Church History
Prohibition
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“Prohibition,” Church History Topics

“Prohibition”

Prohibition

The consumption of alcohol in the United States reached an exceptionally high level between 1800 and 1830—the average person above 15 years of age likely consumed more than seven gallons of alcohol per year, a rate three times higher than that of 2016. 1 Many social reformers in the 19th-century United States considered alcoholism a national crisis and generally sought to eliminate the manufacture of hard liquors. Known as temperance reformers, they were motivated by a variety of concerns, from trying to improve workers’ productivity to preventing alcohol-related violence to viewing drunkenness as a grave sin. Some advocated moderation while others argued against all drinking. Still others favored passing laws that would prohibit the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol. 2 Prominent temperance organizations such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the American Temperance Society, and the Anti-Saloon League campaigned for prohibition and anti-alcohol education, becoming the century’s largest social reform movement. 3 By the turn of the 20th century, support for prohibition grew. Several states passed prohibition laws while many others enacted local option laws, which allowed cities and counties to ban the sale of alcohol. 4

Although the Word of Wisdom counseled Latter-day Saints to abstain from drinking wine and strong drinks, alcoholic beverages remained widely available in Utah by 1900. 5 In 1909 a bill calling for statewide prohibition was defeated in the state senate. The Utah legislature then passed a local option bill that Governor William Spry, a strong opponent of prohibition, vetoed. 6 Two years later the legislature and governor approved a bill that called for towns across Utah to decide by vote whether to prohibit the sale of alcohol in their communities. Salt Lake City, Ogden, and other cities with large non–Latter-day Saint populations opposed the ban on the sale of alcohol, but most cities voted in favor. 7 Another statewide prohibition effort met defeat in 1915, but a third bill passed in 1917. Two years later Utah’s legislature ratified the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which enforced prohibition nationwide.

Public opinion in the United States shifted against prohibition during the following decade. In 1933 the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly to repeal prohibition. For the new amendment to take effect, three quarters of the states had to ratify it. 8 Latter-day Saints in Utah were divided in their support, but the state voted in favor of ratification. 9 This came as a disappointment to President Heber J. Grant, who fought the repeal of prohibition and urged Church members to make Word of Wisdom observance a priority. 10 With Utah’s support, Congress met the three-quarters threshold, and the 21st Amendment became law. Legal prohibition ended in the United States. Later in 1933 citizens in Utah voted to repeal statewide prohibition. 11

Related Topics: Word of Wisdom (D&C 89), Utah, American Legal and Political Institutions

Notes

  1. Sarah W. Tracy, Alcoholism in America: From Reconstruction to Prohibition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 6; Steve Olson, Alcohol in America: Taking Action to Prevent Abuse (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1985), 2; Sarah P. Haughwout and Megan E. Slater, “Apparent Per Capita Alcohol Consumption: National, State, and Regional Trends, 1977–2016,” Surveillance Report #110 (Bethesda, Maryland: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2016), https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/surveillance110/CONS16.htm .

  2. Ronald G. Walters, American Reformers, 1815–1860, rev. ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1997), 125.

  3. Tracy, Alcoholism in America, 6–7, 42.

  4. Brent G. Thompson, “‘Standing between Two Fires’: Mormons and Prohibition, 1908–1917,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 10 (1983), 36.

  5. Thompson, “Standing between Two Fires,” 36. See Topic: Word of Wisdom (D&C 89).

  6. Thompson, “Standing between Two Fires,” 40–41.

  7. Thompson, “Standing between Two Fires,” 43–44.

  8. John Kearnes, “Utah, Sexton of Prohibition,” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 47, no. 1 (1979), 6; David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 138.

  9. Kearnes, “Utah, Sexton of Prohibition,” 13, 15–19.

  10. Heber J. Grant was an ardent advocate for abstaining from alcohol and observing the Word of Wisdom (Doctrine and Covenants 89). During his presidency, he lobbied for prohibition and made abstinence from alcohol a requirement for a temple recommend. His own experiences as a young adult contributed greatly to his renowned reverence for the Word of Wisdom. See Topic: Heber J. Grant; see also Ronald W. Walker, Qualities That Count: Heber J. Grant as Businessman, Missionary, and Apostle (Provo: BYU Studies, 2004), 51–54.

  11. Kearnes, “Utah, Sexton of Prohibition,” 8, 19.