The 18th amendment was ratified by congress on January 16, 1919 in which the selling and distribution of “intoxicating liquors” was banned. That was the start of what many called the dry decade in the United States. Norman H. Clark’s Deliver Us from Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition illustrates the struggles to make the dry decade possible and the consequences that followed it. The 235 page text describes how the Anti-Saloon League was determined to make prohibition possible and the struggles they had to overcome. As well as what directly followed once it was a reality.
Clark analyzes and critiques Prohibition not as a historical moment, but as a movement. This book is very well researched and a thorough bibliography is included. An interesting aspect that is brought to light is the rural vs. urban issue of 18th and 19th century America. The first milestone that eventually led to the dry decade was the closing of saloons. Clark describes the saloon as “…a place where a man could unburden himself of, caste and status and social inhibition and breathe for a moment without anxiety, humiliation, or shame. Clark brings to the table the fallout of urban cities that came of these saloons. He writes “But there were also saloons which increased poverty, crime, and degradation. ” He portrays them as the poison to the American way of life, and how many groups saw this such poison, and were determined to stop it to create a better society. In the text we follow the Anti-Saloon League as they begin the long struggle that would lead to the decade. The ASL started their objective at a local level, by getting support from local citizens and politicians to close these saloons.
At first they didn’t get much support, but eventually they were able to convince people to campaign with them. One such group was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. They were an association of women formed in the United States in 1874, for the advancement of temperance by organizing preventive, educational, evangelistic, social, and legal work. Their goal was to teach Americans of the effects of liquor to American society. Clark writes of all these different groups that all had an effect towards the outlawing of the saloons.
For example “in the 1880’s the WCTU began a campaigning for state laws which would make scientific temperance instruction mandatory in the public schools. ” Clark brings to mind many of these groups who many did not know were political forces leading to the passage of the 18th amendment. With all the support of all the many different groups, the ASL felt they should step it up and abolish all the saloons throughout the country. Many people seem to think that prohibition was centered only in large cities such as Chicago.
But Clark demonstrates that it wasn’t the case. Many states were implementing laws to abolish saloons and even becoming dry states before the 18th amendment was passed. Clark writes of how in Pomona CA, out of hundreds of saloons that existed only two survived. But even then they weren’t allowed to have seats to discourage clients from loitering to long. As well as only being able to sell liquor during certain hours. The fact that a local city was used as an example in the book made me realize that there was such wide support for this cause.
Clark also demonstrates that many politicians who were considered “wet” agreed with the views of the ASL and their supports. Clark writes “London felt that the quality of life in America would improve measurably when the saloons were abolished, and he felt further that it would improve extraordinarily when in the course of s saloon less era the addicted drinkers themselves began to vanish, taking their filthy habits, their bottles, vats, and crocks, along with them.
This made me realize that even two different mined politicians had the same view of what prohibition would create in the American society the uses of these prominent people’s opinions. I believe that the text is a very good representation of how prohibition came to be and what it was. This book contained many strong points. Perhaps the strongest was Clark’s ability to put prohibition in its correct context without which it would not be possible to understand it.
The book makes it clear that prohibition is misunderstood in our time by those who are unable to see from the perspective of those times. Reading this book is a good way of realizing this. Despite that the text clearly outlines the politics of prohibition it failed to have a personal feel. I tend to respond to books that have some emotion in them. I found myself reading and not quite understanding what it meant. I would have like that Clark perhaps included some stories or examples of how alcohol affected the everyday family. That’s what I was hoping for when I read the summery of the text.
I think that the reader would have related a bit more to the book if some of those stories were included. Although the book failed to have a personal feel to it I still very much enjoyed it. I was able to understand a bit more the politics of prohibition that I’ve never got from a textbook. It also made me rethink of the many misconceptions of this era. I recommend that if you want to understand a bit more about the politics of prohibition it’s a definite must read. This book contains more about the politics of prohibition than any textbook would.