The temperance movement has a long history in Colorado. The state began its own prohibition in 1916. That was four years before National Prohibition went into effect. Residents could not imagine that what was ahead. After experiencing the effects of the Noble Experiment, Colorado repealed Prohibition. It did so along with many other states.
Prohibition reflected a belief that outlawing alcohol would lead to lower crime, better health, higher morality and a better environment for young people. But the temperance movement also had a dark, if not sinister, side.
Prohibitionists often associated alcohol with anyone who looked, spoke, or acted “foreign.” Their fear of foreigners and “foreign ways” led many to vote for both statewide and National Prohibition. But many also joined the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). It was a new Klan formed largely to promote prohibition. It not only opposed foreign immigration but defended Prohibition. Sometimes by illegal intimidation and force. It often worked with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
Infringement of Rights
Many residents viewed Prohibition as an unwarranted infringement of their personal right to enjoy a drink. It quickly became obvious that plenty of illegal producers and sellers were happy to satisfy the demand. The hastily produced beverages often contained toxic lead compounds from careless methods. They sometimes contained creosote (for color) and embalming fluid (for an extra “kick”). Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or even death.
In order to operate, moonshiners and bootleggers typically had to bribe law enforcement officials. To them it was just a cost of business. To the public it was a serious decline in morality. It lowered respect for both Prohibition and law in general. It became fashionable for the first time in history for women to drink.
Not all law enforcement officers were on the take but many were known for their use of violence. For example, a 20-year-old Colorodian was beaten to death by a Prohibition officer in a dispute over a bottle of wine.
Prohibition also promoted the undesirable pattern of drinking less often but very heavily. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to savor a drink. They guzzled alcohol while they had the chance.
Soon, a large majority of Colorodoans came to believe that Prohibition made criminals of ordinary citizens. That it threatened health, lowered morality, and endangered young people. So voters suspended the state’s prohibition laws. Then, by a vote of two-to-one, they ratified the 21st Amendment to repeal National Prohibition. Along with other states, Colorado repealed Prohibition.
But vestiges of temperance have long remained. Only a few years ago did the state abolish the old Blue law prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday. Many other Prohibition-era laws continue to burden consumers.
A look back: 80th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition in Colorado. Denver Post, Sept 26, 2013. Describes when Colorado repealed Prohibition.
Romero, T. “Last Night Was the End of the World:” Prohibition in Colorado. Colorado Lawyer, 2003, 32(1), 41.
West, E. Cleansing the Queen City. Prohibition and urban reform in Denver. Arizona and the West, 1972, 14(4), 331-346.