Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment: Temperance Reform, Legal Culture, and the Polity, 1880-1920

By Richard F. Hamm | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
REFORMERS AND THE POLITY

On June 6, 1900, in one of her first forays from Medicine Lodge, Carry Nation traveled to nearby Kiowa to attack saloons. This small Kansas town had at least three bars in operation despite the two-decade-old state ban on the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquor. Singing her favorite hymn--"Who Hath Sorrow? Who Hath Woe?"--Nation wrecked the liquor-selling establishments. In one of the saloons she demolished, Nation saw what she later admitted was "a very strange thing." In the midst of her destruction, she saw a vision of "Mr. McKinley, the President, sitting in an old fashion arm chair." She threw several stones at this apparition, and "as the stone[s] would strike I saw them hit the chair and the chair fell to pieces, and I saw Mr. McKinley fall over." In her 1909 autobiography she reflected on the meaning of this incident: "Now I know that the smashing in Kansas was intended to strike the head of this nation the hardest blow, for every saloon I smashed in Kansas had a license from the head of this government." To Nation, the government was "more responsible than the dive-keeper" for the evils caused by the liquor trade. She further justified her actions on two other grounds. First, that her experience as a "Jail Evangelist" convinced her that the bars "manufactured many criminals" who "burdened" the county and country. And, second, that if the town officials would not enforce the law, someone else--like herself--would. Upon completing her work, she dared the authorities to arrest her; when they did not, she returned home.1

This incident illuminates many of the themes of this book. It shows what motivated drys like Carry Nation; her assertion that alcohol caused suffering and her hymn singing reflected the forces that drove most prohibitionists: religious faith mixed with a desire to improve human life. Moreover, Nation's actions in Kiowa revealed that she was well aware that the barkeepers in Kansas violated law. Thus, she did not see her action as an infraction of civil law; rather, she saw her work as a demand that officials enforce the state

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