Honoring the Heroic Foes of Prohibitions Past and Present

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.

Barely a century ago, the hatchet-wielding “temperance” fanatic Carrie Nation smashed bars and saloons in Kansas and Texas. Some of the targets of her rage posted signs in their establishments that read, “All Nations Welcome Except Carrie.”

Arrested at least 30 times for her self-described “hatchetations,” Nation died in 1911 at age 64. Less than a decade later, her “good intentions” were realized when the federal government attempted to accomplish with guns and police what Carrie had so eagerly pursued with a hatchet.

Carrie Nation was not a hero and is not the primary subject of this article. Years before Nation appeared on the scene, former president Rutherford B. Hayes wisely rejected her sentiments when he wrote about the temperance movement in an 1883 diary entry:

Personally I do not resort to force — not even the force of law — to advance moral reforms. I prefer education, argument, persuasion, and above all the influence of example — of fashion. Until these resources are exhausted I would not think of force.

So if not Carrie Nation, who is the real hero of this story? No one person, but many: all those Americans who opposed Prohibition and thereby paved the way for its repeal after almost 14 years of futility and violence. We have much to learn from them today.

Prohibition assumes everybody who touches the prohibited stuff deserves to be treated as a criminal, and that just isn’t so. 

It took a constitutional amendment (the 18th) and a law of Congress (the Volstead Act) to outlaw the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in January 1920 and another constitutional amendment (the 2…