Prejudice and Prohibition of Alcohol in the U.S.

Prejudice and Prohibition went hand-in-hand. They supported each other. Here’s the story.


I.   New Immigrants

II.  Cultural War

III. Major Leaders Prejudiced

IV.  Other Leaders Prejudiced

V.   KKK

VI.  References

Prejudice and Prohibition

I. New Immigrants

Beginning in the 1880s, tens of millions of immigrants came into the US. They largely came from eastern and southern Europe. A large proportion of them were Catholics and Jews. They tended to settle in large cities. And in the northeastern part of the country. This set the stage for the link between prejudice and prohibition.

Most members of the existing population largely were northern European in origin. They also were largely Protestants. They tended lived in rural areas or small towns and cities. And they tended to feel threatened by this major shift. The stage was set for a cultural war.

II. Cultural War

A major part of this cultural war was prohibition. To a large degree it was symbolic. Existing ways were to prevail over newer lifestyles. It was also a way to “Americanize” this human influx.

III. Major Leaders Prejudiced

Mary Hunt

Leader Mary Hunt of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) expressed this concern. She feared “the enormous increase of immigrant population flooding us from the old world. Men and women who have brought to our shores and into our politics old world habits and ideas.” These “habits and ideas” were favorable to drinking. Her writings made frequent references to this “undesirable immigration.” And to “these immigrant hordes.”1

James Cannon. Jr.
prejudice and prohibition
James Cannon, Jr.

Episcopal Bishop James Cannon, Jr. was one of the most powerful prohibition leaders. He said that wet candidate Al Smith wanted

“the Italians, the Sicilians, the Poles, and Russian Jews. That kind has given us a stomach ache. We have been unable to assimilate such people in our national life. So we shut the door on them. But Smith says ‘give me that kind of people.’ He wants the kind of dirty people you find today on the sidewalks of New York.”2

Bishop Cannon called New York City “Satan’s Seat.” Anti-Saloon League (ASL) leader William H. Anderson shared that view. He attributed resistance to Prohibition in the City to “unwashed and wild-eyed foreigners who have no knowledge of the spirit of America.”3 He attacked Jews, Irish, Italians and others. Simply because their cultures included drinking.

IV. Other Leaders Prejudiced

Purley A. Baker was a high-ranking leader in the ASL. Most brewers were of German origin. Baker asserted that Germans “eat like gluttons and drink like swine.”4

Clarence True Wilson was an major temperance leader. He “sounded the alarm that German Jews had taken control of the liquor traffic.” By his words and deeds, Wilson was ant-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant.

Robert P. Shuler was the Prohibition Party candidate who got the highest vote of any prohibition candidate ever. He attacked Catholics, Jews and African Americans for drinking. He also attacked them for alleged not being honest, corrupt, and immoral.

V. KKK: Prejudice and Prohibition

prejudice and prohibition
KKK: Defender of Prohibition

Prohibition attracted those who wanted to preserve the status quo. It was a major reason for the growth of a new Ku Klux Klan  (KKK). That’s the Klan the 1920s.  Hiram Wesley Evans was head of the Klan, He wrote The Menace of Immigration. The Klan enforced Prohibition. Sometimes with violence.

But Prohibition also appealed to liberal idealists. They thought laws could create an almost perfect society. So the Klan with the WCTU. In fact, the  KKK and WCTU were partners in Prohibition


Bishop Cannon hated Catholicism almost as much as alcohol. He called the Catholic Church this. “The mother of ignorance, superstition, intolerance, and sin.”5

After Prohibition went into effect, William H. Anderson said Catholic leaders were “indignant over what they consider a Protestant victory.” Therefore, he said, the Church was engaged in “efforts to destroy [the Prohibition] victory and bring back the saloons.” Anderson later formed the  American Prohibition Protestant Patriotic Protective Alliance.

A Catholic newspaper claimed that the New York ASL, under Anderson, had replaced the Klan. The ASL was now the leading anti-Catholic group in the state. Anderson said that the resurgence of the KKK was a natural and welcome response to Catholic opposition to Prohibition. And also to “the aggression of these wet anti-Protestant forces.”7

The ASL called itself “The Protestant Church in Action.”

The KKK existed throughout the country. Indeed, most members lived outside the states of the former Confederacy.

And these anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic and anti-Black prejudices were throughout the entire Prohibition movement. Indeed, the movement was largely an expression of those prejudices. Clearly, prejudice and Prohibition went together.

VI. Resources for Prejudice and Prohibition


1   Hunt, M. An Epoch of the Nineteenth Century, p. 63.

2   Winkler, J. What we say, what we do. Board of Church and Soc of the United Meth Church, April 22, 2007.

3   Anderson, W. Catholics and Prohib. Lit Digest, 1920, 65, 44.

4   Ellis, M. German Americans in World War I. In: Fiebig-von Hase, R., and Lehm, U. (Eds.) Enemy Images in Am Hist. Pp 183-208.

5   Burns, E. Spirits of Am, p. 177.

6  Anderson, ibid.

7  Lerner, M. Dry Manhattan, p.119.