Prohibition in Arkansas was welcomed when it began in 1920. Temperance sentiment had been strong in Arkansas even before statehood in 1836. The state permitted local option in 1855. This enabled counties and towns to have their own prohibition. Many chose to do so.
I. Prohibitioned Welcomed
I. Prohibition in Arkansas Welcomed
The prohibition movement grew steadily after the Civil War. It had strong support, especially from women, African Americans, and churches.
By the late 1880s there were over 100 anti-alcohol groups in the state. They had hundreds of chapters and many thousands of members.
The president of the powerful Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) traveled the state promoting prohibition. Both she and her message were well-received. The famous hatchet-wielding Carry Nation became actively involved in prohibition activities in Arkansas. She settled in Eureka Springs, where she lived the rest of her life.
By 1914, only nine counties in the state were wet. That is, permitted the sale of alcohol. The next year the entire state was made dry. Alcohol was even prohibited if prescribed by a doctor. In 1916, a referendum to repeal the prohibitive law was rejected two-to-one by voters.
Most state residents strongly supported National Prohibition. They thought it would improve health. That it would increase safety. And would lower crime. They thought it would reduce violence. Would improve public morality. And would protect young people. Those beliefs were soon tested against facts.
Many residents weren’t going to let their freedom to drink be denied. It didn’t matter if there was prohibition in Arkansas. Terrain and rurality combined to make the state an ideal place to make moonshine. With easy, untaxed money to be made, police and sheriffs were routinely bribed. Politicians were also widely on the take.
Graft and Corruption
The rampant graft and corruption caused by Prohibition created a deep lack of respect for it. It became fashionable for the first time for women to drink. Many residents became alarmed at the decline in morality.
Prohibition also led to the bad pattern of drinking. It was infrequent but very heavy drinking. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to have a leisurely beer. They went to guzzle alcohol while they could.
Bootleg alcohol was often made with car radiators. They had been soldered with lead. As a result, they often contained lead poisons. So it was dangerous to drink. Customers might suffer blindness or even death.
This led some drinkers to switch to hair tonic, sterno, and illegal drugs. Prohibition caused such action.
Prohibition in Arkansas also denied the state tax revenues from alcohol. But it was causing big increases in crime. And that led to great increases in costs in criminal justice.
The problems caused by Prohibition became very obvious. But another helped repeal.
The economic Depression of the 1930s caused a sharp decline in tax revenues. People reasoned that legalizing the production and sale of alcohol would generate taxes. And not only on the alcohol itself. Taxes would come from the the materials of production.
It would also stimulate the economy. New workers would be hired. Grain famers would be helped. Bottlers, truck drivers, and others would be hired. Company profits would increase. And taxes would come from this economic expansion.
More and more residents decided that the promises prohibition were false. They called for the repeal of the Noble Experiment of prohibition.
IV. Resources: Prohibition in Arkansas
Arkansas Alcohol Laws. Think you really know them?
Hunt, G. A History of the Prohibition Movement in Arkansas. Fayetteville: U AR, 1933.
Johnson, B. John Barleycorn Must Die. The War against Drink in Arkansas. Fayetteville: U AR Press.
Kelly, D. Arkansas Methodists and the 1912 Statewide Prohibition Campaign. Jonesboro: AR State U.
Knoll, J. A Partial Fruition. A History of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Arkansas. Little Rock: WCTU of AR.
Strickland, M. “Rum, Rebellion, Racketeers, and Rascals” : Alexander Copeland Millar and the Fight to Preserve Prohibition in Arkansas, 1927-1933. Fayetteville: U AR.
Wilkerson, J. Little Rock Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, 1888 to 1903. Little Rock: U AR.
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) had strongly supported prohibition in Arkansas. As it did elsewhere.