Date of Award

Spring 5-22-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Departments/Programs

History

First Advisor

Daniel Hurewitz

Second Advisor

Donna Haverty-Stacke

Academic Program Adviser

Karen Kern

Abstract

The Prohibition Era of the 1920s was a social and political condition created and designed by a nineteenth-century rural Christian Protestant crusade against alcohol. Evangelical Protestant activists took a very personal and spiritual approach to the issue of alcohol consumption and turned it into a far-reaching and long-lasting nationwide campaign aimed at changing American culture. The Prohibition Era which resulted was a brief noble experiment remembered more for its sensational news stories of organized crime, political corruption, and popular culture than for the religious crusade that produced this episode in American history. The untold story of Prohibition involves a social and political methodology used by those religious crusaders as they spread their agenda throughout America. In their single-minded pursuit to eliminate alcohol from society, these social reformers challenged the separation of church and state, manipulated the rural and urban political (and cultural) divide, and utilized an aggressive single-issue political platform to achieve their goals. In 1914, the ASL sent Ohio minister and attorney William Hamilton Anderson, armed with these same methods, to New York City to confront the nation’s largest cosmopolitan culture. The ASL and Anderson adopted social strategies and political techniques that created opponents, who then destroyed them and turned the fight about Prohibition into a fight about the League and Anderson himself. The rise and fall of this religious crusade against alcohol, which created the world of Prohibition, can be seen through the story of the Anti-Saloon League and William Anderson’s success and failure in New York City. Although Anderson and the ASL were successful in getting New York (and the rest of the country) to ratify the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, they failed to see the consequences of such a single-minded campaign. After the law passed, Anderson and the ASL struggled to maintain political power, enforce the new law effectively, and protect their organization from growing criticisms from opposition forces.

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