Thanks to Andrew Glass at Politico.com for penning the This Day In Politics column reflecting the legislative origins of America’s off-and-on temptation with prohibitions, notably today’s 171st anniversary of America’s first prohibitionist laws in Tennessee.
Of course, the parallels to today’s 71-year old marijuana prohibition are unavoidable.
Tennessee bans sale of alcohol, Jan. 26, 1838
By: Andrew Glass, Politico.com
January 26, 2009
On this day in 1838, the Tennessee Legislature passed the nation’s first Prohibition law.
The statute made it a misdemeanor for residents to sell alcoholic beverages in taverns and stores. Tennessee had been admitted to the Union in 1796 as the 16th state. Under the new law, any person convicted of selling “spirituous liquors” could be fined at the “discretion of the court.” Such fines would help fund public education.
The roots of Prohibition in North America reach back to 1657, when the General Court of Massachusetts outlawed the sale of liquor “whether known by the name of rum, strong water, wine, brandy, etc., etc.”
In the early years of the republic, some Americans formed religiously oriented temperance societies to combat what they believed were the adverse effects of strong drink. A consensus emerged in those circles that while alcohol was a gift from God, its abuse through excessive consumption remained the work of the devil.
Benjamin Rush, a prominent physician and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, called for moderation, arguing that excessive use of alcohol damaged both physical and psychological health. Influenced by Rush’s writings, some 200 Connecticut farmers founded a temperance association in 1789. Similar associations were formed in Virginia in 1800 and New York in 1808.
By the late 19th century, “dry” groups had emerged as a powerful political force, calling for nationwide abstinence. In 1917, Congress passed the 18th Amendment, barring the manufacture and sale of alcohol. During the 1920s, the federal government nevertheless failed to curb the widespread distribution of alcoholic beverages by crime syndicates. In 1933, the nation repealed Prohibition with the 21st Amendment, although some states and localities continued to enforce a ban for many years to come.
Source: “Battling Demon Rum: The Struggle for a Dry America, 1800-1933,” by Thomas Pegram (1998).