How the American Liberal Party changed national prohibition policy in 1932 and secured repeal of the 18th Amendment by December of 1933.
Recall that one of the Liberal Party organizers was Nicholas Murray Butler—also a friend of wet Democratic nominee and former New York governor Al Smith. Butler, an ancient Republican activist and University President, was roundly booed when at the 1928 Republican National Convention he suggested a plank to repeal the Prohibition Amendment. Instead, that platform read: “PROHIBITION… The Republican Party pledges itself and its nominees to the observance and vigorous enforcement of this provision of the Constitution.” The Democratic Party plank was much the same: “Speaking for the national Democracy, this convention pledges the party and its nominees to an honest effort to enforce the eighteenth amendment and all other provisions of the federal Constitution and all laws enacted pursuant thereto.” So, besides economic collapse under the weight of prohibition and tax laws, what political change occurred?
During the 1932 election campaign, Butler broadcast radio talks on how prohibition had created a four-billion-dollar tax-free industry–the size of the 1929 federal budget. Income tax revenue in 1932 fell to 36% of what it had been in 1927, and the Liberal Party published its own planks. Beginning with the observation that the major parties “are now virtually merged into one immense Prohibition Party, which is subject to sectarian control through the dictation of shallow and malignant men,” and to “extirpate all those organizations that are holding liberty in bondage, and to disperse all those political groups of the churches which are endeavoring to enact their religious and moral tenets into the laws of the land.” Echoing Jefferson, they “unfalteringly declare our hostility and opposition to every form of religious interference in the laws of this Government.” Nor did these classical Liberals hesitate to demand “the dissolution of the Ku Klux Klan, because that society, suppressing the social and political rights of Jews, Catholics, and Negroes, is a foul vulture that is eating the heart out of the body politic.” The Liberals repudiated “any alliance between Church and State,” then closed in for the kill: “PROHIBITION: We demand the immediate repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.”
The Prohibition Party reaction was shrill: “We unequivocally oppose the repeal or weakening of the Eighteenth Amendment or of the laws enacted thereunder, and insist upon the strengthening of those laws. …can and will coordinate all the powers of government, Federal, State and local, strictly to enforce, by adequate and unescapable punishment of all violators, this wise and beneficent law. ” The Republican Party, having heard it’s masters’ voice, recited: “We do not favor a submission limited to the issue of retention or repeal, for the American nation never in its history has gone backward, and in this case the progress which has been thus far made must be preserved, while the evils must be eliminated.”
Faced with the horns of dilemma, the Democratic party seen its chance and took it: “We advocate the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment,” and went on to demand the immediate legalization of beer. This, of course, ruined whatever chance the Liberal Party might have had to “win” by making its urbane and educated candidates and spokesmen into grafting looter politicians. But that was not the victory they were after.
To the Liberal Party the important thing was “the freedom of life, and the exercises of those innocent pastimes which give life its chief happiness.” They did not want socialism, nor a welfare state. After rejecting “social cancer” of welfare handouts, the platform observed that those “who get on the dole system will never get off it.” Nor did the Liberal Party advocate unemployment relief “from the politicians at Washington.” The platform called for restoring state power by dispensing with the 17th Amendment and restoring election of senators to the State Legislatures, the way it was done before the looter prohibitionist frenzy replaced freedom with the 16th, 17th and 18th Amendments. The party favored liberalization of divorce laws, and that prostitution laws not burn the deportable brand of “moral turpitude” onto individuals. It called for letting folks watch pugilism movies with Jack Johnson walloping the daylights out of The Great White Hope. South America was to be freed from U.S. colonial meddling, Russia would be recognized if it ever acquired a legitimate government, and a way should be found to reduce regulations to do away with the “riots, destruction, and murder” that accompanied taxicab strikes in those dark days before Uber and Lyft. The Liberal Party was okay with kids who wanted to work getting jobs, and wanted federal bureaus stripped of much of their coercive power. Listening to the radio on Sunday would be kept safe and legal, veterans bonuses would be paid at maturity and schools should teach mathematics, physics, and chemistry, history and literature. The Liberal Party was also the first to come out for an earlier Inauguration Day—a year before Hoover’s lame-duck depression winter closed every bank in the nation. By Executive Order, the President allowed state authorities to examine the federal income tax returns of corporations—especially the ones that had benefited enormously from prohibition laws. The Liberal Party was the prime mover behind the political repeal of prohibition. Naturally conservative fanatics dedicated to taking happiness away from others revile its memory–indeed try to blank it out entirely–for it broke the death-grip of a religious dictatorship in time to rescue individual rights from extinction.
Like any other party, some of its ideas were unoriginal, others less than brilliant, but the Liberal Party was designed to restore basic freedoms by ridding These States of rule by the sort of Christian fanatics that destroyed the U.S. economy. Those same fanatics also fostered the emergence of a similar regime in Germany, a dictatorship of Positive Christianity—only with death-camp National Socialism instead of saloon padlockings and dry killers.
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