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

By Richard F. Hamm | Go to book overview

THE FEDERAL LIQUOR TAX AND THE RADICAL PROHIBITIONISTS

CHAPTER 3

The federal internal revenue system was the notable exception to the limited nature of the federal government that characterized the late-nineteenth-century polity. Part of the federal revenue system, the liquor excise taxes, required the government to take an active role in economic and daily life. It also fostered a benign view of the liquor industries within the federal government. Thus, the first budding of the modern bureaucratic polity stood in the way of prohibition. From 1880 to about 1900, most prohibitionists denounced the federal liquor tax as a hindrance to temperance progress. This view of the tax reflected the dominance of the abolitionist mind-set in the movement and a conscious rejection of regulation as a means to promote temperance. Radical drys viewed the tax not as a restriction on the liquor business but as a recognition of its legitimacy. To knock away this prop from underneath the evil liquor establishment, they demanded that the federal government abolish the tax. In this period the government ignored the prohibitionist agitation and kept the tax as a key part of government finance.

The existence of the federal tax also presented prohibitionists with an opportunity. Beginning in the 1880s, some drys pro-

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