Nativism and Prohibition

Because the consumption of alcohol was an important part of many immigrant, especially Catholic immigrant, cultures, Prohibition was often identified with anti-immigrant, or nativist, attitudes. Additionally, Prohibitionists sometimes referred to ideas from eugenics, a science popular during this era that dealt with the improvement of the human race (or, just the white race) through hereditary engineering. Some drys claimed that alcohol would poison the white race and make it impure.

Klansman burning a crossProhibition also became associated with the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan revived in the 1920s as a popular organization that attracted men and women who resisted new values and "loose" morals. To the racism that characterized the first Klan, the second coming of the Klan added anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, and anti-feminist sentiments. The KKK was also dedicated to the preservation of law and order in American society. To Klan members, the principal example of Americans' recklessness and disrespect for law was the resistance to Prohibition. According to one prominent scholar who studies the Klan, "support for Prohibition represented the single most important bond between Klansmen throughout the nation."

Not wishing to be associated with an organization that used vigilante violence, the national leaders of the Anti-Saloon League tried to distance themselves from the Klan. But many local Anti-Saloon League groups allied with the KKK to show their support for Prohibition. Furthermore, at least one conspicuous Dry leader on the national level (Bishop James Cannon) made very public anti-Catholic pronouncements that echoed the propaganda of the Klan. The Anti-Saloon League, and therefore Prohibition, could not shake the popular perception that they were associated with the Ku Klux Klan. When, in 1925, the corruption of the Klan was exposed, this too rubbed off on the Prohibitionists.

In the South, temperance took on a more racist bent, for progressives in that region believed that allowing African-Americans to enjoy access to alcohol would provoke violence, especially sexual assault against white women. They also were concerned that alcohol would produce violence and antagonism between poor whites and poor blacks and thereby threaten the progressives' quest for law and order and social improvement in the South.

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