ORGANIZED FOR PROHIBITION: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League by K. Austin Kerr

ORGANIZED FOR PROHIBITION: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League

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KIRKUS REVIEW

What was the ""Anti-Saloon League"" and who were its members? Were they religious fanatics raging against what they saw as the major vice of their time? Was the league, one of the nation's first pressure groups, just thousands of women badgering city fathers and saloon habitu‚s to take the pledge and remain abstemious? What did the fanatical Ku Klux Klan have to do with them and what political parties and movements did the league affiliate itself with? In his latest book, Kerr (history, Ohio State) traces the history of the prohibition movement in America from its inception with the ""dry laws"" of Maine in 1850 until its demise with the repeal of the 18th Amendment during the Depression. But his concern is more with group dynamics than with prohibition per se. At times as dry as some of the antidrink laws herein described, this examines the effects of a "". . .Christian brotherhood trying to reshape America"" while fighting the imagined "". . .evil liquor trust"" that wanted to despoil the youth of the nation. Glints of informative and revealing facts surface from time to time: Congress aided the cause of consuming alcoholic beverages by raising tariffs too high for industrial usage; the Volstead Act legislated its own death by allowing permits for storage and removal of industrial alcohol from federal warehouse. Slivers of characters float through, too: John D. Rockefeller, S.S. Kresge, Woodrow Wilson, Al Smith and a panoply of righteous reverends resolved to rid the world of public drinking and drunks. Kerr notes the league's inability to cope with success, as evidenced by its almost immediate degeneration upon ratification of the 18th Amendment. Squabbling, in-fighting, and fractiousness tore the league apart at a time when exercising its stated goal of being educators in public values might have sealed its victory for more than a measly 10 years. The interesting point about this book is how the movement and its group of followers reflect on American society today. Just as the bloody spectre of the Iranian upheaval was foreshadowed by Carlyle's haunting history of the French Revolution, so too (perhaps unintentionally) does Kerr portray a basically good, moral group and their movement--overtaken by religious and political radicals and then exploited for partisan and vested interests never intended by the founders. That insight into the human condition makes Kerr's book thought-provoking and worth a look.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1985
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press