Smith Wildman Brookhart: ‘Fervent Dry’ in U.S. Senate

Smith Wildman Brookhart (1869-1944) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1926. He was known there as a ‘fervent dry.’

The problems caused by Prohibition (1920-1933) increased. So did calls for its repeal. Sen. Brookhardt desperately wanted to stop this growing movement. So he began a nation-wide tour debating prominent ‘wets.’ They included prominent opponents of Prohibition Fiorello LaGuardia Clarence Darrow.

In debating LaGuardia in 1930, Brookhardt insisted that ‘Prohibition can be enforced. I have enforced it.’ America is dry; there are a few wet cities, but but a few were cities cannot overthrow America.’1

Smith Wildman Brookhart

Sen. Brookhart

In debating Darrow, Brookhardt accused him of preaching anarchy. He said everyone must ‘obey the will of the majority.’ Darrow later described Brookhardt as ‘sincere but uncivilized.’2

Brookhart favored greatly increasing Prohibition enforcement spending. He called for an increase of 240 million dollars. That’s equivalent to over three and one-quarter billion dollars today.

Brookhart’s rigidly dry position was not popular. There was widespread unemployment in the Depression. Repeal supporters argued that legalizing alcoholic beverages would stimulate the economy. This, in turn, would provide much-needed tax revenue.

But the Senator had an uncompromising nature. He severely criticized colleagues who drank any alcohol. He also had vicious political fights. This all contributed to his political downfall. Perhaps his middle name was appropriate.

To the end of his life Smith Wildman Brookhart insisted that ‘liquor is a poison and drinking it is a crime.’3

References

1.”I’ve Enforced Dry Law.’ Cries Brookhardt.’ Des Moines Register, Feb. 8, 1930.

2. McDaniels, G. Smith Wildman Brookhart. Ames: Iowa State U Press, 1995, p. 251.

3. McDaniels, G. The Search for Smith Wildman Brookhart. Books at Iowa, 1990 (April), 52.

Resources

Neprash, J. The Brookhart Campaigns in Iowa 1920-1926, NY: AMS Press, 1968.

Ossian, L. Prohibition possibly prohibited: Iowans voicing temperance concerns, 1929-1933. Soci Hist Alco Drugs, 2006, 20, 225-246.