March 04, 2011

Tasty Selections from Last Call

The story of Prohibition:
“[Jack] London, sober, would have written nothing worth reading,” Mencken told Upton Sinclair eight years after London’s death. “Alcohol made him.” That was Mencken being Mencken; in truth, it’s hard to imagine that one man, even one as protean as London, could both drink to excess and write to excess.

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Flocks of women lined up on depot platforms to kiss [a famous Prohibition supporter]—163 in Chicago, 419 in Kansas City, 350 more in Topeka. By the time he got to Denver, he had had enough. “When the kissing is fast and furious it sometimes gets just a little tiresome,” he told a reporter. “It sometimes happens that when some ancient lips are presented I would fain pass them by unkissed, but when I start in I have to take it as it comes. There is no selecting; everything goes.”

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Hobson thought that any woman who experienced carnal desire was a “sex pervert,” and attributed promiscuity to the effects of alcohol. He wasn’t crazy about sexual urges in men, either, but accepted their evolutionary necessity.

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“Like most humorless men, he had to make life into a crusade to make sense of it.”

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Wayne Wheeler explained away the attitudes of the “wet-drys” by asserting that “men vote as they pray rather than as they drink.” It would have been less disingenuous to have said, “Men vote as their instinct for political survival would have them vote.”

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[Billy] Sunday gave shape to the new attitude—increasingly ferocious, even vengeful—that characterized the Prohibition forces as they stood at the edge of victory. No more tibbly-tibbling, said Billy Sunday: “I have no interest in a God who does not smite.”

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Thomas Gilmore, president of the distillers’ Model License League, in fact attempted to persuade Congress to give liquor to the soldiers to “insure the steadiness of nerve that wins battles.” After all, Gilmore explained, “the man who rushes a rapid fire gun should be given the relief from terror that alcohol imparts.”

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Prohibition, Root told his friend Everett P. Wheeler, “takes away the chief pleasure in life for millions of men who have never been trained to get their pleasure from art, or literature, or sports, or reform movements.” One imagines that most American workers, confronted with the choice, would opt for their beer even if the infinite joys of reform movements had been available to them.

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