Prohibition Party – The Oldest Third Party in U.S.

            Overview

I.   Background: Prohibition           Party

II.  Early Years

III. Later Years

IV.  Internal Conflict

V.   Future Uncertain

VI.  Historic Election Results

VII. Resources

I. Background of the Prohibition Party

The Prohibition Party of the United States began in 1869. Before the Civil War (1861-1865) temperance groups had promoted voluntary abstinence from alcoholic beverages. The  War diverted national attention to more pressing matters. Subsequently, the temperance movement wayned.

Moral suasion had proved to be both difficult and frustrating. So after the War, temperance groups began calling for the government to prohibit the production and drinking of alcohol.

II. Early Years

The Prohibition Party found early success in pressuring towns and counties to enact prohibition laws. Prohibition groups such as the Anti-Saloon League were non-partisan. Therefore, they supported dry (pro-prohibition) candidates regardless of party affiliation. But the Prohibition Party ran candidates on its own ticket.

The KKK’s strongly supported and defended National Prohibition. Visit The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Alcohol, & Prohibition.

However, the Party’s electoral success in getting candidates into office was modest. Sidney J. Catts, who was blatantly racist and anti-Catholic, became governor of Florida in 1916. That’s the highest office ever achieved by a Prohibition Party candidate.

Beginning in 1914, California voters elected Charles H. Randall to the U.S. House of Representatives. He ran for three successive terms on the Prohibition Party ticket. In his first re-election campaign in 1916, he successfully ran as the candidate of the Party. Also, he ran as the candidate of the Democratic, Republican, and Progressive parties. In so doing, he defeated a candidate running as an independent.

Prohibition Party
Susanna M. Salter

Susanna Salter

Susanna M. Salter, the first woman mayor in the U.S., won on the Prohibition Party ticket. The only successful Prohibition Party candidate in the 21st century has been the tax assessor of Thompson Township in Pennsylvania. However, he ran unopposed.

After the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) went into effect in 1920, the Prohibition Party pressed for its strict enforcement. However, problems created by National Prohibition grew ever more serious as it contributed to burgeoning organized crime; gangsterism; political corruption; bootlegging even within the halls of Congress; violence, blindness and deaths caused by illegally produced alcohol; law enforcement corruption; disrespect for law, and binge drinking.

Popular support for Prohibition collapsed after the mid-1920s and Repeal Groups grew quickly. And by 1932 the platform of the Democratic party contained an anti-Prohibition plank.

Women’s Rights

Also learn about these other Party candidates

Marie C. Brehm 

Ben Bubar

Rolland Fisher

Robert P. Shuler (Highest Vote-Getter)

Gideon T. Stewart (Also a Founder)

Aaron Watkins

Claude A. Watson  

Throughout its long history, the Prohibition Party has championed women’s equality. For example, at its first convention in 1869, women enjoyed full voting and other delegate rights. Thus, they were the first to have that distinction in any U.S. political party.

The Party platform of 1872 called for women’s voting rights. This was about a half century before that goal was achieved nationally. Also, in its platform of 1892, it called for equal pay for equal work.

Women achieved voting rights nationally in 1920. Promptly, the Party nominated women for office at the national, state, and local levels. Marie Brehm became the first nominee of any party for vice-president.

Decades before the Party existed, Henry Clay said “I’d rather be right than President.” After the Party realized it could never elect a President, it adopted the following song.

I’d rather be right than President, I want my conscience clear;

I’ll firmly stand for the truth and right, I have God to fear.

I’ll work and vote as I pray – no matter what the scoffers say –

I’d rather be right than President, I want my conscious clear.

III. Later Years

Following Repeal in 1933, the Prohibition Party began its long decline. It has run a candidate for the presidency of the U.S. in every election since 1872. However, the number of votes its candidates have received have dropped precipitously. For example, the votes for its major candidates were 270,770 in 1892. After Repeal, they were down to 103,489 in 1948. They dropped to 23,266 in 1964, and 4,597 in 2020. And it was as low as 140 in 2004.

The Party briefly changed its name to the National Statesman Party in 1977 (it changed it back in 1980). However, the name change didn’t impress Time magazine. It wrote it “‘doubtful’ that the name change would ‘hoist the party out of the category of a political oddity.'”

Prohibition Party
Prohibition Party symbol

The declining fortunes of the Prohibition Party are obvious in the venues of its conventions over time. In the early years they were in impressive large places.  They included the opera house in Columbus (OH), the Exposition Hall in Pittsburgh, and the First Regiment Armory in Chicago. In later years, the locations have been much more modest. They included a motel in Birmingham (AL) and in a private living room in Lakewood (CO). Now the Party doesn’t hold conventions. Instead, it uses conference calls to select candidates.

IV. Internal Conflict

The Prohibition National Committee is the governing body of the Prohibition Party. A faction of that body operated what it claimed was the official web site of the PNC at prohibition.org. That website no longer exists.

A majority group operates another site (prohibitionists.org). It asserts that it represents the Prohibition National Committee. In making its claim, the majority group states that

All actions of the private, invitational meeting of selected Prohibition National Committee members, held last June, held at Lakewood, Colorado, were declared null and void by an absolute majority of PNC members, meeting at Fairfield Glade, Tennessee on 5-6 September 2003. It states that

prohibition party
Earl Dodge

An alleged “2003 nominating convention” of the Prohibition Party was held at the Chairman’s home in Lakewood, Colorado on June 12-13, 2003. Some members of the National Committee were not notified in advance that the meeting was being held. Others were told by Chairman Earl F. Dodge that they would not be admitted. Eight people were present: Chairman Dodge, his two daughters, and five other members supportive of Dodge. In addition to failing to observe the By-Laws requirement for prior notification, there was not a quorum.

Members alleged that Dodge had misused Party funds, kept secrets from party members, and stole property from party members. These and other problems led to the party split.

In the 2004 election, the majority faction ran Gene Amondson as its presidential candidate. But Earl Dodge died in 2007. So Amondson was the sole Prohibition Party candidate for that office in 2008. Currently, the Party is not split.

V. Future Uncertain

With the death of Amondson in 2009, the future of the Prohibition Party remains uncertain. However, the Party has continued to nominate candidates for President and Vice-President.

Also, other components of the Prohibition Party organizational structure continue. They are the Prohibition National Committee, National Prohibition Foundation, the Partisan Prohibition Historical Society, the Action! Prohibitionists’ caucus, and all state and local affiliates.

In spite of the clear failure of Prohibition, many people and organizations today support neo-prohibition ideas and strongly defend the numerous vestiges of Prohibition that still exist. Indeed, almost one in five adults currently supports prohibiting the consumption of alcohol. Surprisingly, not even National Prohibition outlawed drinking alcohol.

VI. Historic Election Results

YearPresidential nomineeVP nomineeVotes
1872James Black PAJohn Russell MI2,100
1876Green Clay Smith KYGideon T. Stewart OH6,743
1880Neal Dow MEHenry A. Thompson OH9,674
1884John P. St. John KSWilliam Daniel MD147,520
1888Clinton B. Fisk NJJohn A. Brooks MO249,813
1892John Bidwell CAJames B. Cranfill TX270,770
1896Joshua Levering MDHale Johnson IL125,072
Charles E. Bentley NEJames H. Southgate NC19,363
1900John G. Woolley ILHenry B. Metcalf RI209,004
Donelson Caffery LA (declined);
Edward M. Emerson MA
Archibald M. Howe MA342
1904Silas C. Swallow PAGeorge W. Carroll TX258,596
1908Eugene W. Chafin ILAaron S. Watkins OH252,821
1912Eugene W. Chafin ILAaron S. Watkins OH207,972
1916J. Frank Hanly INIra Landrith TN221,030
1920Aaron Watkins OHD. Leigh Colvin NY188,685
1924Herman P. Faris MOMarie C. Brehm CA54,833
1928William F. Varney NYJames A. Edgerton20,095
Herbert Hoover CACharles Curtis KS14,394
1932William D. Upshaw GAFrank S. Regan IL81,916
1936D. Leigh Colvin NYAlvin York TN (declined);
Claude A. Watson CA
37,668
1940Roger W. Babson MAEdgar V. Moorman IL58,743
1944Claude A. Watson CAFloyd C. Carrier MD (withdrew);
Andrew Johnson KY
74,735
1948Claude A. Watson CADale H. Learn PA103,489
1952Stuart Hamblen CAEnoch A. Holtwick IL73,413
1956Enoch A. Holtwick ILHerbert C. Holdridge CA (withdrew);
Edwin M. Cooper CA
41,937
1960Rutherford Decker MOE. Harold Munn MI46,193
1964E. Harold Munn MIMark R. Shaw MA23,266
1968E. Harold Munn MIRolland E. Fisher KS14,915
1972E. Harold Munn MIMarshall E. Uncapher KS12,818
1976Benjamin C. Bubar MEEarl F. Dodge CO15,934
1980Benjamin C. Bubar MEEarl F. Dodge CO7,212
1984Earl Dodge COWarren C. Martin KS4,242
1988Earl Dodge COGeorge Ormsby PA8,002
1992Earl Dodge COGeorge Ormsby PA935
1996Earl Dodge CORachel Bubar Kelly1,298
2000Earl Dodge COW. Dean Watkins AZ208
2004Gene Amondson WALeroy Pletten MI1,944
Earl Dodge COHoward Lydick TX140
2008Gene Amondson WALeroy Pletten MI643
2012Jack Fellman WVToby Davis MI518
2016James Hedges PABill Bayes MI5,617
2020Phil Collins ARBilly Parker GA4,597

V. Resources: Prohibition Party