Prohibition The Power is in the People

The Power is in the People

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (The United States Constitution: The First Amendment).

By the action taken on December 12, 1791 (when the Bill of Rights was adopted), the United States of America granted its people a power that would prove extremely potent one-hundred and twenty-nine years later. During the era of Prohibition (1920-1933), people took whatever action necessary to get their way, and did so through the rights afforded to them in the First Amendment. Individuals in favor of Prohibition, seeing the benefits of the institution, worked together to sustain it. Those against Prohibition, feeling a violation of their rights, acted just as intensely, if not even more so, to stop the movement. The government, ignoring the voice of the people, was primarily concerned with keeping Prohibition alive. However, the right to individual voice, a principle upon which the United States was founded, made it impossible for an institution such as Prohibition to exist successfully.

In the years prior to and during Prohibition, many people did everything within their power to keep the nation free of alcohol. Numerous committees were formed for the purpose of pursuing the enactment and continuation of Prohibition. Church and religion also played a large part in the fight to keep the nation “dry”. Some individuals even entered politics and took office in the government in an effort to be heard.
People made an united effort to reveal the virtues of Prohibition to the nation. The Anti-Saloon League of America was founded in 1893 at Oberlin, Ohio. Throughout Prohibition, its members went from town to town speaking out against saloons and alcohol (Merz 8). On January 16, 1920, they also declared, “it is here at last - dry America’s first birthday” (Kobler 11). Women established a group of their own as well. In 1874, Protestant women formed the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. They, like the Anti-Saloon League of America, cited the advantages of Prohibition (Kobler 10). As a whole, groups such as these utilized their First Amendment rights to the fullest to preach what they believed.
God and religion were essential to those fighting to keep Prohibition intact. Reverend Billy Sunday incorporated the issue of Prohibition into many of his sermons. In his most well-known of these sermons Sunday claims:
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 (Thornton 8).

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union held a strong influence in the church scene . They spoke of Prohibition as “God’s present to the nation” (Kobler 11) and sponsored conventions for all who saw Prohibition as a gift from the Father (Kobler 11-13).
Some individuals saw entering politics and taking public office as the best way to make a difference in the fight for Prohibition. Senator Morris Sheppard was determined and confident of keeping the nation alcohol free. He believed that with people such as himself in positions of power, the chances of the 18th Amendment (outlawing anything involving alcohol) being repealed were practically non-existent (Merz ix). Obviously, Sheppard’s assumption would prove incorrect.
The efforts of those against Prohibition were much more radical than the actions of the opposition. Several groups were formed, allowing many to voice their opinions about the evils that existed in the Prohibition laws. The most severe problems resulted from the illegal manufacture of liquor by individuals, and from numerous rebellious acts that brought about more crime. Because of all the negative things that began to occur, many citizens developed a hatred toward the government for instituting Prohibition.
The Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, The National Association Opposed to Prohibition, The Moderation League, and the American Veterans’ Association for the Repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment were just a few of the coalitions that existed during the Prohibition Era which complained about the injustices of making the nation “dry” (Cashman