Friday, June 18, 2010

A Father's Day Gift from the Journal of American History

Really not sure it gets better than this as a means to kick of Father's Day Weekend: (Journal of American History, June 2010)

"Prohibition Is Here to Stay": The Reverend Edward S. Shumaker and the Dry Crusade in America. By Jason S. Lantzer. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009. x, 306 pp. Paper, $35.00, ISBN 978-0-268-03383-5.)
Jason S. Lantzer's "Prohibition Is Here to Stay" is a fine examination of the life and work of Indiana's dry crusader, the Reverend Edward S. Shumaker. Early in the book, Lantzer declares his intention to take seriously the world view of Shumaker and his allies about the place of religion in their campaign. For Lantzer, this means coming to grips with the organizational and institutional dimensions of the church, not simply the place of personal faith. This study makes a compelling argument for privileging religious organization over rural-urban divides—for example, in explaining dry motivations and behavior. The author deftly shows how a blending of the Social Gospel with progressive critiques of industrial exploitation and the profit motive could lead dry crusaders to denounce appeals to personal liberty as fictional and fraudulent. 1
      Lantzer usefully reminds us that the "rum wars" had front lines even before national Prohibition began. He takes the reader directly into the trenches, using evocative stories such as the beating of a "dry" prosecuting attorney in the trial of a Terre Haute saloonkeeper and the dynamiting of a Methodist church after a raid on a "blind tiger, an establishment illegally selling alcohol." The pre-Prohibition Anti-Saloon League (ASL) was a remarkably effective organization, and Lantzer does a fine job of illustrating the power of nonpartisan, single-issue politics as well as the ASL's skillful use of legal tools such as Indiana's remonstrance law (by which liquor licenses could be challenged). On the other hand, the enforcement of Prohibition proved transformative for the dry movement. Because Shumaker and his allies had to mount a more vigorous defense of Prohibition than they had expected, they issued a call to get tough with violators; this maneuver helped form a critical tie between the dry movement and the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan offered direct action, not just talk—a seductive call for Prohibition's supporters. 2
      Lantzer's exploration of the dry movement's legacy is the most interesting dimension of this work. As he points out, "though Shumaker's reform was over, the culture that produced it was not" (p. 177). Lantzer argues that Shumaker would today be counted among the "moral values voters" who place social issues ahead of all others in the political realm (p. 2). More provocative is Lantzer's assertion that Alcoholics Anonymous was the new organization of the dry movement. Focusing on the individual drinker, Lantzer argues, "dry culture, still alive, is trying to save America one soul at a time" (p. 187). That is an interesting claim—one that merits further examination by historians of both temperance and alcoholism. 3
      A few irritating typographical errors detract from this otherwise splendid contribution to the very large literature on America's crusade against alcohol: 1896 is presented as 1996 and Roosevelt is spelled Roossevelt (pp. 15, 72). 4
Joseph F. Spillane
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Dry Crusade comes to The Region's Happy Valley

The Thursday before Memorial Day, I had the honor to speak to the Muster Historical Society about Prohibition.  While the trek up and back were long along I-65, it was well worth it.  The MHS did a fine job getting the word out in the local papers, and put out a very nice flyer ( which I thought really captured the right balance, considering that we were that close to Chicago (with all the Capone era implications that has).

All told, there were over 20 people at the Kaske House (which is celebrating its centennial this year), including a family member and a former student.  There were many good questions, and even a few books sold.  It was a nice way to kick off the holiday weekend, and makes me excited about the other upcoming book talks at other local historical societies in the months to come.

In other news, it appears (though I've yet to get a copy to read) that Prohibition has been reviewed in another scholarly journal:  Church History.  This was something of a surprise, as earlier it had been listed as "received not reviewed" (which often means it won't be), so I'm excited to see what the reviewer has to say!