I. Promising Future
Prohibition in Idaho had a promising future at first. Idahoans had long supported temperance. They had approved state-wide prohibition in 1916. They then ratified National Prohibition. It began in 1920.
People widely thought that Prohibiting would have beneficial effects. It would reduce crime, improve health, and decrease violence. They thought it would raise morality, promote prosperity, and protect young people.
Because of strong temperance sentiment in the state, prohibitionists argued that the law would practically enforce itself. It soon became clear how very wrong they were.
Many thought it illegitimate to prohibit drinking. For some, such as French, Italians, Jews and others, alcohol was part of their culture. Indeed, to a large degree, Prohibition was part of a cultural war against those who were thought “foreign.”
There was a strong demand for alcohol. Illegal operators quickly moved in to supply that demand. In order to do so they routinely bribed police and others. Sometimes law enforcement officers themselves were directly involved in moonshining and bootlegging.
The sheriff and a deputy sheriff of Ada County, the police chief of Boise and a number of others were arrested. They included a prominent physician. The charge was producing and distributing moonshine. The sherif was the only one to escape conviction..
Those who wouldn’t accept bribes were sometimes faced threats and intimidation. In For example, a federal officer preparing to testify in a moonshine case was threatened with death to prevent his testimony.
The frequent revelations of widespread corruption turned many against Prohibition. It became fashionable for the first time in history for women to drink.
Prohibition also promoted a new and dangerous pattern of drinking. That was drinking less often but drinking much large quantities at one time. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to sip leisurely with a meal. They went to gulp alcohol quickly without food.
Moonshiners’ carelessly-made moonshine sometimes contained toxic lead compounds. They often used creosote to add color. Sometimes they added embalming fluid. Consumers could suffer paralysis, blindness or even death.
Residents became more and more concerned over problems caused by Prohibition in Idaho. They saw that it didn’t reduce crime but increased it. It didn’t promote health but harmed it. Prohibition didn’t raise morality but lowered it. It didn’t protect young people but harmed them. Not only did Prohibition fail, but it was counterproductive. It was worse than doing nothing!
By a vote of nearly 60%, the residents of Idaho called for the repeal of Prohibition.
Learn more about Prohibition in Idaho
Hyde, O. A Comparison of the Repeal Movements in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. U Washington, 1963.
Putman, E. The Prohibition Movement in Idaho, 1863-1934. U Idaho, 1979.