Prohibition in Vermont was welcomed when it began in 1920. Most Vermonters had expected it to reduce crime, improve health, raise morality and protect young people. Instead, it turned many Vermonters into criminals because they refused to give up their ability to enjoy a drink.
The city of Quebec was only 40 miles north. Just over the Canadian border were Abercorn and Highwater. These towns that welcomed thirsty Americans with open arms. And, of course, many brought back contraband alcohol.
Those who didn’t want to travel could easily buy moonshine locally. But it was made quickly and carelessly. It sometimes contained toxic lead residues. Moonshiners added creosote to color it. They sometimes added embalming fluid for extra “kick.” Many consumers were paralysed, blinded, or had painful deaths.
Illegal operators typically had to bribe police, sheriffs, and other officials. Some police in Vermont actually produced or sold alcohol on the side themselves. Public knowledge of widespread corruption led to disrespect for the law. Indeed, for the first time in history, women began going out to drink. The “forbidden” fruit attracted more young drinkers than ever before.
Prohibition also led an undesirable drinking pattern. It was drinking less often but more heavily. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to savor a drink. They went to guzzle alcohol while they could.
The problems caused by Prohibition in Vermont went from bad to worse. For example, a 19-year-old man from an “excellent family” in North Troy died near Jay. Officers were chasiung him on suspicion of rum running. Officers reported that he died when his car hit a tree. But an autopsy revealed otherwise. He had bullet wounds in the back of his head and in his shoulder blade.
Careless or reckless law enforcement was all too common. In a shoot-out between police and bootleggers, Sen. Frank Greene took a stray shot. The police rather than the bootleggers fired the stray bullet that paralyzed. Many Prohibitionists supported the actions of the police in such situations. But there was a growing sentiment against them.
More and more Vermonters came to believe that Prohibition was a failure. It failed to prevent drinking. But much worse, it increased crime, threatened both health and safety, reduced morality and harmed young people.
Prohibition in Vermont became very unpopular. Over two-thirds of voters in the state called for Repeal.
Learn more about Prohibition in Vermont
Krakowski, A. Vermont Prohibition. Teetotalers, Bootleggers and Corruption. Hist Press, 2016.
Vermont Anti-Saloon League. “A Better Vermont” … Facts, Figures and Arguments for State-Wide Prohibition. Burlington: The League, 1915.
Wheeler, S. and Bray, C. Rumrunners & Revenuers: Prohibition in Vermont. Shelburne: New Eng Press, 2002.