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liquor, license, local, legislation, option, temperance, liquors, laws, system and law


Temperance Legislation.— Legislation against the liquor evil in America dates from 1642, when the colony of Maryland passed a law making drunkenness a misdemeanor, pun ishable by a fine of 100 pounds of tobacco. As sentiment against intoxication developed the license system was adopted, as a temperance measure, being popular in communities also be cause it furnished a revenue for the local gov ernment. Soon the license system won the approval of the liquor sellers, for it stopped competition in their business, resulted in uni form prices and, therefore, contributed to money-making. Though advanced and intro duced by advocates of temperance, the license system was fostered and grew directly through the efforts of the liquor-sellers. Temperance workers then began to advocate no license and a vast amount of legislation developed in the different States over licenses, their revocation or suspension, at the will of the people. Re strictive legislation took the form of local option laws and after the War of 1861-65 the local struggles at the polls of half the cities and towns in the country for years were centred mainly about the question of license or no-license. The establishing of local option in a community had a tendency to drive the lovers of liquor to the neighboring towns where there was license; thus the temperance towns lost their license fees, and saw their bibulous citizens going to other places to drink and also to trade. Often the result was that the finan cial pressure caused a return to license. There was great wavering between license and no license almost all over the country. The first State to recognize that this irregular system could be overcome only by the States acting as a unit was Maine, which in 1851, under the influence of the Gough and Mathew move ments, adopted State local option, and as a State continued to refuse to license the liquor traffic. Kansas and North and South Dakota followed, and in 1881 Maine placed the pro hibitory clause in her constitution and ended the agitation for a return to licensed liquor-selling.

Rut in other States the contests at the polls continued regularly. Indiana was the first State to pass a local option law in 1832, and several other States had followed by 1850. By 1900 one-third of the country was under local option, and in 1911 local option existed by enactment in 33 of the States. Between 1890 and 1910 ap pears to have been the most active years with State legislatures in passing laws to restrict and regulate the liquor traffic. Most of the States passed Sunday closing laws, though al lowing the hotels to sell liquor to their cus tomers with meals. There was legislation per mitting wives and children of drunkards to bring civil suits against any selling liquor to their provider. There were laws against the locating of saloons within so many feet of churches, schools or polling places. But these laws were largely honored in the breach. Sun day closing never was effective in the large cities, except spasmodically, as some mayor or chief of police became active. Public sentiment condoned the open backdoor as a rule, and it was and is (1918) the common practice with saloons in large cities. In country liquor shops

the selling on Sunday is confined to those who are known personally to the proprietor to be safe.

The effort to improve conditions by high license was equally ineffective. When this was proposed the argument was that nine-tenths of the saloons would go out of business, and that the evil would be confined to those who had the liquor habit and who would drink anyway. This proved to be sophistry. The communities got more money by the high license system and it caused the liquor forces to become more active in politics, until in very many cities and towns a man could rarely be chosen to public office unless he was acceptable to the liquor interests.

A perpetual difficulty with obtaining temper ance by all these various methods of legislation was that they failed to strike at the manufac ture or the transportation of liquor. Though Maine prohibited liquor selling for years, the agents of the United States government ob tained large sums in revenue from liquor that went into Maine, carried there with no attempt to stop it, by the express companies. And this form of nullifying the no-license law in local option communities was notoriously common. The no-license law only stopped the sale of liquor as a beverage over the counter; the indi vidual still had a right to buy it by the barrel, and have it expressed to his home, and give it to his friends, and the best hotels were per mitted to place it on their tables as part of the food supplied. The fact that some thousands of statutes in the different States were useless in attaining the end of temperance at length became apparent to the most obtuse. The man ufacture and consumption of liquors in the United States had a slow and steady increase all through these years of antagonistic legisla tion, up to 1913, since which date there has been a very slight per capita reduction. The per capita consumption of malt liquors during the past 100 years in the United States slowly and steadily increased up to 1907,.after which it fell off a small fraction. The per capita consump tion of distilled liquors had a slight but steady decrease from 1865 to 1896. Thereafter it in creased until 1907, since which it has been var iable. But this trifling decrease in distilled liquors was evidently but a change to malt liquors, for the latter grew as the former re duced, and the whole calculation is based on per capita use, the volume of liquors made and sold being always on the increase up to 1907, and the falling off then appeared to be due more to financial stringency than to moral suasion or obedience to law. All these experiences with legislation that accomplished little or nothing taught the public that they were being fooled, and that the powerful financial interests in the liquor trade were always able to guide legisla tion or block it, or prevent its enforcement, so that in the end the trade was unharmed. As a result agitation for temperance legislation prac tically ceased, and those who opposed the liquor traffic worked for Prohibition (q.v.).