Connecticut Suffers Vestiges of Prohibition Decades after Repeal

In the early part of the twentieth century the Yankee old-stock population increasingly advocated prohibition as a way to reduce what it considered the crime, poverty and vice associated with the flood of southern and eastern European immigrants entering the state.

Yale economist Irving Fisher, a strong promoter of prohibition, complained that in Connecticut cities "the American stock has been submerged by a wave of immigrants from Italy, the Balkans, Russia, and Poland."

The Connecticut Temperance Society, the Prohibition Party, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, the Connecticut Ku Klux Klan (CKKK) and other groups saw prohibition as a way to "Americanize" immigrants.

Some employers viewed prohibition as a way to increase the efficiency of their work force, especially their immigrant workers. But not everyone supported prohibition. Organized labor tended to oppose it in the belief that it was an attempt to make workers more docile. After the Eighteenth Amendment established National Prohibition in 1920, union leader Samuel Gompers complained that it was the only amendment in history to reduce rather than expand the freedoms enjoyed by Americans.

Apparently, many people in Connecticut weren't going to let their freedom to drink be denied. After legitimate tax-paying alcohol producers and retailers were outlawed, illegal operators, including organized criminals, moved in quickly to meet the brisk demand for alcoholic beverages.

To operate, the bootleggers and speakeasies had to bribe law enforcement officers and even entire departments. It often required that elected officials also be bribed and the public became alarmed at the decline in public morality.

Prohibition denied the state tax revenues from alcohol at the same time it was causing dramatic increases in crime and violence, heavy court workloads, and over-crowded jails.

Bootleg alcohol was carelessly made and often contained creosote, lead toxins and even embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness and death. This led many drinkers in the state to switch to opium, cocaine, hair tonic, sterno or "liquid heat," and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to consume in the absence of Prohibition.

As widespread crime and other problems caused by Prohibition mushroomed, more and more residents decided that the presumed cure was much worse than the disease and called for Repeal.

Now, many decades later, Connecticut residents continue to suffer from the legacy of Prohibition-era thinking. Connecticut remains one of only three states in the entire country that still prohibits the Sunday sales of beer, wine and spirits. This is despite the fact that Sunday has become the second busiest shopping day of the week.

Perhaps Connecticut will continue its push into the 21st Century by abolishing the final vestiges of the failed experiment in social engineering that was Prohibition.

Additional Reading:

  • Asbury, Herbert. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968 (Originally published 1950).
  • Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY: Arcade, 1996.
  • Cashman, Sean D. Prohibition: The Lie of the Land. New York:Free Press, 1981.
  • Clark, Norman H. The Dry Years: Prohibition & Social Change in Washington. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1965.
  • Clark, N. H. Deliver Us From Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition. New York: Norton, 1976.
  • Furnas, J. C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. New York: G. P. Pumams Sons, 1965.
  • Kerr, K. Austin. Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League. New haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.
  • Kobler, John. Ardent spirits: the rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1973.
  • Krout, John A. The Origins of Prohibition. New York: Knopf, 1925.
  • Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
  • Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League. NY: Columbia University Press, 1928.
  • Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York University Press, 1996.
  • Sinclair, Andrew. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1962.
  • Willebrandt, Mabel Walker. The Inside of Prohibition. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929.