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What Will We Do With It?

Herewith, the Outlook presents an expert's analysis of its prohibition poll. It has been called the most comprehensive attempt to get at all the elements of this vexed issue. "The most striking thing shown," says Mrs. Bruere, "is that there is a percentage of both men and women, both under and over 45, who were for the amendment at the time of its passage, but who are not for it now." It is possible that, in its entirety, her summary tells the complete history of the prohibition movement —its past, its present and its future.

THE Eighteenth Amendment is the distinctively American move in the long game to control the consumption of alcohol. Is it a conclusive move ? Are we in a position to call "check" or have we blundered, lost place and advantage ? Is it a success we have achieved or a failure we have been guilty of ? Are we satisfied or shocked with the result ? On the answers to these questions our opinions are inevitably based, and do we not act as we think ? In a democracy like ours no regulation of conduct is irrevocable merely because it has been placed in the Constitution. Public opinion which put it there can take it out again. What is public opinion going to do with Prohibition? With the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act?

On the fourteenth of March The Outlook published a questionnaire asking their readers to answer thirty-nine questions in order to discover—not facts or figures, but their opinions as to why the amendment was passed, how it is working, and what they want done about it. The replies, nearly four thousand of them, are before me now. They come from every state in the union, from all our possessions and dependencies, and from American citizens living in London, Syria, Egypt, France, Spain, Cuba, South America and Mexico. The age of the senders ranges from fourteen to ninety-seven, their occupations run the full gamut of the literate group which is sufficiently prosperous to subscribe to a magazine, sufficiently interested in public questions to be concerned about prohibition, which can without too much travail "take their pens in hand," and which has sufficient leisure to fill out the questionnaire. Besides the four thousand questionnaires are some hundreds of letters from those who have something to say beyond the "yes" and "no" answers. Of the questionnaires exactly 3,500 are practically full answers. The first 3,000 of these to arrive have been classified by the Library Bureau. Those which came in later give approximately the same percentages. I have divided all of them by age groups, by occupation, and by locality on the theory that people's ages, what they do, and where they live, are important elements in their experience—and that their experience is the basis of what they think. One important element the answers do not give—the race of those who sent them, and race has a direct bearing on what we think and do. The names are overwhelmingly English, Scotch and Scandinavian with a mere sprinkling of South European, but there is nothing conclusive about this, for may not a Mrs. Elliott McCarthy, now teaching Home Economics in Oregon, have been born Senorita Rosita Fernandez ? May not Mr. Arnold Gould, a business man of Norwich, Conn., have been Mr. Abram Goldman on the other side of the water ? Such things have been, and names mean little. It is important to realize, however, that between 84 and 85 per cent of the replies are from men, and that the great majority of the women who answer list themselves as "house wives," "home makers," "wives and mothers."

THIS is the composition of the poll of Outlook readers—what does it show ? On the opposite page are the original questions with the percentages of the answers to each as they were made by people under 45 and by those 45 or over, and by men and women. The most striking thing shown is that there is a percentage of both men and women, both under and over 45, who were for the Amendment at the time of its passage, but who are not for it now.

THIS classification by age and sex gives only the foreground of the picture. One of the most significant modifying circumstances is locality. Places have traditions and histories of their own which affect those who live in them.

But localities bounded by state lines do not mean much. States of mind have quite other limitations. They overflow the surveyors' lines and crowd across political divisions, and seep along river bottoms and are stopped by mountain ranges and led on by the air currents that make men of a certain kind live in a certain place, and pursue certain occupations, and think in certain ways. I have picked six regions, which show six widely different conditions and experiences and may therefore be expected to induce different opinions on prohibition.

To begin with there is what is left of old New England—Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont—relatively stable, homogeneous, rural, small town, small city folks whose ancestors have been in this country for a century or more, and who are inheritors of the tradition of the town meeting and local independence, and so certain of the wisdom of democracy that they are willing to obey the prohibition law. The answers from this region are 83% for the retention and enforcement of the Amendment, although Maine which went ,dry in 1851, and since that time has enforced its own law in its own way, sends 4% of the answers against the Amendment on the ground that it is less effective than the state law and that there is an added element of corruption in the enforcement of it.

Compare old New England to the present source of our food supply, the Great Valley. I have grouped together Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, because in spite of the fact that this region contains Chicago and St. Louis and Detroit and Kansas City, busy with manufacture and trade, Tulsa with its mind centered on oil, Omaha still thinking of itself as a wild west town, and a whole string of river cities ; in spite of hundreds of thousands of the foreign born in the industrial centers, it is still the stronghold of the American farmer. By virtue of his effort we eat—also by virtue of his votes do we elect or defeat presidents. The answers from the Great Valley are well divided and I believe give a fairly accurate sample of the public opinion there. Eighty-one per cent of these who reply are satisfied with the Amendment as it stands and against modification. There is little outcry either for light wines and beer, for any change in the Volstead Act, for a government dispensary system, or for personal liberty in the matter of home brew. The general demand is for better enforcement and less corruption of officials. The Great Valley stands pat.

Image of Table of Survey Results
Image of Table of Survey Results


On across to the North West, another homogeneous region composed of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota and Minnesota. Over this North West, traders with their packs, land seekers and gold seekers, settlers in their covered wagons seem to have just passed. They are a small town and rural people with relatively few great cities, nordic too, with a sparse dotting of the foreign born. Since 1834 when the Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay company forbade the issuance of spirituous liquors to Whites and Indians both in the old Oregon Territory, they have been experimenting with various forms of control. The Eighteenth Amendment settled easily upon an already prepared surface; 80% of them are for it as it stands.

The Old South is still an entity in spite of the fact that so much of it is new. A fellow feeling pervades it in the face of the influx of winter colonies and industrial developments. There is a common denominator for Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in the fact that the white population which is in control does not dare to let the black population drink. Most of these states made their own prohibition laws before the Amendment was passed, and enforced them as they saw fit. They ratified the Eighteenth Amendment, but they are not in sympathy with Federal enforcement. It is, judging from their letters, partly the old question of states rights, and partly a matter of rival enforcement bodies. The South is not so strong for the Amendment as either old New England or the Great Valley, they are torn between expediency and pride, but 77% of those who answered the questionnaire are content that the Amendment should stand without change.

Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have a woof of modern Americanism and a warp left from old Mexico. Legislatures conduct their sessions in both Spanish and English. In the valleys of the Rio Grande and the Colorado and along the border a greeting in Spanish brings a quicker response than one in English. The Spanish tradition includes wine. Judging from the names, there are none of Spanish race among The Outlook readers, but they are all living in touch with the Spanish tradition. The percentage of those who are in favor of the Amendment today falls to 68%.

That part of our country where the raw materials are converted into finished products, where the swift rivers are harnessed to mill wheels, where factory smoke smudges the sky, where electric power lines stride across the country on giant legs, where cloth streams out from the mills, and millions of shoes, and bricks and steel rails, and glass dishes, and electric bulbs, and books and ready made clothes and paper boxes are produced, has different opinions and wishes and problems from the Great Valley or the North West or the South. It has for one thing a great admixture of still unassimilated people working in its industries, whose habits and traditions include the making and use of alcoholic drinks. For another it has a large group of consumers willing to pay for these same drinks,—a well-to-do, predominantly American group, who form the market. It is moreover strung along the seaboard, it has acquired a cosmopolitan point of view, and the rest of the country comes there to play, to spend money and to buy luxuries. The states in this group —Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, are dominated by their cities. The percentage of those who were formerly in favor of the Amendment but are not in favor of it now is higher here than elsewhere, and the percentage of those who still want it has fallen to 69.

Not all the country is included in these divisions, there is the mountain group, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and there is California which not only does not belong in any other division but must be divided North from South in order to be understood. San Francisco as the city of the northern part is a bustling, cosmpolitan, man-made town not unlike the cities of the Atlantic sea-board. It is not conspicuously in favor of the Amendment. Los Angeles in the southern division of a different origin and composition is the driest of the great cities.

I have made these divisions into localities because in a country so large as ours the differences in environment and tradition are great enough to affect opinion, and in a matter so important as this, our most distinctive piece of social legislation, it is imperative to know not only what people think as shown by the first analysis of the questionnaire but also why they think it.

THIS analysis by localities is not by any means conclusive. Biologists say that every organism is conditioned by the way it gets its living. What employments have conditioned these readers of The Outlook ? I have divided the questionnaires according to the occupation of those who sent them. I approached the job of sorting out people by occupations with the idea that it was an easy way to unravel a tangled situation. It looked easy—easy and clarifying. I laid down eight rough divisions for my own guidance—students ; housewives ; agriculturists ; mechanics, artisans and wage-workers ; clerical workers ; people in business ; members of the professions ; and those who had retired from active life. And then came the terrible task of deciding what a person really did from what he said. A lawyer undoubtedly belongs to a profession—how about a Justice of the Peace who also keeps a grocery store ? A woman keeping house and bringing up two children is undoubtedly a housewife—but what if she is also teaching school ? A man says he is an engineer. Locomotive or civil ? They are in different pigeon holes. A physician drops gently into the professional group, where does a masseuse go ? Is a railroad president an employee because he takes a salary ? Does a writer of advertisements belong with a writer of historical novels ? Is a draftsman an artist ? An admiral in the Navy and a clerk in the patent office are both employees of the government, shall they be classified together ? Is editing a paper a business or a profession? Is a man whose occupation is "lumber" one who cuts down trees with an ax, who breaks log jams dangerously balancing in the midst of hungry rapids—or one who sells you picture molding? What is the actual job of a man from the middle west who is "chairman of a county committee"? These and many more problems confronted me. In-stinct, the dictionary, and silent prayer were my helps and here is the result. As a beginning take those whose occupation is still preparing for life, and whose experience of pre-prohibition days is what their elders say and what they have read—students in colleges and high schools. There are 106 of them from 17 different states and their ages range from 15 to 24. What they think is important partly because the future of the Amendment is in their hands, as one of The Outlook readers writes there are 11,000,000 new voters this year, and partly because of the hue and cry about the flasks in the pockets of the young. "Our young people are going to the dogs with poison liquor," writes a woman from Illinois. "It has made drunkards of young men and women who think it is 'smart' to get into a speak-easy," says a Massachusetts reader. And again from Massachusetts, "Perhaps our amazing young people who will soon govern the country may find less satisfaction in breaking laws of their own choosing and be wise enough to manage the situation."

Against these letters which can be duplicated again and again from those which came with the questionnaires, let me set the tact that 96 of the 106 students who answered arc for the Amendment as it stands, ten are for its repeal, and four of them—it happens that they arc the four youngest—would be glad to see the saloon back in our midst.

What do the women think? My classification gives only one distinctively feminine occupation—the housewives. There are 344 of them and they come from 38 different states, and are from 21 to 87 years old, the great majority being in the early forties. Between 1 and 2% of them are not so certain of the wisdom of the Amendment as they were when it was passed, but 91% would vote for it today. There are of course many women scattered through the clerical and professional groups, especially among the teachers, but they have not been separated from the main classification.

The clerical group is small. There are 148 of them from 23 states. Seventy per cent are for the amendment, 30% are not.

The wage earning group is small, also 104 out of 3,500—and in the population as a whole it is probably the most numerous. The results therefore are not significant, but I give them for what they are worth. The returns are from loggers, locomotive engineers, common laborers, saw filers, electricians, drivers of laundry wagons, masons and half a dozen other trades. They come from 17 states and 81% of them are for the Amendment and against the saloon which has been called the Working Man's Club.

Two hundred and forty-six people engaged in agriculture have responded from 41 states. Some are like the American farmer of fifty years ago, who did general farming and raised a little of everything from live stock to onions, lived in the country the year round, sent his children to the village school and preferred to vote as his father did. Some write from their winter homes in Florida or California, speak of acres in thousands and mention sons at Oxford. These farmers as a whole are 86% in favor of the Amendment. The states from which the largest number of returns have come are in order : New York which is 80% for the Amendment as it stands, California 87%, Illinois 85%, Michigan 85%, Minnesota 92%, Washington 77%, and Pennsylvania 86%. Whether their holdings are large or small, whether they are ranchers or truck gardeners, whether they live f ast, west, north or south, the farmers are for the Amendment and against any modification of the Volstead Act.

The business group has been exceedingly hard to segregate, it being so difficult to determine whether a given job was a profession, a business, or a wage earning occupation. Probably it is just as well that you who have sent in questionnaires do not know into what pigeon holes you have fallen or who your fellows are. There are 892 in this group from 45 states and the District of Columbia. No well known business but is represented, and it took a dictionary for me to discover some of them. Sixty-four per cent are for the Amendment today, which is a low rate as compared with the other occupations. But they are 100% dry in Maine, Kansas, Georgia, Idaho, North and South Dakota, Utah and Oklahoma, and in the states with large industries and a cosmopolitan population they are only 57% dry. Business follows local conditions more closely than the other occupations.

The professional group comes from the District of Columbia and from every state in the Union except Delaware. It is the largest group of all, 1,389, and quite obviously typical of Outlook read ers. It ranges in age from a young teacher who is 21 to a retired judge who is 93. The greater number are between fifty and sixty. It is the controlling group in the answers. As this group thinks so goes the poll. Eighty-two are in favor of the Amendment today, rural and urban east, west, north and south, men and women. How does this vary with locality? In the North West where the general per cent is 79 for the Amendment it is up to 86. In the South where the per cent is 76 it drops to 78. In the South West with a per cent of 68 it is 77. In the Great Valley where the per cent is 81 it is 85. In the great industrial section of the Atlantic Seaboard where the per cent is 69 it is 74. Everywhere except in New England where the general per cent is 83 and the professional per cent is 77 it is above the general per cent. I have no way of accounting for the variation from type- in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Perhaps they just want to be different, or is it the traditional American individualism ? How do those whose active part in life is past, who give their occupation as "retired" and may be supposed to see life from a considerable perspective, feel about the law ? There are 309 of them and 76% look at the Amendment and find it good.

Those who give their reasons for having changed their opinion state in every case that they believe the law is not working well. These reasons classify roughly under three heads : that boys and girls are drinking more than they did, that it is the bootleggers who are getting rich instead of the government, that the law cannot be enforced because of official corruption. They have ordered prohibition sent home, and not finding it up to sample want to send it back again. What are their complaints ?

"Wherever we look we find dishonesty among officials and non-officials. Bribery and bribe-accepting is open, and the few who do not accept bribes are considered fools."
"We have had a dry legislature for the last eight years. On the other hand we have had two wet United States Senators and our last three governors have been wet. The Senators have the recommending of the prohibition enforcement officers, The governor has the appointing of our judges and prosecutors. They take their oath of office. How do they square their consciences when they make their appointments ?"
"The bribery and corruption caused by the Eighteenth Amendment is one of the greatest evils under which the country is suffering. An injury done to temperance and clean living."
"Almost anything is preferable to a law which half the families throughout the country will continually disregard and which can never be enforced by any conceivable procedure."
"The policy of restraint has developed a serious danger, not from appetite but from greed."
"Far greater than the matter of alcohol is the invasion of the home, the debauching effect on government officials, courts and police."
"Prohibition could be made effective and the Volstead law enforced if county and state politicians in many instances did not profit thereby."

These people feel that since the law is to blame for the corruption,—a thing they had not bargained for,—it should be abandoned. Here is a word from Kansas to comfort them:
"The Nation is simply repeating the experience of the state of Kansas where it took twenty-five years of constant turmoil and strife to drive out the liquor traffic. The larger cities were only cleaned up when the state grew tired of temporizing and forced the issue. The same will be true in this national movement."

It is because of personal liberty and its older sister, states rights, that others are opposed to the amendment.

"I consider the innovation an ignominious futile surrender of states rights. It is a precedent of sinister aspect, an ideal wedge opening toward the centralization of government. It behooves the people of this republic to rally in one common cause to the fundamental principle of personal liberty."
"The constitution is not the proper vehicle for any law, and certainly not a prohibitive law. It is a charter of our liberties which has been nullified by the introduction of the Eighteenth Amendment."
"The question of personal liberty no doubt seems important to many, but it is purely academic in the face of such practical considerations as safety in our streets and in our factories, safety in the air, economic welfare and the like. I considered it good sportsmanship to pass up wine for the common good."

These are merely samples, one of a kind, of the protests that lie before me. Among them are many suggestions of what should be done about it.

"We must allow liquor to be sold at least in one place in every county under government regulation at a price a little above actual cost. This itself will stop moonshining and bootlegging, as nobody will work at anything there is no profit in."

"The only remedy is the outright repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Then we could adopt the Canadian system where the whole thing is left to the provinces."

There is hardly a system which some one does not prefer to the one we are actually experimenting with. And two 'subscribers, one from Maine, the other from Massachusetts, deplore the law because it diminishes the opportunity of the weak to destroy themselves. As a balance to the rather unreasoning protests let me give a new carefully thought out suggestion which came from New Haven.

"I should like to see the whole matter placed on a wholly new legislative and executive basis. I would have Congress pass a general law giving very broad powers to a highly paid permanent Commission appointed by the President in conference with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and with the advice and consent of the Senate. I would pay the commissioners so highly that the best men would be interested. I would provide life tenure, or at least tenure up to a certain age with large pensions. I would make the head of the commission an executive officer with powers equal to or exceeding those of a cabinet officer. The other members would assist the chief, and the whole body would be given very broad legislative or rather regulative powers like those of the Interstate Commerce Commission, but broader. The commission would be liberally supplied with funds and would have many powers of a semi-judicial nature, so that the whole responsibility would rest on it. It would operate under a liberalized Volstead Act which would permit it to maintain dispensaries under its own immediate jurisdiction if the people of a given district so desired, but the alcoholic drinks there sold would have to be mild and pure, there would be no drinking on the premises and the commission would be at liberty to remove its dispensaries if their privileges were abused. The commission would have its own judiciary which would deal with all ordinary cases, but there would still be the right of appeal to the higher Federal Courts."

The saloon deserves consideration by itself. There is no question that the evils of the saloon were the strongest ammunition the prohibition forces had. Some of the other offspring of alcohol might have redeeming traits. Did not a drink or so increase gaiety and comradeship and reduce sorrow ? For many, these balance the evil of the father who drank the shoes off his baby, and beat his wife. But the saloon was a different case. No form of regulation for the liquor traffic had been able ,either to control or destroy it. It is evident from the letters that many Outlook readers consider its destruction the chief object of the Amendment, evident further that people were not expecting the rise of the bootlegger and the speakeasy and that they are startled and surprised at the strong resemblance these young dragons bear to their deceased parent.

IT is an interesting revelation, this questionnaire. It shows beyond doubt that although the Outlook readers are, as a class for the Amendment, they react in practical accord with their communities. In the dry Great Valley they are largely content with the working of the Amendment, in the wet cosmopolitan industrial cities, they are increasingly dissatisfied. If they belong to the traditionally dry occupationshouse-wives, the professions—they see the faults of it large and black and write what they see, but in general they do not want to change. If, however, they are clerical workers or in business they are more impatient with the evils of the situation and more willing to try something else. It appears also that the professions which are 82% in favor of the Amendment the country over are far less enthusiastic in its support in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago than they are in Portland, Topeka and Los Angeles. Also that the older they grow the less likely they are to change. The students when they send letters are imbued with the certainty of youth ; the middle-aged are learning from their experience; the old stand by the convictions of their prime.

On this checker board of answers two things stand out. A still substantial majority in favor of this great social experiment of ours and a growing conviction that it is chiefly official corruption which has made it work so imperfectly.

Source: Outlook, October 10, 1928


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