In today's excerpt--at the founding of our country, Americans drank more alcohol than at any time before or since, five gallons of pure alcohol per person per year as opposed to two gallons today. Currently, America is a nation of relatively moderate drinkers, ranking around 20th among the world's countries. Along the way, American anti-German hysteria during World War I helped usher in thirteen years of Prohibition:
"American prohibitionists believed the demon rum and its church, the saloon, were the world's prime sources of evil. 'When the saloon goes,' said Ernest Cherrington, a leader of the Anti-Saloon League, 'the devil will be ready to quit.' The American temperance movement is as old as America itself, but it became a political force in the mid-1800s, fueled in part by a bias against immigrants, including Irish and Italian Catholics, who were stereotyped as shiftless alcoholics. After the Civil War, it spawned two powerful groups--the Prohibition Party and [hatching-toting Carry Nation's] Women's Christian Temperance Union, whose slogan was 'For God, Home and Native Land.'
"But is wasn't the antics of Carry Nation that won the fight for prohibition, it was the political savvy of the Anti-Saloon League. ... Founded in 1895, the league pioneered many of the techniques now used by modern advocacy groups. Working through local churches--generally rural Methodist or Baptist churches--it raised money, endorsed candidates and successfully lobbied for laws banning liquor in many towns and counties. In 1905 the league demonstrated its growing power by defeating Ohio Governor Myron Herrick, who had thwarted the league's legislative agenda--an upset that terrified wet politicians.
"In 1913 the league kicked off its drive for a constitutional amendment prohibiting liquor with a march on Washington and a massive letter-writing campaign that flooded Congress with mail. The amendment failed in 1914, but gained strength during World War I, when the league exploited America's anti-German hysteria by deliberately associating beer with German-American brewers. 'Kaiserism abroad and booze at home must go,' declared the league's general counsel and wily Washington lobbyist, Wayne Wheeler.
"It worked. Congress passed the amendment in 1918. ... When the new law went into effect on January 17, 1920, evangelist Billy Sunday held a funeral for John Barleycorn in Norfolk, Va. 'The slums will soon be a memory,' he predicted. 'We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. ... Hell will be forever for rent.'
"Alas, it didn't work out that way. Prohibitions not only failed to eradicate slums and prisons, it even failed to curtail drinking, a pastime that now took on the allure of a forbidden thrill. ... In 1935, two years after Prohibition's repeal, two middle-class alcoholics, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, founded an organization-- Alcoholics Anonymous--that proved far more effective than Prohibition in combating drunkenness."
Peter Carlson, "Uneasy About Alcohol," American History, December 2008, p. 37.