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.


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

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

I. Prohibition for New York

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 important symbolically.

Anderson arrived in New York city on the first of January, 1914. He declared that “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

William H. Anderson
William H. Anderson

The “dry warrior” used such tactics as false rumors, forged documents, character attacks, and intimidation. The combative political operative’s tactics were enough to “make your blood run cold and your hair stand up.”2 That, from one victim of Anderson’s machinations. He was Thaddeus Sweet, Speaker of the New York State Assembly. Quickly, few politicians dared to oppose Anderson and the Anti-Saloon League.

III. Aggressive Methods

Anderson’s aggressive methods of personal abuse and scorn toward legislators and clergy who did not cooperate with him alienated many people. He was accused of using the Anti-Saloon 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 legislators. That they were given money to vote against legislation sponsored by the Anti-Saloon League. He appeared in Albany for a hearing on alcohol legislation promoted by the League. But the chair of the committee 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 promoting 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 Anti-Saloon League would have a “campaign of education” and 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 as synonymous 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. One League pamphlet attacked “the un-American, pro-German, crime-producing, food-wasting, youth-corrupting, home-wrecking, treasonable liquor traffic.” It asked “How can any loyal citizen, be he wet or dry, help or 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

Discover more at Prejudice and Prohibition.

Anderson attributed resistance to Prohibition in the city 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

Did you know?

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

A Catholic newspaper argued that the New York Anti-Saloon League, under Anderson, had supplanted the Ku Klux Klan as the leading anti-Catholic organization 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 penitintary 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 of opportunity. That helped the Anti-Saloon League and other drys to change the U.S. Constitution.

Prohibition was a dismal failure that caused serious problems. Surprisingly, almost one of five adults in the U.S.  today supports making drinking illegal. Many more support neo-prohibition   ideas. And they defend the many vestiges of Prohibition that exist today.

IX. Resources on William H. Anderson

Publications about William H. Anderson

  • Anderson, C.H.C. Martyred for Prohibition: Some Truths about Wm. H. Anderson.  Dallas, TX: C.H.C. Anderson, 1924.
  • Ossian, L. William H. Anderson. In: Blocker, J.S., et al. (eds.). Alcohol and Temperance. ABC-CLIO, 2003, 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 William H. 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. (William H. 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, September 27, 1922.
  • Plan fight for local option; Anti-Saloon League will push bills at this session of the legislature. New York Times, January 12, 1914. (William H. Anderson, new state superintendent 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, January 2, 1914. (William H. 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.

Selected Publications by William H. Anderson

  • Will demon rum stay dead? The Ind, Jan 8, 1921, p. 40.
  • The “Yonkers” Plan for Prohibition Enforcement. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1921.
  • The Church in Action. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1910.
  • The New State-Wide Local Option Bill. Baltimore: Anti-Saloon League of Maryland, 1908.
  • The New Tully-Wainwright Residence District Local Option Bill.  NY: New York Anti-Saloon League, 1906.
  • The Struggle for Local Option in Illinois. Springfield: Illinois Anti-Saloon League, 1903.
  • Statement of Mr. William H. Anderson, of Baltimore, MD. Comm of the Jud, U.S. Senate. Amendment to the Constitution Prohibition Intoxicating Liquors. Hearings. Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 1914. Pp. 132-133.
  • Statement of Mr. William H. Anderson, Superintendent of the New York Anti-Saloon League. Committee of the Judiciary, U.S. Senate. Amendment to the Constitution Prohibition Intoxicating Liquors. Hearings. Washington, DC: GPO, 1914. Pp. 39-40.
  • Statement of Mr. William H. Anderson. Comm of the Jud, U.S. Interstate Traffic in Intoxicating Liquors. Hearings. Washington, DC: 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.A. Dry Manhattan. Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 2009, p. 9.
  2. Lerner, id., p. 17.
  3. Going Dry.
  4. Lerner, id., p. 32
  5. Anderson, W.H. Catholics and Prohibition.  Lit Digest, 1920, v. 65, p. 44.
  6. Fraud, lies and forgery.
  7. Time, July 6, 1925.