The Editors Lambaste Volstead

One of the pleasures of my job is combing through America's archives. It is especially interesting to read the editors' analyses of political events. What continues to surprise me is the breadth of the subjects they wrote about. That and the sharpness of their opinions—these gentlemen did not mince words. Here's a fun example: two editorials from the 1930s on the futility of the Volstead Act. The magazine editorialized against Prohibition dozens of times, and if their opinions sometimes seems dated or idiosyncratic, they are still a pleasure to read:

While, then, it seems to us that it would be a grave error to teach children to revere the Volstead Act, we have been contending since 1920 that the need of teaching temperance in our schools was greater than ever. The Volstead Act has transferred the saloon to the family kitchen. Children grow up nowadays in blissful ignoranee of what the old-fashioned saloon looked like, but it is a rare child indeed who escapes all contact with home brews, and not a few soon learn to call the family bootlegger by his first name. The shelves, on which mother used to range the family supply of jams, jellies and catsups, are now occupied by bottles and jugs containing noisome mixtures concocted by father. And it is rather startling to hear a child of nine complain that the beer is somewhat flat, and to witness the rage of her older sister when informed that there can be no cocktails tonight, because some boys and girls dropped in during the afternoon, and surreptiously lapped up the family store of gin and rum.


We may be old-fashioned and crabbed and without understanding. Probably we are; but as long as this sort of thing keeps up, we view Prohibition as a delusion and a fraud.

You can read the rest here.

And you can read my review of Ken' Burns' new documentary on Prohibition here.

Tim Reidy


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ed gleason
7 years 6 months ago
A parish priest in the drug hell of Camden NJ said " that prohibition of alcohol could not be controlled even when the distribution required trucks, warehouses, retail speakeasys so how can drugs be controlled when a man with a valise or knapsack can carry $100,00-200,00 dollars worth of product around.'
That Changed my mind the 100 of billions in incarceration costs. the 100,000 murders here and Mexico.. .
I think the PBS, Burns show will be a turning point... I live in Ca and marijuana legal has been no problem so far and we are letting out 50,000 from overcrowded jails. if we still criminalized marijuana it would be 1,000,000 more crowded in. 
The extra attraction toward the forbidden for the many cannot be over estimated.. We Catholics should be well aware of this.  
Tim Reid
7 years 6 months ago
A very interesting article from the 1930's.  I am intrigued about Ken Burns' documentary.  I understand that 1 of the reasons the Church was not keen on Prohibition was the whole wine thing.  Church's had to apply for an exemption to get altar wine.  All in all an interesting topic.
david power
7 years 6 months ago

What kind of a system would you propose??
I find it difficult to imagine a place where those types of drugs could be brought into the mainstream.I may just be running short of imagination.
How would it work? 
I spent two months in Amsterdam about 10 years ago and often passed the hash-houses  and have to say that it didn't seem to have a negative effect on the society because it was well managed .
How could you possibly legalize heroin?."Honey, Im just popping out for a spot H"  or " Mom, have you seen my needle?I could have sworn I left it on the dresser" is difficult to imagine as a norm.Heroin would surely just be akin to making the entire world or in your case America an opium den. 
I am sure that the present system will be superceded but struggle to see how  
Marie Rehbein
7 years 6 months ago
The "rest" link above has some comments appended to it that advocate the abandonment of the war on drugs based on the failure of alcohol prohibition to eliminate the use of alcohol.  However, these comments are incomplete. 

What would those who wish it to stop the war on drugs propose to replace it?  Is it to be assumed that drugs would lose their appeal if they were not illegal?  What of the physically addictive kinds? 

A small percentage of the population is vulnerable to alcoholism, but everyone is vulnerable to addiction to herion, to name one addictive drug.  The regulation of alcohol replaced the prohibition of it, but the regulation of drugs, which exists already, has not prevented abuse or illegal distribution of prescription drugs, so there is no reason to assume that addictive drugs that have no medical purpose can be regulated in a way that prevents harm to society, particularly children. 

It seems to me that those who advocate the abandonment of the war on drugs are simply focused on the dollars spent on it and do not bother to compare it to the dollars that will have to be spent treating addiction and all the social ills that result from it. 
Marie Rehbein
7 years 6 months ago

I would make a distinction between marijuana and heroin.  Making marijuana legal might be a better idea than abandoning the war on drugs entirely.
ed gleason
7 years 6 months ago
Yes, Marie there is heroin..and even bigger now meth.
Cigarettes are additive [I know] but the gradual sanctions, taxes, health risks, start to make the addict see how demeaning the addiction is. . Tobacco is way down as people wathed how  'demeaning' the addiction is .Cigarette addicts huddled near an overhang in rain and wind in order to get in a smoke because they work in smoke free building is the kind of force that overcomes their behavior.
When people move from forbidden to demeaning they are on their way.. shame based, and self love based  morality is better than gun based morality.


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