Prohibition in Massachusetts: Dream became Nightmare

Prohibition Welcomed

The state had been among the very first to ratify National Prohibition. For decades the abolition of drinking had been touted as the solution to the nation’s problems. That included poverty, ill-health, crime, violence and other ills. On the eve of its implementation, most Bay Staters were optimistic. The dream of Prohibition in Massachusetts was coming true.

Famous preacher Billy Sunday staged a mock funeral in Boston for “John Barleycorn.'” The “mourners” threw alcohol bottles into his casket. Sunday then extolled the benefits of Prohibition. “The rein of tears is over,” he said. “The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and jails into storehouses.”

Prohibition in Massachusetts


It was a beautiful dream. But it soon turned into a nightmare. The state has deeply indented coastline. So it soon became a center of bootlegging.

A “rum row” existed off the coast. It was just beyond the three mile limit. Ships off-loaded their cargoes onto speed boats. Murder and hijacking were common. It was a dangerous business. But it highly lucrative.


prohibition in MassachusettsVast sums of untaxed money were made. Police were routinely bribed. Entire law enforcement offices were corrupted. And to the very top. Elected officials were also widely on the take. The reports of such corruption lowered respect for the law. It was widely violated.

Decades after Prohibition ended, a resident of Martha’s Vineyard described the ingenuity of a moonshiner. “One old guy peddled moonshine out of a baby carriage. My aunt used to say, ‘That lovely little man, he’s always wheeling his little child along the street.'”

Other Problems

Prohibition led to the many problems. There were thousands of speakeasies and blind pigs. Then there were “clip joints.” (For more about clip joints, see Speakeasies.)

There were many problems. Drinking sometimes toxic moonshine. The corruption of police and elected officials. The lowering of public morality. Disrespect for law. And increased violence.

In 1924, the Constitutional Liberty League took action. It joined with the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment and the American Federation of Labor. They created the Joint Legislative Committee. That group led the effort to have the first congressional study of Prohibition.


In 1930, voters repealed state enforcement of Prohibition. Later, the state ratified Repeal.

Prohibition in Massachusetts had been a nightmare.

The state has made some progress since Repeal. In 2003, the state struck down its Blue law banning Sunday alcohol sales. This benefitted consumers. It also benefitted retailers. They can now operate like every other business.