Last Call

Daniel Okrent's Last Call, a history of the rise and fall of alcohol prohibition, is a masterpiece.  Of course the writing is great but Okrent is also very good at building the history on a framework of analysis and social science. 

Here is Okrent on Prohibition and the income tax: 

By 1875 fully one-third of federal revenues came from the beer keg and the whiskey bottle, a proportion that would increase in the years ahead and that would come to be described by a temperance leader in 1913, not inaccurately, as "a bribe on the public conscience."

…it would be hard enough to fund the cost of government without the tariff and impossible without a liquor tax. Given that you wouldn't collect much revenue from a liquor tax in a nation where there was no liquor, this might have seemed like an insurmountable problem for the Prohibition movement.  Unless, that is, you could weld the drive for Prohibition to the campaign for another reform, the creation of a tax on incomes.

And here is Okrent on voting law and prohibition.  I'd always understood that prohibition was, in part, an attack by rural WASPs against urban, (often) Catholic, immigrants but I had not realized how much the drys were helped by malapportionment in the state legislatures which gave rural voters greater power than their numbers alone would have suggested.

Statewide wet majorities were rendered irrelevant by the rotten-borough legislatures.  The very same day the citizens of Missouri rejected a dry amendment to the state constitution by a margin of 47 percent dry to 53 percent wet, they elected a legislature that just two months later would ratify the Eighteenth Amendment by a 75 percent to 25 percent margin. In Ohio, the sacred cradle of the ASL, legislative districting and assiduous politicking put ratification over by a combined legislative vote of 105-42; however, when left to their own devices, Ohio voters rejected the very same measure in a referendum. 

See also Tyler's review for more.


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