William H. Anderson (William Hamilton Anderson)

William H. Anderson was one of the most successful lobbyists of the Anti-Saloon League. He was highly effective in advancing the dry (prohibition) cause in Maryland. In seven years, he and the Anti-Saloon League closed over one thousand saloons in Baltimore. That was nearly half the total.

Anderson was feared by adversaries and admired by supporters. He was “the most skillful politician in the state.”


I.    Prohibition for NY

II.   Dry Warrior

III.  Aggressve Methods

IV.   Local Option

V.    World War I

VI.   Bigotry

VII.  Convicted

VIII. Anderson’s Legacy

IX.    Resources

William H. Anderson

I. Prohibition for New York

William H. Anderson
William H. Anderson

The Anti-Saloon League selected Anderson to direct its efforts to bring prohibition to both the city and state of New York. This would advance the cause of National Prohibition. New York city was then the largest city in the U.S. It influenced the rest of the nation. The Anti-Saloon League’s Bishop James Cannon, Jr. called the city “Satan’s Seat.” Proponents of prohibition (“drys”) saw winning that city as an important symbol.

Anderson arrived in New York city on the first of January, 1914. He said “From now on, the attention of the National Anti-Saloon League will be directed toward New York as the liquor center of America.”1 He pledged to punish anyone who stood in the way of its prohibition agenda.

II. Dry Warrior

The “dry warrior” used such tactics as false rumors, forged documents, character attacks, and intimidation. These would “make your blood run cold and your hair stand up.”2 That, from one victim of Anderson. He was Speaker of the New York State Assembly. Soon few politicians dared to oppose Anderson and the League.

III. Aggressive Methods

Anderson’s aggressive methods of personal abuse and scorn toward who did not cooperate with him troubled many people. He was accused of using the League for personal advancement. He was called “enemy to the public good,” “political blackhand,” and “camerlingo of the Anti-Saloon League.”

Anderson falsely reported to 300 newspapers that a secret “slush fund” has been established by “liquor interests.” It was supposedly used to bribe New York law makers. That they were given money to vote against laws sponsored by the League.

He appeared in Albany for a hearing on legislation promoted by the League. But the chair barred Anderson from testifying unless he gave proof of his allegations. Unable to do so, he was forced to be simply another observer of the hearings. Onlooking wets cheered.

IV. Local Option

One of Anderson’s strategies was to push for “local option” laws. These let local areas prohibit alcohol themselves. Beginning with the smaller towns and rural areas, his plan was to bring the prohibition crusade ever closer to the city of New York. The measure became law. By gerrymandering, Anderson greatly increased its effectiveness.

Anderson also couched the prohibition agenda in Progressive terms. He described local option as “distinctly progressive.” He promised that the League would have a “campaign of education.” It would address “questions of health and industrial efficiency.”

V. World War I

The U.S. entered World War I in April of 1917. Anderson then equated prohibition with patriotism. He insisted “The challenge to loyal patriots of America today is to demand the absolute prohibition of the liquor traffic.”3

VI. Bigotry

The New York Times expressed concern over Anderson’s dogmatism and bigotry. The League attacked “the un-American, pro-German, crime-producing, food-wasting, youth-corrupting, home-wrecking, treasonable liquor traffic.” It asked “How can any loyal citizen…vote for a trade that is aiding a pro-German Alliance?” Another insisted that “Everything in this country that is pro-German is anti-American. Everything that is pro-German must go.”4

Anderson said resistance to Prohibition to “unwashed and wild-eyed foreigners who have no comprehension of the spirit of America.” He attacked Jews, Irish, Italians and others whose cultures generally included drinking alcohol.


But Catholics were a special target of Anderson’s bigotry. He accused the Catholic Church of mounting an “assault on law and order.” He said Catholic leaders were “indignant over what they consider a Protestant victory.” Therefore, Anderson said, the Church was engaged in “efforts to destroy [the Prohibition] victory and bring back the saloons.”5

A Catholic newspaper wrote that the New York Anti-Saloon League had supplanted the Ku Klux Klan. The League was now the leading anti-Catholic group in the state. Anderson said that the resurgence of the KKK was a natural and welcome response to Catholic opposition to Prohibition. It resulted from “the aggression of these wet anti-Protestant forces.”

VII. Convicted

In 1924, Anderson was charged with grand larceny, forgery and extortion.

“Anderson claimed that the League owed him $24,700, a debt supposedly incurred when he had financed a ‘confidential publicity promotion’ out of his own pocket ten years before. Prosecutors alleged that he had coerced O. Bertsall Phillips, a former fundraiser for the organization, to give him a 50% cut on all commissions Phillips earned in excess of $10,000 a year and then cooked the books to cover up the fraudulent transactions.”6

He was convicted and sentenced to two years in the maximum security prison at Sing Sing.

Upon his release, Anderson announced formation of the American Prohibition Protestant Patriotic Protective Alliance. It had no charter. No members. No books. All for a reason. All contributions to it were personal gifts to Anderson “to be used in any way he sees fit.”  The arrangement was to protect him from investigation and prosecution. He considered the latter to be “persecution.”7

VIII. Anderson’s Legacy

William H. Anderson attacked his opponents, silenced critics of Prohibition, and built alliances. That helped the League and other drys to change the US Constitution.

Prohibition was a dismal failure. It caused serious problems. Yet almost one of five adults in the US today supports making drinking illegal. Not even Prohibition outlawed drinking! See What Did Prohibition Prohibit? (It wasn’t drinking.)

Tens of millions more support neo-prohibition ideas. And they defend the many vestiges of Prohibition that exist today. That includes high taxes and Blue laws.

Did you know?

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was a major supporter of Prohibition.

IX. Resources on William H. Anderson

About William H. Anderson
  • Ossian, L. William H. Anderson. In: Blocker, J., et al. (eds.). Alcohol and Temperance, pp. 41-42.
  • Anti-Saloon League repudiates Bryan. New York Times, April 4, 1918. (William H. Anderson urged repudiation of William Jennings Bryan as “leader” of the prohibition movement.)
  • Anti-Saloon League inquiry called for. New York Times, March 4, 1919. (Resolution introduced in NY State legislature to investigate activities of Anderson.)
  • Calls service men “tools of brewers;” William H. Anderson assails veterans in legislature who favor mild beer bill. New York Times, March 15, 1920.
  • Death threat letter sent to Anderson; Anti-Saloon League head blames certain newspapers for inciting self styled ex-service men. New York Times, March 29, 1922. (Anderson reported receiving letter threatening to kill him if he didn’t stop fighting the bootleg traffic.)
  • Declares church folk ignored in dry poll; William H. Anderson says few members received Literary Digest Ballots. New York Times, Sept 27, 1922.
  • Plan fight for local option; Anti-Saloon League will push bills at this session of the legislature. New York Times, Jan 12, 1914. (Anderson, new state head of the Anti-Saloon League outlined the League’s legislative plans.)
  • Plan new fight for local option; Anti-Saloon League official outlines legislative crusade to be waged here. New York Times, Jan 2, 1914. (Anderson reported that he and the League would press for a state-wide option law.)
  • William H. Anderson repeats his claim that the Anti-Saloon League of New York owes him a large sum of money. Therefore, he “Appeals for justice” to the dry Protestant churches. Hagley Museum and Lib, Wilmington, DE.
By William H. Anderson
  • Martyred for Prohibition: Some Truths about Wm. H. Anderson. Dallas: C. Anderson, 1924.
  • Will demon rum stay dead? The Ind, Jan 8, 1921, p. 40.
  • The “Yonkers” Plan for Prohibition Enforcement, 1921.
  • The New State-Wide Local Option Bill. ASL of MD, 1908.
  • The New Tully-Wainwright Residence District Local Option Bill. New York ASL, 1906.
  • The Struggle for Local Option in Illinois. IL ASL, 1903.
  • Statement of Mr. William H. Anderson. Senate. Wash: GPO, 1914. Pp. 132-133.
  • Statement of Mr. William H. Anderson, New York Anti-Saloon League. Senate. Wash: GPO, 1914. Pp. 39-40.
  • Statement of Mr. William H. Anderson. Senate. Wash: GPO, 1912.
  • Reminiscences of William H. Anderson. New York Times Oral History Project. Columbia U. Oral Hist Coll, pt. 4, no. 5.
  1. Lerner, M.,  Dry Manhattan. Harvard U. Press, 2009, p. 9.
  2. _____, p. 17.
  3. Going Dry.
  4. Lerner, id., p. 32
  5. Anderson, W. Catholics and Prohibition. Lit Digest, 1920, v. 65, p. 44.
  6. Fraud, lies and forgery.
  7. Time, July 6, 1925.