Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Anti-Saloon League

The Anti-Saloon League was the leading organization lobbying for prohibition in the United States in the early 20th century. It was a key component of the Progressive Era, and was strongest in the South and rural North, drawing heavy support from pietistic Protestant ministers and their congregations, especially Methodists, Baptists, Disciples and Congregationalists. It concentrated on legislation, and cared about how legislators voted, not whether they drank or not. Founded as a state society in Oberlin, Ohio in 1893, its influence spread rapidly. In 1895 it became a national organization and quickly rose to become the most powerful prohibition lobby in America, pushing aside its older competitors the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition Party. Its triumph was nationwide prohibition locked into the Constitution with passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920. It was decisively defeated when prohibition was repealed in 1933.

In 1909, the League moved its national headquarters from Washington, D.C. to Westerville, Ohio, which had a reputation for temperance. The American Issue Publishing Company, the publishing arm of the League, was also in Westerville. Ernest Cherrington headed the company. It printed so many leaflets—over 40 tons of mail per month—that Westerville was the smallest town to have a first class post office.

The League's most prominent leader was Wayne Wheeler, although both Ernest Cherrington and William E. Johnson ("Pussyfoot" Johnson), were also highly influential and powerful.

The League used pressure politics in legislative politics, which it is credited with developing. When it came to fighting wet candidates, especially as Al Smith in the presidential election of 1928, the League was less effective because its audience was already Republican. Unable to cope with the failures of prohibition, especially bootlegging and organized crime as well as reduced government revenue, the League failed to counter the repeal forces, led by prominent Democrats, which helped Franklin D. Roosevelt win in 1932. A new Constitutional amendment passed easily in 1933 to repeal the 18th amendment, and the League lost its power. From 1948 until 1950 it was named the Temperance League, from 1950 to 1964 the National Temperance League, from 1964 the American Council on Alcohol Problems. Today the organization continues its original goal. A museum about the League is at the Westerville Public Library.

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