Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia

Article excerpt

Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia. By Bruce E. Stewart. New Directions in Southern History. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, c. 2011. Pp. xii, 325. $50.00, ISBN 978-0-8131-3000-2.)

Americans have long been fascinated by the denizens of Appalachia. Bruce E. Stewart's Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia examines the emergence of a stereotype of these rural country folk as violent, backward, uneducated, unwashed, wary of outsiders, and possessing a strong penchant for making and consuming their own liquor. The book traces the attitudes of both townspeople and rural mountain folk throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth toward those who distilled alcohol. In tracing the rise of temperance and prohibition sentiment in the twenty-six counties of western North Carolina, Stewart reveals much about the dramatic social and economic transformations that took place there and about how the South as a whole became the hotbed of prohibition after the Civil War.

Appalachian attitudes toward distilling vacillated in the nineteenth century. In the early antebellum era, alcohol production was a cottage industry in North Carolina, but the late antebellum period saw the emergence of temperance societies and growing religious concern about liquor. Public support for distillers declined during the Civil War because alcohol production cut into the already scarce corn and grain supply. With Reconstruction came the revitalization of the distilling industry as well as new federal taxation by the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Appalachian residents perceived these taxes as an unwarranted expansion of federal power, leading them to support those who moved their stills to secret locations to avoid the "revenuers," and even those who used violence against federal agents.

But the most significant changes in southern attitudes toward distillers occurred with the emergence of the New South in the 1880s. Whites in urban areas increasingly blamed liquor and distillers for all that was wrong with southern society and embraced federal revenuers as instruments of progress. An 1881 statewide referendum revealed growing, but not yet overwhelming, support for prohibition legislation among western North Carolinians. The referendum failed, but prohibitionist agitation intensified in the 1880s and 1890s, especially in centers experiencing economic growth. …

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