1920s Drug Fiends

Excerpted from Prohibition and the Crash, by J Henry Phillips

Chapter 18

Drug Fiends

            A five-to-four decision by the Supreme Court in Seattle’s “whispering wires” bootlegging case settled the 4th Amendment issue of wiretapping on June 4. Our highest Court on that day pronounced government skulking over phone lines legal, ethical and good.[1] The Court’s stated position in finishing the work begun with the Sullivan and Marron decisions was that the Bill of Rights was so important that only Congress—certainly not the Judicial branch—had the authority to attribute “an enlarged and unusual meaning to the Fourth Amendment.”[2]

Thirteen Coast Guards were suspended June 2, ostensibly for accepting bribes to overlook smuggling of “liquor” from ocean liners, but that story had been suppressed for over 2 months and had developed an odor.[3] In Buffalo, June 4 was opening day for a conference between U.S. and Canadian customs officials. The meeting was organized by Assistant Treasury Secretary Seymour Lowman. This is the same Lowman, who replaced Lincoln Andrews after Andrews was forced by Elmer Irey – the heavy-artillery agent – to resign. Placed in charge of customs, Lowman’s specialties included narcotics smuggling and dismissing “dirty” agents.[4] When newsmen finally found out about this meeting nearly 3 weeks later, Secretary Andrew Mellon assured them that no railroad men had been threatened and that it “had nothing to do with prohibition or enforcement of the Volstead act.” This naturally raised suspicions about drugs, suspicions reinforced when 6 persons were shot on the floor of the Yugoslav House of Representatives. Yugoslavia was a major exporter of medical-grade opium and was reeling from widespread riots. This news hit reporters even as they tried to pry a scoop on the secret meeting from Secretary Mellon.[5]

In April 1921, the Literary Digest had run an unsigned article “Is Prohibition Making Drug Fiends?” The article raised troubling questions. The State Department understood perfectly well by 1922 that war-fed output and prohibition-enhanced smuggling facilities were thwarting all efforts at narcotics control.[6]

Repeal advocate Franklin Fabian speculated in a 1922 book that prohibition might have something to do with U.S. narcotics consumption being 6 or 7 times as high as in most European nations.[7] The very suggestion was hotly denied by prohibitionist Herman Feldman, who also denied that figures describing the true situation could be had from any source. Feldman relied on the usual apocrypha and anecdotes to shore up his beliefs, and shrugged off any hard data on arrests and convictions as proving only that enforcement was improving. Feldman’s source, a Dr. Kolb, argued that alcohol was actually a sort of gateway drug which led to narcotics use.[8] Nowhere does Feldman explain why no narcotics planks figured in U.S. political party platforms before 1924. Yet that year the Democrats—eager, of course, to exclude Asian immigration—suddenly began railing in their platform against “the spreading of heroin addiction among the youth,” while the Prohibition Party merely blinked and stood mute on the issue.[9] The sight of prisons steadily filling up with “narcotics” convicts led the Democratic Platform Committee and Herman Feldman to diametrically opposite conclusions as to why.

At prohibition hearings held during April of 1926 Congressman William S. Vare of Pennsylvania had declared the “increased use” of narcotics throughout the nation “appalling.”[10] Then on May 14, 1928, Chairman Graham of the Judiciary Committee reported that 28% of federal inmates were “addicts” and pushed for the Porter bill to segregate the junkies on a Kentucky “narcotics farm.”[11]

Yet the wisdom of the Harrison Act stood unchallenged even after 537 pounds of heroin and morphine were discovered in Brooklyn by New York Deputy Chief Inspector Louis J. Valentine’s staff in 1927—the year of the recent “Tong War” on U.S. soil and civil turmoil on Chinese soil.[12] Not only had alcohol prohibition increased U.S. demand for heroin and morphine, but the well-developed channels for alcohol smuggling served even better as conduits for smuggling drugs. It was probably easier to bribe a customs agent to look the other way if the agent believed that rum, not heroin, was being smuggled in.

 

[1] (NY World Almanac 1929 91)

[2] (Olmstead et al. v. U.S. 06/04/28 [465])

[3] (NYT 8/15/28 23:4)

[4] (Merz 1931 248-249)

[5] (NYT 6/22/28 31; 6/23/28 34, 52)

[6] (Taylor 1969 150)

[7] (Fabian 1922 77-80)

[8] (Feldman 1927/30 109, 113-115, 111)

[9] (Johnson and Porter 1975 246; 249)

[10] (Feldman 1927/30 101-102)

[11] (NYT 5/15/28 10)

[12] (NYT 7/1/28 14; 1/13/27 4)

Does your company ever need to come to terms with pharmaceutical suppliers south of the border? Why not hire an interpreter familiar with the history and background of many foreign products?

Third party votes change laws

 

LPeagle

 

Every election year Republican Svengalis come hunting Libertarian Trilbys to convert to the Immutable Platform cast in stone  by God’s Own Prohibitionists. This is  what happened in 1887. The episode is reported in the words of John Sherman, Congressman, Senator, Secretary of both State and Treasury and brother to Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. Eventually, it is the Major Party platform that changes because integrity wins out over equivocation.  People willing to kill you to take your money are also willing to lie–the easier to to rob you with, my voter!

transitional“The only danger he (Governor Foraker) encountered was in the active movement of the Prohibition party. This party ran a separate ticket, the votes of which, it was feared, would mainly come from the Republican party. In a speech I made at Oberlin, on the 4th of November, I made an appeal to our Prohibition friends to support the Republican ticket. I said: “There are but two great parties in this country, one or the other of which is to be put in power. You have a perfect right to vote for the smaller Prohibition party, and thus throw away your vote, but you know very well that either a Republican or a Democratic legislature will be elected, and that there will not be a single Prohibition candidate elected. Will it not be better to choose between these two parties and give your assistance to the one that has done the most for the success of your principles?”

Observe that the prohibitionists wanted the laws to change. They did not care a whit about which politician is grinning from the podium. Yet Sherman immediately offered them a false choice between a grinning Republican and a supposedly wasted vote. Sherman then dangled the real bait. 

“We think the Republican party is still entitled, as in the past, to your hearty support. Among other of its enactments there is the ‘Dow law,’ looked upon you with suspicion, yet it has done more for temperance than your ‘prohibition laws’ at present could have done. That law enables you to exclude the sale of liquor in more than 400 Ohio towns. It was passed by a Republican legislature. By it more than 3,000 saloons have been driven out of existence. “Then you have the repeated declaration of the Republican party, a party that never deceived the people with false promises, that they will do anything else that is necessary, or all that is possible by law, to check the evils that flow from intoxicating drinks.” (It took the GOP another thirty years to completely wreck the economy through prohibition enforcement in 1930. That drove plenty of people out of business, and did it again in 2007.)

“Is there not a choice between that party and the Democratic party, which has always been the slave of the liquor party, and whose opposition to the enforcement of the Dow law cost the state $2,000,000? The Democratic party, if put in power, will repeal that law and will do nothing for prohibition that you will accept.” (To frighten fanatics, threaten them with the horrors of freedom!)

“They say they want license, but they know it can never be brought about without a change in the constitution. They want the liquor traffic to go unrestrained. It does seem to me that with all the intelligence of this community it is the duty of all its candid men, who are watching the tendencies of these two parties in this country, not to throw their votes away.” (Again, the Republican platform contained what the prohibition voters did not want, yet proffer it as a future possiblity, and point to the Hobgoblin as the only alternative to surrendering their integrity.)

“It is much better to do our work by degrees, working slowly in the right direction, than to attempt to do it prematurely by wholesale, and fail. More men have been broken up by attempting too much than by ‘going slow.'” (Softlee, softlee, catchee monkey–old Chinese proverb)

“Your powerful moral influence, if kept within the Republican party, will do more good, a thousandfold, than you can do losing your vote by casting it for a ticket that cannot be elected. Next year will present one of the most interesting spectacles in our history. The Republican party will gather its hosts of progressive and patriotic citizens into one grand party at its national convention, and I trust that when that good time comes our Prohibition friends and neighbors who stand aloof from us will come back and join the old fold and rally around the old flag of our country, the stars and stripes, and help us to march on to a grand and glorious victory.”
(Sherman 1895 p. 770–of the single-volume edition) 

The prohibitionists of course did not fall for it, but other voters reelected the candidate–who was defeated the subsequent year. Prohibitionists cast their votes for what they really wanted–a change in the laws. To the Republican, his ticket meant his party’s hand in the till. The Prohibition Party did not want a hand in the till. They wanted men with guns to take to the streets and arrest people for beer and liquor. The Major Party seduction relies on the fallacy of equivocation to trick the voters into betraying their own values and sacrificing them instead to what the Major Party wants. By preferring their own misguided lust for the power to coerce others, the prohibitionists injected next to the Bill of Rights an amendment transforming the Constitution into a religious fetish for the initiation of deadly force against peaceful individuals.