Prohibition Navy” was a rag-tag collection of commissioned boats from several places, for several forces, and boats seized from the rumrunners.
Several Army pilots stationed at Selfridge Field in Mt Clemens, Michigan, together with civilian pilots in the Detroit area, were transporting liquor by air from Canada. “The ease of air rum-running largely explained the enthusiasm of many officers for flying daily practice maneuvers to Ontario and back.”
In January and February of 1925, 1926, and January to March of 1930, the ice was solid enough to use ice boats, sleds, and automobiles. “During the coldest weeks of winter, convoys of cars from Canada crossed the ice daily. Cars on the American shore lined up at night and turned on their headlights to provide an illuminated expressway across the ice.”
The Detroit News described rumrunning by iceboat as “adventure framed in moonlight, and as grim as the romance of the buccaneers of the Spanish Main…. A gust of flying snow and perhaps now and then a trace of silver canvas stretched taught in the wind,” and the boats were gone. Other rumrunners would wear ice skates, and abandon their cars if chased by federal agents, who wore “ice creepers” that prevented slipping on the ice, but were slow.
Small independents learned that their market size depended on their reputation.
Some large syndicates emerged to bargain with the Canadian exporters, but “most American syndicates, however, remained relatively small and operated as “gangs” rather than as legitimate businesses. The East Side Gang, the West Side Gang, the Oakland Sugar House Gang, the Purple Gang, the Little Navy, the Jewish Navy, Peajacket’s Navy, and other groups all had large accounts and credit lines with Canadian exporters.”
“In order to meet the challenge of rum-running, the federal government organized and carried out several well-publicized enforcement “drives” in the Detroit area, involving the coordination of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Violence accompanied prohibition enforcement, but especially during these regular but only sporadically effective drives. Everyone agreed that some carefully measured use of force by law enforcement officers was necessary. But that used by prohibition enforcers was too often careless and even gratuitous, and many times its victims were not rumrunners but innocent bystanders…. Bullets of the police, many citizens concluded, were wreaking more havoc on an innocent public than the bottled beverages of the brewers ever did.”
“During a Senate debate in 1929, for example, Senator Smith Brookhart of Iowa complained, “When we get senators in this chamber talking sense, instead of all this gush stuff about murders by men who make mistakes once in a while, we will have a better attitude toward the bootlegger question.”
“I cannot protect my premises against use by smugglers or against marauding federal officers. Of the two I would rather be visited by the smugglers because they have done my premises no damage.” — Henry B. Joy, former president of the Packard Motor Company, resident of St. Clair Shores, in Detroit. Federal officers at least twice broke down his boathouse, in an attempt to find rumrunners who weren’t there.
“With the passage of prohibition the drys had predicted a new prosperity to be enjoyed by all Americans in the new arid paradise. Nowhere was the promise fulfilled so quickly or so literally as in the “downriver communities” of Ecorse, Delray, Oakwood, River Rouge, Ford, Wyandotte, Trenton, and Slocum. Soon after the passage of prohibition thousands of residents of the downriver communities began participating in rum-running and consequently reaped nearly unbelievable riches from their activities. During the prohibition years, in Ecorse and the other downriver towns, crime paid. Lavishly.”
“Andrew Volstead, the Saturday Night observed, had changed the Detroit River into “a stream of gold” for Ecorse.”
In many of these towns, the police ignored rumrunning, or even helped, to the point of helping unload, and warning rumrunners when the feds were coming into the area.
“By the mid-1920s, for many men the most attractive feature of the prohibition enforcement service was the opportunity it presented to become part of the rum-running graft system.”
“A very popular method of bribery involved the “free night.” In this arrangement the fixer paid the inspectors to “disappear” for a fixed amount of time, usually three or four hours, on a certain night. During that time the rumrunners could bring as much liquor across the river as they could find means to convey. An imaginative part of the free night involved rumrunners tipping off inspectors as to the location of rumrunners not participating in the payoffs…. In some instances, inspectors even “bribed” rumrunners within the graft trust to acquire information on river crossings by rumrunners not involved in the trust. The subsequent arrests sometimes enhanced the reputation of a Border Patrol inspector with his superiors.”
Finally, Canada cooperated in apprehending rumrunners.
“Now the well-organized navies and gangs that formerly coexisted in transporting liquor began looking for new worlds to conquer. Gang wars broke out and raged in and around Detroit during the next two years. A ‘war” of national proportions raged within the criminal organizations of the Italian-American community. Increases were noted in kidnapping, robbery, extortion, and murder-for-hire, all involving individuals formerly employed in the importation and marketing of Canadian liquor.”
“Detroit prospered because of prohibition.”
“Ten years after prohibition became the law in Michigan, smuggling, manufacturing, and distributing liquor had become Detroit’s second largest industry, exceeded in size only by the production of automobiles. Detroit’s illegal liquor industry was three times larger than her chemical industry, eight times the size of her stove and heating appliance industry, ten times the size of her cigar and tobacco industry, and about one-eighth the size of her automobile industry.”
Employed 50,000 people; retail value of illegal liquor was $215-219 annually. Just before Michigan went dry, there were 1,534 licensed saloons & 800 illegal unlicensed saloons in Detroit; in 1923 a police survey indicated 3,000 blind pigs in the city; the Detroit News, also in 1923, surveyed 7,000 additional blind pigs unknown to the police. In 1925, the police estimated 15,000 blind pigs. In 1928, the News estimated 16 to 25,000. “It was absolutely impossible to get a drink in Detroit, unless you walked at least ten feet and told the busy bartender what you wanted in a voice loud enough for him to hear you above the uproar.” — Malcolm Bingay, journalist.
“One of the more important results of the growth of illegal liquor traffic was that there was no longer any restriction as to where a retail liquor outlet might open. Wards and neighborhoods that were free from saloons before 1918 were now inundated with entrepreneurs who came to the customers rather than wait for them downtown.”
“And yet while a large proportion of the public and police observed an anxious tolerance toward most illegal retail liquor outlets, there was one type that was not suffered so easily: the so-called school pig. The problem of the school pigs first emerged in 1924 after the publication of a front-page story in the Detroit News dealing with “horrifying revelations” of drunkenness among grammar school students…. Kenneth Nestell… became addicted to the stuff…. he pointed out [to police] a blind pig where children were regularly sold booze…. Edith Shaw, principal of Lyon School charged that blind pigs in the school neighborhood served as “liquor traps” for slow learners in the school’s special grades. [They] were lured into the five blind pigs located on the same block as the school. Police investigating Miss Shaw’s complaint discovered that young children in the neighborhood could tell anyone on the street where beer or cheap whisky might be purchased. In mid-March the principal of Franklin School complained directly to Acting Mayor Joseph Martin that blind pigs operated in the neighborhood of his school and made it a regular practice to sell liquor to students.”
The school pig scandal was revived in 1927: “In mid-October… police received complaints of the existence of school pigs in the upper middle-class residential areas… Because of the fear of school pigs, students of Cass Technical High School were required to bring their lunches or to purchase them in the school cafeteria, but under no circumstances were they to leave the school premises during the noon hour. Bishop School was closed because of the abundance of blind pigs nearby. A spokeswoman for the Florence Crittendon Home announced that blind pigs serving teenagers were the principal contributing cause for a 300 percent increase in the number of delinquent cases handled by the home since 1921. The school board demanded that the police maintain “safety zones” for children in school neighborhoods.”
“In the end, repeal solved the problem of the school pigs just as it had solved the problem of the free lunch.”
“Many home distillers were unaware that a still produced not only what they wanted—that is, ethyl alcohol—but also various “doublings,” including amyl alcohol, butyl alcohol, and other compounds. These doublings were drained off and disposed of by distillers concerned with the toxicity of their product, but a significant number of home distillers simply lit the lamp under their still and left it on until the mash was dry, unaware that the first and last drops produced were quite different from ethyl alcohol…. Some distillers even used lead rather than copper coils for their stills, and the resulting product contained lead acetate, a deadly but slow-working poison. Some bottlers and blind-pig owners added methanol, or wood alcohol to drinks in order to produce an additional “kick” for the drinker. Still others added dead rodents or pieces of rotten meat for a pungent and mysterious flavor.”
“As the prohibition years drew to a close the future continued to look very bright for the gangs that had been organized in Detroit to supply liquor to thirsty citizens. The Sicilian factions of the city in particular were tightly and effectively organized, had accumulated a good deal of liquid capital, and under [Joseph] Zerilli’s leadership were flexible and imaginative, prepared to move into new areas of business endeavor. Prohibition would end, but when new public demands arose that could not be supplied legally, the gangs organized in the 1920s would be there to serve as suppliers. For organized crime, prohibition had been a blessing, serving as a midwife, a teacher, and a rich uncle; and with the end of prohibition, many former rumrunners and gangsters moved with relative ease from rum to riches and respectability.”
Prohibition in Action
As long as people want to drink, prohibition is unenforceable. And criminals who accumulated money and power from their prohibition earnings were left alone by law enforcement in favor of small-time criminals with less ability to bribe and coerce. They even a form of three-strikes laws that gave life imprisonment for a pint’s worth of alcohol.
Grayson Murphy: “Personally I do not know a man-I want to make this clear: I may know a man, but I cannot remember if I do-I do not know of a single leading banker in the United States, I do not know of a single leading industrial executive in the United States, I do not know a single important railroad executive in the United States, that I can think of who does not break this law and who does not drink.”
Mr. Michener: “Henry Ford?”
Grayson Murphy: “I do not know him.”
—House of Representatives Hearings on the Prohibition Amendment, 1930.
“Several factors contributed to the enforcement dilemma. Among the most important of these was the financially tight-fisted stance of prohibition’s friends both in Congress and the state legislatures. Notwithstanding oceans of evidence to the contrary, ardent dry legislators were reluctant to acknowledge that a major enforcement effort was necessary. Massive funding for enforcement, they feared, would involve acknowledging massive problems resulting from a reluctance of the public actively to support the dry laws, and would consequently fuel the fires of prohibition’s critics. Funding for enforcement was, as a result, both inadequate and inconspicuous.”
“We could not enforce the prohibition law in Michigan,” complained Roy Vandercook, commander of the state police, “if we had the United States standing army. As long as the people maintain their present attitude toward prohibition, the law is unenforceable.”
“The volume of prohibition cases was great enough to put a serious strain on the state and federal prison and jail facilities. By 1930, for example, one-third of the twelve thousand long-term federal prisoners were serving sentences for prohibition violation. Such statistics made the ardent prohibitionist appear to be not his brother’s keeper, but his brother’s jailer.
‘The type of arrests, moreover, was bothersome to many citizens. As in the case of other laws, justice was not blind to prohibition prosecution, but only nearsighted. The big-time law violators, those able to accumulate money and power, too often escaped the clutches of the law, while the small-time violator was frequently arrested and successfully prosecuted.”
Herbert Asbury called the 1920s the “Era of the Big Lie.” “The drys lied to make prohibition look good, the wets lied to make it look bad; the government officials lied to make themselves look good and to frighten Congress into giving them more money to spend; and the politicians lied through force of habit.”
U.S. Senator James Couzens changed and came out against the Volstead Act in 1923. He wanted it revised to allow the sale and manufacture of beer containing 5% or less alcohol. He received “hundreds of letters both praising and condemning his stand. Lieutenant Fred Clark of the Detroit Police Department informed Couzens that rumrunners, bootleggers, and operators of blind pigs in Monroe and Wayne Counties were unanimously arrayed against him because of his stand for moderation-a program that might deprive them of most of their business.”
“Throughout the late 1920s critics of the dry law, like [H. N.] Nimmo, [editor of the Detroit Saturday Night] continued to point out prohibition’s shortcomings. All that prohibition had accomplished, they claimed, was to deprive the public treasury of tax revenues from the liquor traffic and to make drinking more attractive, particularly to youth, by giving it the tinge of romance since it had become an illegal activity. Frederic Meyer, the state superintendent of Lutheran schools in Michigan, complained that before prohibition German children had consumed beer only at family dinners and celebrations but that after prohibition many of them began to drink whisky “because it’s prohibited.” “Now men, women and children indulge in that hellish stuff,” Meyer lamented.”
“Yet despite vociferous insistence by the critics of prohibition that anyone who opened his eyes could see quite clearly that there was a good deal more drinking in America under prohibition than there had been before, careful analysis does not support their contention. In fact, under prohibition there was a substantial decrease in the per capita quantity of alcohol consumed in the United States. Concerning this matter, historian John C. Burnham concluded in 1968 that prohibition had successfully cut liquor consumption and produced favorable social results until about 1923. Burnham pointed to the dramatic decrease in the number of patients with alcoholic psychoses admitted to mental hospitals in the early twenties, a decrease, he contended, that indicated a drop in alcohol consumption generally. (James V. May, an eminent American psychiatrist, wrote in 1922 that “with the advent of prohibition the alcoholic psychoses as far as this country is concerned have become of little more than historical interest.”) Of the journalists who insisted that under prohibition “everyone drank, including many who never did before,” Burnham concluded that those writers reported honestly what they observed; they seldom if ever observed the working classes, however, and knew very little about pre-prohibition drinking habits of the masses. The “everyone” who was reported to be drinking more heavily, Burnham concluded, did not include working-class families, and he pointed to a careful study by Clark Warburton in 1932 which indicated that “the working class is consuming more than half as much alcohol per capita as formerly, and the expenditure of this class upon alcoholic beverages is probably one billion dollars less than it would be without prohibition.” Burnham concluded that “even in its last years the law, with all its leaks, was still effective in cutting down drinking among workers, which was one of the primary aims of prohibition.” The panacea of the Anti-Saloon League had also succeeded, Burnham observed, in destroying the old-fashioned saloon, which had long been the main target of its campaign. The new-fashioned saloon, however, the blind pig, was something else again.
‘In another recent study, sociologist Joseph Gusfield, utilizing Warburton’s data, found credible the contention that drinking decreased under prohibition. Gusfield noted that prohibition succeeded in curtailing the heavy drinking that had characterized early twentieth century America. Available statistics, Gusfield contended, support the conclusion that per capita alcohol consumption in America during the 1920s was 30 to 50 percent less than in the pre-prohibition 1911-1915 period. The law worked best among workers and in rural areas, he concluded. It worked least well among the upper classes.
‘Such evidence, then, indicates that the prohibitionists were not totally incorrect in their insistence that prohibition did prohibit. But all too often the drys and their critics were, as Sinclair noted, guilty of telling a half-truth. Everyone did not drink under prohibition; and everyone did not stop drinking under prohibition. A decrease in drinking by 30 to 50 percent, after all, still left 50 to 70 percent of the previous consumption level. The association made by the drys between soaring prosperity and the eradication of drinking was based more on faith than fact. The association made by the wets between a soaring crime rate and increased drinking was likewise based more on faith than on fact. In the 1920s there was, until late 1929, prosperity; there was also less drinking. The actual connection between the two was never convincingly explained. It is doubtful that it ever can be convincingly explained. Prohibition’s true believers found almost any statistics favorable to their position convincing. The proof of prohibition, they proclaimed, was in the pudding. Had they examined the pudding carefully, however, they would have discovered that it still contained a disturbingly high alcoholic content.”
The Iron River Rum Rebellion: February 1920. Upper peninsula.
“The trouble in Iron River involved “Dago Red,” a zinfandel wine produced by local Italian-Americans for personal domestic consumption. Section 29 of the Volstead Act specifically exempted the domestic manufacture of “non-intoxicating cider and fruit juices” from the prohibition-law restraints so long as it was neither sold nor delivered for consumption purposes. Because of Section 29, national and state prohibition had no effect at all upon Dago Red production and consumption in the Iron River Area.
‘In mid-February, however, state police officers raided three homes in the Iron River area and confiscated several barrels of Dago Red. The local state’s attorney, Martin A. McDonough, ordered the wine returned and warned the state police that their raids had been illegal. A few days later, nevertheless, members of the state police force accompanied by prohibition agents from Chicago raided the same homes and seized the same Dago Red. This time McDonough intervened vigorously. Accompanied by several local law enforcement officials, he confronted the state and federal officials outside one of the raided homes. McDonough ordered the Dago Red returned, called the state police officer in charge of the raid a “tramp,” and advised all local wine makers to arm themselves and to shoot any federal officer who might in the future attempt to enter their homes. Not only was a man’s house his castle, McDonough proclaimed, but under Section 29 of the Volstead Act, it was also his wine cellar. McDonough again insisted that the major law enforcement problem in Iron River was not prohibition violation by local residents but illegal searches and seizures by non-local law enforcement officers.
‘McDonough’s defiance of the federal agents was reported to Major A. V. Dalrymple, the supervising prohibition director for the Central Division, which included Michigan. Dalrymple, a man completely devoid of any sense of proportion when it came to prohibition enforcement, informed United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer that Iron County, Michigan, was in “open revolt” against prohibition enforcement. To Palmer, this Dago Red Scare on the heels of the Big Red Scare was a serious matter indeed. He immediately authorized Dalrymple to raise an armed force and to invade Iron County. The Iron River rebels had to be taught a lesson. Palmer said he regarded the rebellion as a matter for the State Department or perhaps the War Department to handle, but he boldly accepted the task and delegated full authority for action to Dalrymple. Dalrymple then solemnly told newspaper reporters that he would take as many men as necessary from Chicago, and, reinforced by the Michigan State Police, “I shall put respect and fear of the law into Iron County, cost what it may….this is a showdown between the Federal Government and those who would defy the Constitution.”
Dalrymple and his armed invaders caught the next train for Iron River, but without search warrants. The U.S. district attorney would not issue them without evidence of law-breaking, which Dalrymple could not produce.
McDonough, meanwhile, was demanding that federal prohibition officials in Washington call off the invasion before someone was hurt. Dalrymple and his army came in, made a few raids without warrants, destroyed a small amount of Dago Red, and was ordered back to Chicago by the federal prohibition commissioner. “A subsequent federal investigation ruled that Dalrymple had acted both illegally and injudiciously. Dago Red, in the home, the investigation pointed out, was indeed legal.”
“The Iron River fiasco by no means hurt his career. He continued to rise within the Prohibition Bureau until All Fools’ Day, 1933, when U.S. Attorney General Homer Cummings appointed him to head the agency.”
A ‘four-time loser’ law in Michigan; also known as “Life for a Pint” because a pint was all that was necessary for it to be a felony; four felonies were required, then life imprisonment. “The greatest outcry against the Michigan law came in mid-December 1928, when Mrs. Etta Mae Miller, forty-eight years old and the mother of ten children, was sentenced to life imprisonment for a fourth violation of the state liquor law. Mrs. Miller’s husband, Alvin, was already in prison, serving a term for prohibition violation. Mrs. Miller’s case was appealed, and while the appeal was still in the courts there was renewed controversy over enforcement of the dry laws. The arresting officer in the Palm and Miller cases, Frank Eastman, confessed that the liquor found in the Miller home had been planted there by a fellow police officer.”
The four-time loser law was eventually changed to only apply to felonies that “called for a maximum sentence of at least five years for the first offense.”
Prosperity, Liberty, and Lower Taxes: The Story of Repeal
By 1929, people began to tire of “lawlessness, bootlegging, hijacking, poison-whiskey selling, shooting innocent citizens, gin parties attended by innocent high school girls and boys and rum parties attended by dry agents and other hypocrites, and of huge sums spent futilely in vain attempts to control men’s appetites by legislation.” Democrats sloganed with “Roosevelt and Repeal”.
“Prohibition has made nothing but trouble-trouble for all of us. Worst thing ever hit the country. Why, I tried to get into legitimate business two or three times, but they won’t stand for it.” — Al Capone
Andrew Volstead told a national convention of the Anti-Saloon League in 1921 that “They can never repeal it.” Senator Morris Sheppard (Texas) said “there is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.” Evangelist Billy Sunday said there was no more chance of repeal “than you can dam Niagara Falls with toothpicks.”
The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment listed in one of their circulars the following ideals: “(1) a contented citizenry; (2) very little drunkenness; (3) no “thou shalt nots” to perpetually challenge young people; (4) no expensive enforcement, hence no patronage and of course no graft; (5) better, safer highways, the sanctity of the home protected, and the police left free to pursue their regular duties of protecting life and property; (6) no clogging of the courts and jails.”
“AAPA officials warned that the overextension of governmental police powers brought with it the destruction of traditional American liberties. And the harder the government tried to enforce the prohibition laws, the more individual freedom was sacrificed.”
“[Henry B.] Joy [treasurer of the Michigan division of the AAPA] explained that it was useless for the state and federal governments to attempt to make the population bone dry when at least one-half of the people of the country would never accept such a condition.”
“members of the AAPA believed that the Eighteenth Amendment rewarded hypocrisy and punished honesty, and this greatly disturbed them.”
“The economic aspects of repeal were given credibility by the results of a state tax on malt. In the closing days of the 1929 legislative session, legislators passed the malt-tax measure in the hope of returning over $2 million to the state treasury for the relief of depressed school districts. The statute provided for a tax of five cents per pound on malt syrup and extract and a small tax on wort, a basic ingredient of beer. Since these products were used almost exclusively in the production of home-brewed beer, the state, for all practical purposes, had decided to tax the illegal booze traffic. In 1931 the legislature passed a similar measure over the veto of dry Governor Wilbur Brucker, who asserted that the taxation of an illegal product was “wrong in principle and vicious in practice.” In a single year the tax raised over $500,000 in Detroit alone.”
A subsidiary of the AAPA, the Crusaders, founded in Cleveland Ohio in 1929, by Fred G. Clark, Cleveland oil executive. “Clark described the group as “neither dreamers or fanatics,” but as simply men who had “had enough lawlessness, bootlegging, hijacking, poison-whiskey selling, shooting innocent citizens, gin parties attended by innocent high school girls and boys and rum parties attended by dry agents and other hypocrites; of whisky flasks on the hips of college and high school men at gatherings of all kinds;… of huge sums spent futilely in vain attempts to control men’s appetites by legislation and of absolute disregard for the distinction between drunkards and temperate users of liquor.”
The Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform [p. 210], headed by Mrs. Fred A. Alger, had a pledge card that said “Because I believe that prohibition has increased crime, lawlessness, hypocrisy and corruption; because I believe that the cause of real temperance has been retarded and that sumptuary laws have no place in the Federal Constitution, I enroll as a member of this organization, which is working for some change in the law to bring about a sane solution of the problem without the return of the saloon.”
“The most active and vibrant dry organization formed in the last months of the fight against repeal was the Michigan Youth Council on Prohibition, made up of students from high schools and junior high schools in the state. The Youth Council was formed by Mrs. Truman Newberry in early 1932 to aid in the November election. The Youth Council petitioned the Detroit Board of Education for a reintrodcution of textbooks that pointed out the physiological dangers of alcohol consumption, but the board refused even to consider the request, explaining that the texts had been distorted in their presentation of the facts.”
“In an interview with Samuel Crowther of the Ladies Home Journal in 1930, [Henry] Ford contended that prohibition was a moral issue “because it is economically right. We know that anything which is economically right is also morally right….There can be no conflict between good economics and good morals; in fact the one cannot exist without the other.” [So does this mean the illegal liquor traffic — “the second largest enterprise in the state” — was morally right? And the drug traffic today? I’ll buy that ounce.]
In 1932, the Democrats added a repeal plank into their platform; they nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt, a repealist. The Detroit Democratic Club adopted “Roosevelt and Repeal” as their slogan.
The Detroit News, in August 1934, said that repeal provided “only” twenty-five thousand jobs, and indirectly several thousand more; $50 million of business annually, and $17,800,000 in taxes & public revenue.
And with a 40% tax on liquor in state stores, some bootleggers remained in business.
“By 1955 the state’s liquor operations had become a $200 million a year business. Once again, booze was second only to automobiles in the commerce of Michigan.”