My agents in attendance upon the so-called moving pictures tell me that persons who frequent such shows begin to tire of Western films … It can’t be that movie censorship is to blame, for the same thing is visible in the field of belles lettres…. What is needed, obviously, is a new hero for the infantry of the land, for if one is not quickly supplied there is some danger that the boys will begin admiring Y.M.C.A. secretaries, crooked members of the Cabinet and lecturers on sex hygiene. In this emergency I nominate the bootlegger not, of course, the abject scoundrel who peddles bogus Scotch in clubs and office buildings, but the dashing, romantic, defiant fellow who brings the stuff up from Bimini. He is the true heir, not only of the old-time Indian fighters and train-robbers, but also of the tough and barnacled deep-water sailors, now no more. He faces the perils of the high seas in a puny shallop, and navigates the worst coast in the world in contempt of the wind and storm. Think of him lying out there on wild nights in winter, with the waves piling mountain-high and the gale standing his crazy little craft on her beam! Think of him creeping in in his motorboat on Christmas Eve, risking his life that the greatest of Christian festivals may be celebrated in a Christian and respectable manner! Think of him soaked and freezing, facing his exile and its hardships uncomplainingly, saving his money that his old mother may escape the poor-farm, that his wife may have her operation for gall-stones, that his little children may be decently fed and clad, and go to school regularly, and learn the principles of Americanism!
This brave lad is not only the heir of Jesse James and Ned Buntline; he is also the heir of John Hancock and all of the other heroes who throttled the accursed Hun in 1776. All the most gallant among them were smugglers, and in their fragile craft they brought in not only rum but also liberty. The Revolution was not only against the person of the Potsdam tyrant, George III; it was also, and especially, against harsh and intolerable laws the worst of them the abhorrent Stamp Act. But was the Stamp Act worse than Prohibition? I leave it to any fair man. Prohibition, in fact, is a hundred times as foul, false, oppressive and tyrannical. If the Stamp Act was worth a Revolution, then Prohibition is worth a massacre and an earthquake. Well it has already bred its Hancocks, and soon or late, no doubt, it will breed its Molly Pitchers, Paul Reveres and Mad Anthony Waynes. Liberty, driven from the land by the Methodist White Terror, has been given a refuge by the hardy boys of the Rum Fleet. In their bleak and lonely exile they cherish her and keep her alive. Some day, let us hope, they will storm the coast, slit the gullets of her enemies, and restore her to her dominion. The lubbers of the land have limber necks; their blood runs pale and yellow. But on the roaring deep there are still men who are colossally he, and when the bugle calls they will not fail.
Here are the heroes gallant, lawless, picturesque, adventurous, noble. Let the youth of the land be taught to venerate them. They make the cowboys who linger in the movies look like puny Christian Endeavorers; they are the only Olympians left in a decayed and flabby land, or in the seas that hedge it ’round. Who will be the first poet to sing them?
—With apologies to Terence Druggan and Frankie Lake, whose March, 1928 indictments by income tax looters caused a major stock market flash crash. Follow their exploits in the Chicago Tribune online.