Anti-Saloon League of America

From Ohio History Central
Temperance Crusaders at Rear of Saloon.jpg
Three temperance crusaders watching the rear of a saloon in Mount Vernon, Ohio during the Women's Temperance Crusade of 1873-1874.

The Anti-Saloon League of America was one of the most prominent prohibition organizations in the United States of America in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.

On May 24, 1893, temperance advocates formed the Ohio Anti-Saloon League in Oberlin, Ohio. This organization's members believed that American society was in moral decline. As people moved from rural areas to urbanized ones, many Americans believed that they were losing touch with their religious values. One way that people were violating God's desires was by consuming alcohol. The Ohio Anti-Saloon League hoped to reduce alcohol consumption, if not outright prohibit it, by enforcing existing laws and by implementing new ones. This organization also sought to eliminate bars, taverns, and saloons, believing that these businesses promoted the consumption of alcohol. This same year, temperance supporters in Washington, DC, formed their own Anti-Saloon League. In 1895, the Ohio and Washington organizations united to create the National Anti-Saloon League, which eventually became the Anti-Saloon League of America.

The Ohio Anti-Saloon League and its parent organization hoped to close down saloons, believing that, if Americans did not have places to buy alcohol, consumption would decrease. The national group and its subsidiaries utilized local churches, especially Methodist ones, to recruit followers. The organization also lobbied members of the Democratic and Republican Parties to support Prohibition, although the Anti-Saloon League never endorsed one party over the other. It preferred to endorse the candidate and his or her view on alcohol, not the party. An example of this is the governor's race in Ohio in 1909. Governor Myron T. Herrick was a member of the Republican Party and strongly opposed the Ohio Anti-Saloon League's attempt to allow local communities to prohibit alcohol. The Ohio league first sought a Republican to challenge Herrick for the party's nomination. Upon failing to find a potential candidate, the League endorsed the Democratic candidate, John M. Pattison. Pattison easily won the election, illustrating the increasing power of the Ohio Anti-Saloon League and the Anti-Saloon League of America.

To share its message with the American people, the Anti-Saloon League developed its own publishing house, the American Issue Publishing Company. This firm was based in Westerville, Ohio, and was headed by Ernest Cherrington. The Anti-Saloon League's primary publication was the American Issue, but published numerous other tracts as well. During the League's heyday, it issued more than forty tons of anti-liquor publications every month.

For the first fifteen years of its existence, the Anti-Saloon League and its subsidiaries focused on implementing anti-alcohol laws in local communities. As support grew, including among such prominent Americans as John D. Rockefeller, the League began a national campaign to implement Prohibition. In 1913, the League sponsored a parade in Washington, DC. At the gathering's conclusion, the League's superintendent, Purley Baker, presented an amendment to the United States Congress and to the House of Representatives. This amendment would be the basis for the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Anti-Saloon League of America and its state organizations inundated the U.S. Congress with letters and petitions, demanding the prohibition of alcohol. With the outbreak of World War I, the League also used anti-German sentiment to fight for Prohibition. Many brewers in the United States were of German extraction. Utilizing patriotism and morality, the Anti-Saloon League succeeded in getting the Eighteenth Amendment passed by the Congress and ratified by the necessary number of states.

With Prohibition in effect, the Anti-Saloon League entered a tumultuous period. Wayne Wheeler, a prominent League member, believed that the League should focus on enforcing Prohibition by enacting more stringent laws. Cherrington disagreed and argued that educating children about the evils of alcohol would prevent consumption of liquor and the flaunting of the law in the future. This division dramatically weakened the Anti-Saloon League and allowed opponents to Prohibition to build momentum. Many temperance advocates believed that the struggle was over once Prohibition went into affect, causing many of these people to no longer participate in the Anti-Saloon League. Prominent financial backers withdrew their support as well. Because of this declining support, anti-temperance supporters were able to introduce the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1933. The following year, a sufficient number of states ratified the amendment, ending Prohibition. With Prohibition's demise, the Anti-Saloon League and its subsidiaries also collapsed.

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