Happy(?) Repeal Day!

December 5, 2013 | 12 comments

prohibition_ends_repeal_day_cocktailsThe Twitters tell me that 80 years ago today, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus ending Prohibition.

Whatever you think about Prohibition, it’s probably worth noting the Pres. Grant was not a fan of its end. In fact, he addressed the end of Prohibition—and Utah’s role in ending it—at General Conference in 1934. Here’s an (annotated by me) excerpt of what he said:[fn1]

Never in the history of this Church have we needed so much as we do today the Word of Wisdom. No nation can ever prosper, this nation being no exception, that undertakes to pay part of its obligation and to build up the nation by licensing the sale of liquor[fn2] and allowing people to make millions upon millions of dollars by selling liquor. I have never felt so humiliated in my life over anything as that the state of Utah voted for the repeal of prohibition. I do not want to interfere with any man’s rights or privileges. I do not want to dictate to any man. But when the Lord gives a revelation and tells me what is for my financial benefit and the financial benefit of this people, because “of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days,” I do think that at least the Latter-day Saints should listen to what the Lord has said.

Can there be any meaner or more devilish thing than the advertisement showing cigaret [sic] smoke as an engagement ring? That is the kind of advertising cigarets are getting.[fn3]

We have a newspaper that does not pay, known as The Deseret News. We have to put up money in order to keep it going. It would pay tomorrow if we would advertise beer that does not intoxicate,—of course that is, white people, but it does intoxicate Indians when they drink it. Legally it does not intoxicate, but actually it does.

Every one said: “We do not want the saloons to come back.” Well, they have more than come back. It is said that on Second South street today there is more drinking than there was in all the saloons we had formerly in the same amount of territory, and it is said there is also as much if not more boot-legging than there was before we repealed the prohibition law.

I could not help but feel humiliated when the Latter-day Saints knew as well as they knew that they lived that I wanted them to remain true to the Word of Wisdom and not vote for the repeal of prohibition.

There’s a little more, then Pres. Grant ends with this:

Now, I see there is no time left, so I will ask you, one and all, as a favor, every Latter-day Saint within the sound of my voice, to read the Word of Wisdom as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, and do it tonight or tomorrow. Do not put it off longer than tomorrow, and it will save my reading it and saying any more about it now.

While we’re thinking about Pres. Grant and Prohibition, it’s probably a good time to flag this BYU Studies article, which discusses his early beer-drinking, his struggle with conscience, and his ultimate embrace of a beer-free life.[fn4]

[fn1] See p. 129.

[fn2] Hallelujah! An in to talk about tax: prior to Prohibition, 30-40 percent of federal revenue came from alcohol excise taxes. In fact, one of the factions that pushed for the 16th Amendment and a federal income tax was prohibitionists, figuring that it would be more feasible to ban alcohol if they could somehow replace the revenue. See Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition 53-58 (2010).

[fn3] I assume he’s talking about this 1933 Lucky Strike ad (scroll down to see it).

[fn4] That’s pp. 51-52, but the whole article, and, in fact, that whole issue of BYU Studies is worth the read.

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12 Responses to Happy(?) Repeal Day!

  1. Dave on December 5, 2013 at 11:54 am

    The morality of sin taxes is as interesting as the morality of sin. They bear some resemblance to indulgences. A cynical take on both of them is: As long as you’re going to sin, the government/church might as well make some money off it.

    It is surprising how little reflection there is on Prohibition in light of our never-ending, never-winning war on drugs. Maybe we don’t like the comparison.

  2. Kent Larsen on December 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    “It is surprising how little reflection there is on Prohibition in light of our never-ending, never-winning war on drugs. Maybe we don’t like the comparison.”

    Indeed, Dave. The cynical take might say, the “war on drugs” is our excuse to put minorities and the poor in jail.

    It is, of course, more complicated than that, but it also seems increasingly clear to me that there may be alternative methods for reducing drug use that have less of an economic impact, less bias, and less of a negative impact on families.

  3. Marie on December 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Heber was also influenced in his views of alcohol by the effects of his mother’s marriage to George Grant, Jedediah’s brother, in 1858, two years after Jedediah’s death. George was much admired as the heroic leader of the first rescue party sent out from Salt Lake to rescue the Martin and Willie handcart companies. Though widely admired as a leader and believer, he also had a murderous streak brought out by his alcoholism. It was due to this that Heber’s mother later divorced George (with Brigham Young’s blessing) and refused to ever marry again, lest something similar happen and threaten her son. That’s how Heber grew up without a father figure in his home, forced to help his mother eke out a living. His life was profoundly affected by an otherwise good man turned to evil actions by alcohol.

  4. Last Lemming on December 5, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    The morality of sin taxes is as interesting as the morality of sin.

    There is sound theory behind sin taxes, although it is not followed in practice. Tobacco and alcohol consumption generate negative externalities (second-hand smoke, drunk driving, etc.). To the extent that sin tax revenues are used to mitigate the effects of those externalities, their morality would not seem to be in question. If the taxes lead to less sin, they also lead to fewer negative externalities and less need for the revenues. It is only when they are used to fund things that we would need even in the absence of the taxed sin (like schools) that the morality of sin taxes is questionable.

  5. chris on December 5, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    “It is surprising how little reflection there is on Prohibition in light of our never-ending, never-winning war on drugs. Maybe we don’t like the comparison.”

    So meth and other drugs ought to be legal too? I’m not in favor of a heroin or crack culture developing like there is a drinking culture in the US. You can’t point to other cultures and say it’s controlled in Amsterdam, etc. The have a very different culture.

  6. Clay Cook on December 5, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    It is interesting how discussion of the Word of Wisdom seem to always boil down to alcohol, tobacco and coffee. I have never been asked in a bishop interview if I moderate my meat intake which considering the link between a carnivore diet and heart disease as well as other diseases might be as important to our health has the big three. Hugh Nibley use to say that the 7th Day Adventists live the Word of Wisdom much better that the Mormons. I also wonder if a prophets background and history may play an important part in how they perceive inspiration.

  7. Bryan S. on December 6, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    It’s funny how discussions of the Word of Wisdom always seem to boil down to people talking about how meat intake is never talked about in discussions about the Word of Wisdom.

  8. dangermom on December 6, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    “It is surprising how little reflection there is on Prohibition in light of our never-ending, never-winning war on drugs. Maybe we don’t like the comparison.”

    You must not live in California, where marijuana legalization is a topic that we are all sick to death of hearing about. (I would be fine with it except for the horrible stink. Maybe if it was legal as long as you smoke it in a private residence?)

  9. F.lowers for Alger.non on December 12, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Since my last comment was not approved for posting, I’ll tone it down half a notch.
    It seems clear given our scriptural record that the word of wisdom’s true purpose is to ensure no one frees any prisoners of whom we may find ourselves in possession.
    But I will ask, if a comment is relevant to the original post and does not violate any rules of the comment policy, on what basis is a comment moderated?

  10. Ben S. on December 12, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Algernon, you may find this relevant to your moderated post.

    “the word of wisdom’s true purpose is to ensure no one frees any prisoners of whom we may find ourselves in possession.” O learned constable, you are much too cunning to be understood; or, huh?

    As to moderation, twas not I who moderated, but (having gone to look) I suspect the snideness violated a combo of #2 and #8 in the comment policy.

  11. F.lowers for Alger.non on December 12, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    To clarify #10: the Nephites used wine to trick the Lamanites out of their prisoners. Therefore, if we don’t drink it, we’ll keep our inmates safe and sound. A bad joke, I understand.
    As for the moderated post violating rules 2 and 8, I am an active, believing member of the church. I hope my sincere beliefs are not so far afield as to warrant censure. Also, perhaps my comment was snide. I don’t, however, think it was rude or offensive. Certainly, some readers will disagree with my position. I think others would agree. Thank you for responding.

  12. Ben S. on December 12, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Hey, thanks for commenting!

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