The Promises of Prohibition in New Jersey
Most residents welcomed Prohibition in New Jersey. Many thought it would reduce crime. Would improve health. It would increase safety. And it would raise morality. But New Jersey quickly became a hotbed for illegal alcohol or moonshine. The promised benefits of Prohibition never occurred. It actually caused more problems.
Enter army hero Col. Ira Reeves. He became head of the New Jersey district for federal Prohibition enforcement. Reeves was determined to make Prohibition work. The teetotaler led raids. All over the entire state. He shut down speakeasies, roadhouses, stills, breweries, and bottling plants. Reeves confiscated bootleg shipped by car truck, train and boat. He was energetic.
But Reeves quickly became disillusioned. Virtually everyone around him drank with impunity. Under political pressure, he had to promise not to raid the state legislature’s annual dinner. But worse was the pervasive corruption of law enforcement officers and entire departments.
The chief of police in Trenton had Reeves’ agents arrested for carrying concealed guns without a permit. That’s when they tried to shut down a brewery. In Essex County police showed up to protect a still. Reeves then discovered that his own agents had been accepting bribes.
Judicial bribery also hindered prosecution. Bootleggers were caught red-handed unloading moonshine from a barge in the Rancocas Creek. Yet prosecutors dropped all charges for supposed “lack of evidence.”
The Colonel came to believe that his ceaseless efforts had been in vain. He thought that Prohibition could never be made to work. Reeves resigned after eight months in office.
Reeves realized that Prohibition actually promoted organized crime. That it led to political and police corruption. That it created widespread disrespect for the law. That the sometimes toxic moonshine endangered health and safety. And that Prohibition and lowered morality.
This led the former Prohibition Bureau leader to become active in The Crusaders. This was a Repeal organization. He wrote speeches, articles and a book about his experiences. This helped promote Repeal.
Reeves had the strength of his convictions. He saw that Prohibition was not only failing. It was creating serious problems. His work helped bring about the end of Prohibition with Repeal.
Prohibition in New Jersey had been a disaster.
Resources: Prohibition in New Jersey
New Jersey Alcohol Laws. Think you really know them?
Dodd, P. and Pike, H. The Spirited Ladies of Liberty Street. A Story of Liberation and Liquor in Prohibition. Denver: Outskirts.
Field, V. New Jersey Coast Guard Stations and Rumrunners. Charleston, SC : Arcadia.
Linderoth, M. Prohibition on the North Jersey Shore. Charleston, SC : Hist Press.
Sinclair, D. “Demon Rum.” A Bibliography of Publications about Liquor and New Jersey, 1779-1932. New Brunswick: Rutgers U.