Keepers of the Spirits: The Judicial Response to Prohibition Enforcement in Florida, 1885-1935

By John J. Guthrie Jr. | Go to book overview

Introduction: Historians and
the Liquor Laws

Historians have paid much attention to the prohibition of alcohol in the United States. Their work has addressed a wide body of liquor-related issues, including the cultural significance of the saloon, the political aspects of the temperance campaign, as well as the motivation behind the efforts to ratify and then repeal the Eighteenth Amendment.1 A more recent and expanding body of literature, however, deals specifically with the enforcement of federal liquor laws.2 Indeed, only during the last decade have scholars begun to probe more fully such closely related activities as moonshining, vigilantism, and federal law enforcement. Focusing mainly on the post-Reconstruction mountain South, these historians have generally portrayed moonshiners as traditionalists who resisted federal liquor laws in order to "preserve a way of life that was being threatened by the centralizing forces then shaping America."3

In one encompassing study, for example, Wilbur R. Miller raised the question: "What are the conditions under which unpopular laws can be enforced, and what are the limits of their enforcement?" After investigating this matter, Miller found that the universal hostility of state officials to federal authority posed one of the most serious difficulties that federal revenuers confronted in the mountain South. One state judge in Greenville, South Carolina, for instance, ordered a grand jury to indict every federal agent who "had infringed the rights of a citizen and he would see that they were tried and punished." Yet such obstructionism, Miller concluded, failed to prevent the development and completion of "an administrative apparatus capable of penetrating all parts of the nation's territory."4

Following Miller's lead, Stephen Cresswell broadened the expanse of investigation once again by including the American West in his comparative study of federal law enforcement between 1870 and 1893. Besides highlighting the evolution of the American criminal justice system, his work illuminates the

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