Maryland was Unique
Prohibition in Maryland holds a unique place in the story of National Prohibition (1920-1933). It had ratified the 18th Amendment establishing the Noble Experiment. Yet Marylanders generally opposed the law. Over 80% would later vote for Repeal.
The state, especially Baltimore, was home to large numbers immigrants. Their cultures included drinking as a cherished part of life. They resented the anti-foreign thrust of the temperance movement. It was part of a cultural war against them.
Residents also opposed federal intrusion into what they saw as their own state’s rights. And they resisted federal intervention into their personal lives.
Under National Prohibition, both the federal government and the states shared responsibility for enforcing alcohol laws. Maryland was the only state that refused to pass a law to enforce the unpopular law. The governor throughout the entire period of Prohibition opposed it.
Although Prohibition enjoyed greater support elsewhere, it proved to be a failure throughout the country. Its proponents argued that it would reduce drinking problems, decrease crime, and health. That it would stimulate the economy, reduce taxes, improve public morality, and decrease violence.
However, Prohibition failed miserably. As the nationally-famous Baltimore journalist, H. L. Mencken, observed: “There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. Not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
But Prohibition caused other problems. Illegal alcohol was carelessly made and sometimes had lead toxins. Creosote was often used for color. Embalming fluid might be added for an extra “punch.” Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or painful death.
Prohibition also changed drinking patterns for the worse. People tended to drink less frequently but heavily. For example, they didn’t go to a speakeasy to savor a drink over dinner. They went to guzzle alcohol while they could.
Widespread corruption led to a disrespect for the law. It became common for women and young people to rebel by drinking.
People around the country came to agree with the early belief of most Marylanders. They had thought Prohibition was a bad idea. Events proved them right.
Learn more about Prohibition in Maryland
Higgins, E. Prohibition for Maryland. Baltimore: Carroll, 1886.
Jones, J. Prohibition in the Free State. Annapolis: U.S. Naval Acad, 1991.
Liebmann, G. Prohibition in Maryland. Baltimore: Calvert Inst, 2011.
Mills, E. Chesapeake Rumrunners of the Roaring Twenties. Centreville, MD: Tidewater, 2000.