Worth noting in advance: Tomorrow is the 79th anniversary of FDR signing the Cullen Harrison Act, mandating the sale of beers and ‘light wines’, whatever they were. Full repeal of prohibition followed shortly thereafter. From Daniel Okrent’s Last Call:
Breweries and bottlemakers, coopers and hop farmers, trucking firms and ice plants and dozens of other kinds of business immediately began to recruit thousands from the ranks of the unemployed. Coca-Cola, fearing competition, actually considered producing ‘Coca-Cola Beer’ in both light and dark varieties. On April 7, the Budweiser Clydesdales made their debut, delivering a case to Al Smith in New York....The CBS Network broadcast beer celebrations across the country. In Milwaukee, a blanket license was issued to 4207 taverns precisely at midnight. In Baltimore, HL Mencken lifted a stein to his lips, drained its legal contents and pronounced it “pretty good – not bad at all.”
I used to wonder why Mencken in the twenties and thirties seemed sometimes to be obsessed with prohibition, but Okrent’s book does a great job of showing how the issue became functionally integral to all factions in American politics: where you stood on it was, basically, where you stood on America. Supporting it was an alliance of suffragists, nativists, Protestants of the shouty denominations, self-identified progressives in both major parties (but mainly in the Republicans), the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan and plain, God fearing country folk, excepting those whose God happened to be Jewish or Catholic. Opposing it were city dwellers, people from ‘ethnic’ in the US sense (ie non WASP) backgrounds, along with bourbon Republicans and Jeffersonian Democrats.
There was also an interesting alliance of necessity between organized labour, which wanted the jobs and the taxes to support better welfare and more job creation initiatives, and various tycoons, who believed that taxes on alcohol would replace the income taxes they chafed at paying. The tycoons bankrolled the repeal movement but the Unions eventually had the better of the argument. Big government and freedom to drink won the day: arguably, making Repeal his first order of business gave Roosevelt unstoppable political momentum. The same group of businessmen behind Repeal went on to found the Liberty League, which finding itself unable to halt the tide of booze and socialism by political means went on to see if they could solicit a coup against Roosevelt. They approached the wrong man to front it.
So, yeah. Henry was right. Here he reports under a pseudonym on Prohibition’s second terrible year.