Richmond Pearson Hobson was the most highly paid of the over 2,000 public speakers for the Anti-Saloon League. His gift of oratory was highly valued by the League and his membership in Congress gave him political clout.
Father of American Prohibition
Hobson introduced proposed constitutional amendments to establish national prohibition over 20 times. Understandably, some have called him the Father of American Prohibition.
By all accounts Hobson was
“chilly and reserved. Someone who knew him as a boy in the Alabama cotton country, where Hobson had been born in 1870, remembered him as ‘gravefaced. His manner was stiff and formal; his conversation, almost comically stilted.’ When he entered the United States Naval Academy, he quickly became a pariah by conscientiously reporting the misdemeanors of his classmates. Only one man is said to have spoken with him for two entire years. But when his fellow midshipmen offered to make it up, Hobson refused; he had, he said, gotten along perfectly well without them.”1
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National Prohibition of Alcohol
Hobson resigned from the Navy in 1903 and was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1907 to 1915. After failing to win the Democratic nomination in 1916, he largely devoted himself to promoting prohibition. His popular hour-long presentation was titled “The Great Destroyer.” Congress authorized the printing of 50 million copies for distribution to every household in America.2
Richmond Hobson organized the American Alcohol Education Association in 1921. Then the International Narcotic Education Association in 1923 and the World Conference on Narcotic Education in 1926. Finally, he organized the World Narcotic Defense Association in 1927.3
Hobson asserted as a “scientific fact” that the “higher nature” of humans was located at the top of the brain. These tissues were supposedly tender and highly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. That’s because they were the most-recently evolved. He argued that:
“Alcohol is a protoplasmic poison, the loathsome excretion of living organisms, belonging to the family of toxins. It is an insidious, habit-forming drug. Alcohol tears down the top part of the brain, so that every time a man drinks, will power declines. In destroying the seat of will power, alcohol destroys the seat of the moral senses, and of the spiritual nature. Also the recognition of right and wrong, consciousness of God and of duty and of brotherly love and of self-sacrifice. It is this same lowering of the average citizen’s character in the past that entailed the overthrow of the liberties of Greece and Rome and other Republics. It is the greatest question in the life history of the human species, actually determining more than all other questions combined — the perpetuity of any civilization.”4
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As a member of Congress, Richmond Pearson Hobson expressed his strong support for a prohibition amendment. He did so in the House of Representatives on December 22, 1914. He asserted that the wets or opponents of prohibition “have no foundation in scientific truth to stand upon.” Therefore, “they resort to all kinds of devious methods.”
In contrast, Hobson explained what he said were the scientific facts, as follows.
“Liquor Degenerates the Character
The first finding of science that alcohol is a protoplasmic poison….
Reverses the Life Principle of the Universe
All life in the universe is founded upon the principle of evolution. Alcohol directly reverses that principle. Man has risen from the savage up through the level of the semisavage, the semicivilized, and the highly civilized.
Liquor and the Red Man
Liquor promptly degenerates the red man, throws him back into savagery. It will promptly put a tribe on the war path.
Liquor and the Black Man
Alcohol will actually make a brute out of a negro, causing him to commit unnatural crimes.
Liquor and the White Man
The effect is the same on the white man. Though the white man being further evolved it takes longer time to reduce him to the same level. However, it does not take a very long time to speedily cause a man to pass through the successive stages. He becomes semicivilized, semisavage, savage, and, at last, below the brute.
The Great Tragedy
The spiritual nature of man gives dignity to his life above the life of the brute. It is this spiritual nature of man that makes him in the image of his Maker…. It is a tragedy to blight the physical life. No measure can be made of blighting the spiritual life.
The Blight Degeneracy
Nature does not tolerate reversing its evolutionary principle. It proceeds automatically to exterminate any creature, any animal, any race, any species that degenerates. Nature adopts two methods of extermination-one to shorten the life, the other to blight the offspring.”5
Hobson’s negative views on race were widely held by other prohibitionist leaders and supporters. They included William H. Anderson, Purley Baker, Daisy Douglas Barr, Bishop James Canon, Jr., and Lillian Sedwick. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) strongly supported and defended prohibition. Many of its leaders were also leaders in temperance organizations.
Richmond Pearson Hobson died on March 16, 1937, in New York City. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.6
Resources on Richmond Pearson Hobson
- The Disappearing Gun Afloat. Annapolis: Nav Inst, 1895.
- Disarmament. Am J Int Law, 1908, 2(4), 743-757.
- Great Destroyer. Speech in the House, Feb 2, 1911. Wash: GPO, 1911.
- The Truth about Alcohol. Speech in the House, Dec 22, 1914. Wash: GPO, 1914.
- Alabama Pamphlets Collection, 1821-1961. OCLC number 122498782
- Arlington National Cemetery.
- Austin, H. Hobson’s Choice. NY: Fenno, 1898.
- Hobson Family. OCLC number 247133828
- Jones, B. Prohibition and Eugenics, 1920-1933. J Hist Med Allied Sci, 1963, 18(2), 158-173.
- New York Times. Anti-Saloon League Indorses Hobson for the Senate. New York Times, Nov 14, 1913, p. 7.
- Rosenfeld, H. Richmond Pearson Hobson: Naval Hero of Magnolia Grove. Las Cruces, NM: Yucca Tree, 2000.
- Sheldon, R. Richmond Pearson Hobson: The Military Hero as Reformer During the Progressive Era. Thesis, U Ariz, 1970.
- Sonderstrum, T. Richmond Pearson Hobson. In: Blocker, J., et al. (Eds.) Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History. V. 1, pp. 295-296.
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
1. Snow, R. Richmond Pearson Hobson. Am Herit Mag, 1979, 30(5), American Characters section.
2. Ramsey, B. Captain Hobson – The Father of American Prohibition. 1995. Schaffer Drug Library. druglibrary.org/Schaffer/people/hobson/captain_hobson.html
3. Jones, B. Prohibition and Eugenics, 1920-1933. J Hist Med Allied Sci, 1963, 18(2), 158-173.
4. Ramsey, Op cit..
5. Kerr, K. Organized for Prohibition. New Haven, CT: Yale U Press, 1985.
6. Arlington National Cemetery
Filed Under: Biography