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Two Senators on Prohibition in 1929

SENATOR REED of Missouri and Senator Borah of Idaho are both greatly concerned with prohibition, but are in opposite camps. Senator Reed is one of the most outspoken of wets ; Senator Borah, one of the most outspoken of drys. As the session of Congress drew to a close, bringing Senator Reed's Senatorial career to an end, these two men engaged in a debate that packed the galleries. We append extracts from the speech of each.

Senator Reed's speech was a characteristic denunciation of prohibition and was an elaboration of what he had already said. Senator Borah's speech, on the other hand, had a new note of tolerance and courage in facing the evils of the prohibition law which he still favors. It is interesting to note how differently these two men have responded to the same set of facts :

From Reed's Speech

"We have abandoned the Bible, the prayer book and the temperance tract for the lash, the prison, the gun and the blood . . . Law has been the instrument of tyrants and the weapon of brutes since time began. By it despots have sought to justify and cloak the villainies that have stained this earth with blood and saturated it with tears and filled it with the groans of the dying. An improper law, an unjust law, a cruel law may be as much a crime as is the act of an individual who assassinates in the dark . . .

"Law ! Some people seem to think that if you can have a legislative body pass an atrocious law and fix a cruel punishment that that is the end of the matter and that it is perfectly proper to enact such a law if you can gather the votes to pass it. Why, sirs, the Saviour of mankind was crucified according to the Roman law and according to the Jewish law. . . . Let no man say because I have thus spoken that I am declaring we should defy this law . . . It is our business to proceed in the right way to remedy whatever wrongs exist, and the right way is to repeal bad laws and to change bad constitutions . . .

. . . "I have been speaking upon the theory that this is a bad law; that it is a destructive law, and I now urge that it has introduced corrupting agencies and debased morals into the political life of our country . . . The gorge rises in the stomach of decency when we contemplate the fact that prostitutes have been hired and sent out to decoy men into rooms. They have consorted with the refuse who were pretending to represent the majesty of the law.

"They have set their traps in hotels and there they have, by the expenditure of Federal money, induced some poor bell boy or waiter to bring a little liquor to a party, supposedly of ladies and gentlemen, instead of a collection of blacklegs and prostitutes. All this was done beneath the white cloak of purity, all this is sanctified by the glory of the cause." . . .

From Borah's Speech

"It may be a mistake, the people of the United States may have erred in their judgment.

"Time and experience alone will demonstrate that fact. But it was not a crime; the people of the United States were in sincerity struggling with that which was deemed to be one of the great evils of modern civilization . . .

"I am not committed to all opposition to the modification or even the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, the re: peal of the Volstead act. I am only committed against the change, the repeal either of the amendment or the law, so long as nothing better and more effective has been or can be presented. If there be a better way to control the evil of drink, a more effective way, more thorough, and with better results to those whom we would serve, let us have it . . . .

"I call attention to the fact, however, that there never has been a law placed upon the statute books of any civilized nation on the earth with reference to liquor that the liquor forces did not undertake to break down, to violate, to undermine, to corrupt the officials.

"While we have for many years been disposed to jeer at the temperance reformer, at those who are advocating prohibition, I think they have accomplished one thing: they have made drink a luxury and popular.

"Then the cocktail becomes a luxury, the highball follows on, and men and women who in the old days would never have served a drink in their homes, or, if they did, would serve a little glass of wine, now dish it out, and mothers hand their daughters the liquor, girls of the same type who a few years ago would never have received anything but warning from their mothers . . .

"That is corrupting a class of young men, I say to you prohibition friends, and I say it as solemnly as I have ever uttered anything in my life, it is corrupting a class that rarely was endangered or tainted in the past, and upon your souls and consciences the weight of the burden must rest . . .

"I do not think any one wants to go back to the saloon. That is one monument to those whom we regarded for so long as cranks as fanatics."

Source: Outlook and Independent 6 March 1929



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