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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
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AMERICAN HISTORY > LAST CALL - 11-15-14 - 12-15-14

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message 1: by Bryan (last edited Oct 30, 2014 09:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryan Craig This is a buddy read thread requested by Bryan, Jill, and Kathy:

Last Call The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent by Daniel Okrent Daniel Okrent

Remember we use spoiler html on a single thread discussion. This discussion can begin on November 15th if folks are ready. We place a beginning and end date on the discussion but both dates are always open ended and you can read the book as you like with a group of like minded members.

Thanks and Enjoy.


Bryan Craig Remember the following:

Everyone is welcome but make sure to use the goodreads spoiler function.

If you come to the discussion after folks have finished reading it, please feel free to post your comments as we will always come back to the thread to discuss the book.

The rules

You must follow the rules of the History Book Club and also:

First rule of Buddy Read:
Respect other people's opinions, no matter how controversial you think they may be.

Second rule of Buddy Read:
Always, always Chapter/page mark and spoiler alert your posts if you are discussing parts of the book.

To do these spoilers, follows these easy steps:

Step 1. enclose the word spoiler in forward and back arrows; < >

Step 2. write your spoiler comments in

Step 3. enclose the word /spoiler in arrows as above, BUT NOTE the forward slash in front of the word. You must put that forward slash in.

Your spoiler should appear like this:
(view spoiler)

And please mark your spoiler clearly like this:

State a Chapter and page if you can.
EG: Chapter 24, page 154

Or say Up to Chapter *___ (*insert chapter number) if your comment is more broad and not from a single chapter.

Chapter 1, p. 23
(view spoiler)

If you are raising a question/issue for the group about the book, you don't need to put that in a spoiler, but if you are citing something specific, it might be good to use a spoiler.

By using spoilers, you don't ruin the experience of someone who is reading slower or started later.

Thanks.


message 3: by Bryan (last edited Oct 30, 2014 07:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryan Craig You can copy and paste below to get your spoiler right:

<spoiler>Put Text Here</spoiler>


message 4: by Bryan (last edited Nov 10, 2014 10:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryan Craig For those who like a schedule, you can follow this one below. You are welcome to read faster or slower, since this discussion will remain open after December 15.

Week One: Chapters 1-5 (Nov. 15- Nov. 21)
Week Two: Chapters 6-10 (Nov. 22 - Nov. 28)
Week Three: Chapters 11-15 (Nov. 29 - Dec. 6)
Week Four: Chapters 16-Epilogue (Dec. 7 - Dec. 15)


We have the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, so we all understand if things are little slower during that week. No worries. I know I will be out of town all that week.


message 5: by Bryan (last edited Oct 30, 2014 07:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bryan Craig Goodreads Synopsis:

A brilliant, authoritative, and fascinating history of America’s most puzzling era, the years 1920 to 1933, when the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict one of America’s favorite pastimes: drinking alcoholic beverages.

From its start, America has been awash in drink. The sailing vessel that brought John Winthrop to the shores of the New World in 1630 carried more beer than water. By the 1820s, liquor flowed so plentifully it was cheaper than tea. That Americans would ever agree to relinquish their booze was as improbable as it was astonishing.

Yet we did, and Last Call is Daniel Okrent’s dazzling explanation of why we did it, what life under Prohibition was like, and how such an unprecedented degree of government interference in the private lives of Americans changed the country forever.

Writing with both wit and historical acuity, Okrent reveals how Prohibition marked a confluence of diverse forces: the growing political power of the women’s suffrage movement, which allied itself with the antiliquor campaign; the fear of small-town, native-stock Protestants that they were losing control of their country to the immigrants of the large cities; the anti-German sentiment stoked by World War I; and a variety of other unlikely factors, ranging from the rise of the automobile to the advent of the income tax.

Through it all, Americans kept drinking, going to remarkably creative lengths to smuggle, sell, conceal, and convivially (and sometimes fatally) imbibe their favorite intoxicants. Last Call is peopled with vivid characters of an astonishing variety: Susan B. Anthony and Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan and bootlegger Sam Bronfman, Pierre S. du Pont and H. L. Mencken, Meyer Lansky and the incredible—if long-forgotten—federal official Mabel Walker Willebrandt, who throughout the twenties was the most powerful woman in the country. (Perhaps most surprising of all is Okrent’s account of Joseph P. Kennedy’s legendary, and long-misunderstood, role in the liquor business.)

It’s a book rich with stories from nearly all parts of the country. Okrent’s narrative runs through smoky Manhattan speakeasies, where relations between the sexes were changed forever; California vineyards busily producing “sacramental” wine; New England fishing communities that gave up fishing for the more lucrative rum-running business; and in Washington, the halls of Congress itself, where politicians who had voted for Prohibition drank openly and without apology.

Last Call is capacious, meticulous, and thrillingly told. It stands as the most complete history of Prohibition ever written and confirms Daniel Okrent’s rank as a major American writer.


Kressel Housman | 917 comments This is a great book! I read it last year, but I may just take it out of the library again to refresh my memory and participate in this. One thing I will recommend to all of you reading it: when you finish, check out the documentary film that Ken Burns made based on it.


message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Thanks Kressel


Bryan Craig Great Kressel, I hope you join us. I forgot Ken Burns did a documentary.


Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) The documentary is excellent as are all of Ken Burns' films.
It is still hard to believe that the "drys' could push through a Constitutional Amendment to outlaw "intoxicating liquors". They should have realized that policing prohibition would be nearly impossible but they were so intent on ridding the country of "demon rum" that I think they felt that Section 2 of the 18th Amendment would suffice.


message 10: by Katy (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) A bit off topic, but news in a similar vein...

Massachusetts town proposes ban on all tobacco sales

A small town in central Massachusetts is poised to take the next big step in the tobacco wars.

Officials in Westminster, a town with more than 7,000 residents about an hour northwest of Boston, want to make it illegal to sell any tobacco products to anyone, including adults, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

Under the proposal as it's currently written, a person's right to buy cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, electronic cigarettes -- basically anything derived from nicotine or tobacco and meant for human consumption -- would go up in smoke.

"We want to save people's lives and protect the health of the community," Westminster Health Agent Wibby Swedberg said.

Town officials said the sweeping measure is needed to stop the steady stream of new products meant to entice the next generation of tobacco users.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/massachus...


Bryan Craig Jill wrote: "The documentary is excellent as are all of Ken Burns' films.
It is still hard to believe that the "drys' could push through a Constitutional Amendment to outlaw "intoxicating liquors". They should ..."


I will have to catch it sometime.


message 12: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Oh my....I hadn't seen that one, Kathy. That should be interesting. We need one of our lawyer members to tell us if that is legal, although I guess it is. It is a bold step but necessary for preventive health.


Bryan Craig Interesting, Kathy, we can definitely see the parallels.


message 14: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Hmmmm - I guess this sounds like prohibition of cigarettes. I think they had a nice rationale but honestly in this country I think like Freedom of Speech, etc. - If a person wants to buy them - I think they should have that right. I hate smoke and smoking and never have smoked but I do not want to tell others what to do. Now as far as smoking being banned inside restaurants and establishments - all for that - because the health of those who are allergic or do not want to inhale second hand smoke is paramount to the safety of those folks who are innocent bystanders. Why should their health be trumped by those who do not care about their own. But I think the above ban is a different animal.


Kressel Housman | 917 comments But drinking is and was a health crisis. As you'll read in the book, the temperance movement began as a women's movement because husbands were getting drunk and violent.


message 16: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Nov 10, 2014 12:38PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Yes, I understand Kressel and the motivations were legitimate but prohibition never worked then nor would it work now. It really is up to the individual and even though you think you would have taken away all avenues of acquiring drink or cigarettes - an underground and then illegal movement would emerge. We also do not want to become like Saudi Arabia or the Islamic world where they have to hide what they drink.


message 17: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) To prohibit something often makes it more attractive, don't you think. Those people who still wanted liquor during prohibition could get it. It just was a little more complicated.


message 18: by Positive Kate (new)

Positive Kate | 3 comments There is the problem with addiction that just can't be turned off as if it was switch. It takes therapy and medication to help treat. Jill brings up a good point that it's fun sneaking around for a good time. I agree with Kressel and Jill.


message 19: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Nov 10, 2014 04:33PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Stacy true but just stopping folks from buying cigarettes in one town is that they drive to the next town to get them. Addicts always find a way - change has to come from within.

And also I do not want the government butting into my everyday choices. If I want a drink - I want to have one - if I were a smoker and I am not I would want to be able to have one - if I want to sit outside and watch the sun rise or sunset with a drink or a smoke in my hand - I think I should be able to do that. There seems to be always somebody ready to regulate somebody else's life when they have enough problems regulating their own - and let us not forget the NRA and guns - be careful of trying to regulate rights and freedoms just to match up with your own rendition of what is right. It can backfire. Prohibition did not stop those husbands from being drunk - it just made them sneaky too (smile).

I think the book will be a fun one. I am for less government and some are for more.


message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Jill wrote: "To prohibit something often makes it more attractive, don't you think. Those people who still wanted liquor during prohibition could get it. It just was a little more complicated."

Speakeasies did a booming business.


message 21: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Stacy wrote: "There is the problem with addiction that just can't be turned off as if it was switch. It takes therapy and medication to help treat. Jill brings up a good point that it's fun sneaking around for a..."

And Stacy I agree with you about therapy and medication being necessary for addicts and that just proves the point about prohibition - I did not want you to think that I did not agree with you about that type of a situation - it is of course very serious. It is difficult but we cannot write laws to protect everybody from harming themselves as much as our hearts go out to these folks.


message 22: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) i think the book points out an interesting fact in the first couple of chapters......that prohibition was seriously on the minds of the public as far back as the mid-1800s.


message 23: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
For sure - America had a very religious background - I am sure that moderate and/or no drinking was on the mind of even the first immigrants many years before that (Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, Roger Williams and the Baptists, Mormons since the 1820's, etc.)


message 24: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Nov 10, 2014 08:23PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Who is joining Bryan for the discussion - I am going to try, The buddy read starts on November 15th which is unusual for the History Book Club. All of our discussions always start on a Monday but this one is different - just this once. So remember the discussion starts Saturday.

How many of us have our books? This is the first assignment:
Week One: Chapters 1-5 (Nov. 15- Nov. 21)


message 25: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) I would agree but there was never an organized movement that encompassed so many groups/people/politicians as that described in the first few chapters.


message 26: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Let us not get into talking about the book until the start date (smile).

Obviously you are in and have the book right?


message 27: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 112 comments I am about half way through the first section.

Kessel's point is a good one -- alcohol was a social problem. What is surprising is that among all of the possible (partial) solutions: a ban on alcohol, allowing women to own property to protect it from their wastrel husbands, and allowing women to more easily divorce their drunk and abusive husbands, a constitutional ban was the easiest option.


Bryan Craig Brain freeze, Bentley, you are right, we should have started on Mondays and not sure what happened there. My apologies. This time only :-)

Won't be long before we start and by the 15th, be sure to try using the spoiler code if you are talking specifics.

Test it out. I have it on message 3 to copy and paste.


Kressel Housman | 917 comments Bentley wrote: "Yes, I understand Kressel and the motivations were legitimate but prohibition never worked then nor would it work now. It really is up to the individual and even though you think you would have ta..."

I'm not a supporter of prohibition. All I'm saying is that the heads of the movement had a legitimate point in opposing alcohol.


message 30: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Nov 11, 2014 07:30AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Matthew wrote: "I am about half way through the first section.

Kessel's point is a good one -- alcohol was a social problem. What is surprising is that among all of the possible (partial) solutions: a ban on alco..."


Another interesting point Matthew - but I think that extreme is a little bit about what this country has always been about - the pendulum seems to swing back and forth. No half way measures.

Bryan is also talking about the spoiler cut. Test it out if you are talking about the book already - (view spoiler)

Kressel - I think that can be said for a lot of things - for example all of the schools where violence has occurred because of guns - why not ban assault weapons that get into the wrong hands and should not be there in the first place (the NRA warns that we would be losing our right to bear arms) or because of the money that is being used to sway our elections - there was the McCain/Feingold bill (the Supreme court threw this out because somehow they decided that a corporation was a person). There are a lot of those situations where there was a very legitimate reason and point for opposition. But I understand what you are saying and do not disagree that there were legitimate concerns.


Kressel Housman | 917 comments There still are.


message 32: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Of course. But should the rights of a few be protected by taking away the rights of the many because something bad might happen to a few. Does one override the other is what it always comes down to - it appears and that is a valid and legitimate concern about the erosion of our "freedoms". And I am playing devil's advocate here by the way.


Bryan Craig Indeed, Kressel, alcoholism, binge drinking on college campuses, abuse, DUIs, all around us still.

The idea that this social ill could be eradicated through law was an important element to the story.


message 34: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 112 comments I was looking at it from the other direction. From our point of view, Prohibition was certainly the more "extreme" measure.

From the perspective of 1840 or 1870 or 1920, however, there is evidence (such as the timing and relative ease of passage in an all-male electorate)that Prohibition would be considered less "extreme" than any expansion of women's rights would be.

Which position is "extreme" and which is "moderate" is often based on your prior assumptions.


message 35: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Nov 11, 2014 12:06PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Agreed- paragraph one

Maybe - they certainly wanted to keep their wives and their pastors happy - paragraph two

Maybe - but then again I am looking at what historians have stated as being extreme and/or moderate for that time period and these words also have different connotations depending upon the timeframe in which you would be judging the situation.

For example, before and during the First World War - it was ok to make racist statements about the enemy - calling them Japs or Kraut. Good people during that time frame used this terminology. The same was true in terms of the average person's view of blacks at that time. Nowadays hopefully those outward utterances would not be so tolerated nor should they be.

The extreme left and right seem to be where our two major political parties are sitting - whether on the Conservative right or on the Liberal Left. The word moderate which used to also pertain to Republicans and Democrats and their positions doesn't seem to be as prevalent these days. Many moderate Republicans have vehemently complained that there is no place for them in their own party. That has led to the very polarized electorate we see today - where you are either voting for one extreme or the other depending upon what you want to protect. We are seeing more and more extremes in US society today and in terms of what it considers its norms. I do agree that the terms "extreme" and "moderate" on a personal level can be based upon what your prior assumptions for these words or positions mean to you. It is all relative at that level.


message 36: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 112 comments Yes, from our baseline, what was once normal slang is now considered extremist speech and is rightly unacceptable.

To a person who uses those words, however, and then calls you out when you complain for your "political correctness" and being "the language police," we are the extremists who inexplicably place surface phraseology over the deeper truths.

My point is only that people do not generally see themselves as extremists, and we can get insights into their worldview when we see what they viewed as less extreme.


message 37: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Nov 11, 2014 01:39PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Very true Matthew - paragraph one

John Boehner comes to mind when he warned that if Obama tries to take executive action on things like immigration reform -- as the president signaled he would Wednesday if Congress continues to stall -- it would "poison the well" and prompt a harsh response from Republicans.

"When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself," Boehner said. "And he's going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.


The above is some rhetoric and innuendo which many did not take kindly too in terms of our civil rights past. His terminology was not politically correct.

I agree - paragraph 3


Bryan Craig I agree with paragraph 3, too. People in a movement might not see the context of what others think (and they see them as extremists), but rather, focus on the end game.


message 39: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Nov 12, 2014 06:50AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Yes Bryan so often in life there are groups that think they know what is best for everyone and do not view themselves in the same way. Sometimes the groups do not care about the feelings of othesr either. The Westboro Baptist Church comes to mind. And I think to a large extent "terrorists" only see the end game and not the destruction and evil done.


message 40: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
All, Last Call begins tomorrow November 15th - does everybody have their books?

Week One: Chapters 1-5 (Nov. 15- Nov. 21)

Check how to do spoilers in Messages 2 and 3 - Byran has conveniently given you a copy and paste to use.


Bryan Craig Good day, everyone, today is the day. Feel free to post for those who are reading with us. If you want talk specifics, use the spoiler tag.

What strikes you as you read about how alcohol was such a big part of nineteenth century life? Did it help you understand why Prohibition forces took such a hold?


message 42: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 112 comments What struck me was a point that seemed to argue against Prohibition, but only is mentioned briefly with regard to Johnny Appleseed and military rations -- that water simply wasn't safe, while alcohol kills the bacteria.

On the one hand, I guess there were teetotalers and Prohibitionists during the 1840s who weren't all dying of cholera all the time, but it seems like a perfectly fair response to the Prohibitionist to say, "I drink hard cider instead of water because it is less likely to kill me in the short term."

I don't know the history of water filtration plants and when refrigeration reached various parts of the country in large numbers, but it makes me wonder why "no bacteriological deaths!" wasn't a larger part of the "wets" counter-argument to the Prohibitionists.


message 43: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) That's an interesting observation, Matthew. Liquor was indeed a big part of the society in those days....from the Southern poor with their moonshine to the upper classes with their wine and cocktails. But religion was also a big part of the society and was the major player in the initial move to prohibition with the WCTU and Anti-Saloon League and their slogans "The Church in action against the saloon". Back then, I think religion trumped health.


message 44: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 112 comments Bryan wrote: "What strikes you as you read about how alcohol was such a big part of nineteenth century life? Did it help you understand why Prohibition forces took such a hold? "

Both Prohibition and its opposite both seem so overdetermined that it would be easy to see the "creeping deteriminism" of any possible result, including the conflicting Constitutional Amendments that we ended up with.

How could you possibly avoid Prohibition with the dedicated grassroots of the women of the WCTU? And the well-funded astroturf of the men of the Anti-Saloon League? And the fact that the beer lobby and the hard liquor lobby were at each other throats so couldn't even provide a United Front?

Alternately, how could Prohibition possibly take hold when its supporters were the shrinking base of Anglo-Saxon Protestant and Southern racists? The growing groups of Catholics and Jews and Irish (and Germans) all opposed it. Add it the well-funded breweries that had tons of money to dump on buying candidates, and the fact that government was beholden to Big Alcohol for all of its tax revenues (just like The Pot Industry wants to be taxed today), and there was no way that Prohibition could ever happen.

With so many big, powerful interests on each side, and so many unsavory asses on both sides, there seemed to be tons of credit and blame to go around for whichever result ended up sticking.


Bryan Craig Thanks everyone, and don't forget to use the spoiler tags if you are talking about the book, since some people might be behind.

Response to Matthew:
(view spoiler)


Bryan Craig Chapter 3, page 35:
(view spoiler)


message 47: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 112 comments One of my favorite word-nerd origins was not mentioned in the book. During the time of "Temperance Pledges" in the 1830s and 1840s, a signatory would place a "T" next to his or her name to signify "total" abstinence instead of mere moderation.

That added "t" is the origin of "teetotaler", not --as I had assumed-- someone who totally drank tea.


message 48: by Steve (new)

Steve Jenkins | 39 comments These chapters refer to several social problems and ills that were part of nineteenth century life. Many people such as The Prohibition forces felt that these problems were caused by alcohol. They felt that, by banning alcohol, they could alleviate some of these issues. I was impressed by their passion for their cause.

I also found it interesting that although religion was one of the major players behind prohibition, not all religious groups were in favor of it.


message 49: by Jill (last edited Nov 17, 2014 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Matthew wrote: "One of my favorite word-nerd origins was not mentioned in the book. During the time of "Temperance Pledges" in the 1830s and 1840s, a signatory would place a "T" next to his or her name to signify ..."

Good information Matthew.......I was unaware of the "t"

(view spoiler)


message 50: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Nov 17, 2014 01:52PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Folks do not forget the spoiler cut. You too Jill


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