UNL and the Dry Spell: Student Attitudes Toward Prohibition, 1931-1932

Project Editor:Jeffrey Miller, History 470: Digital History, Spring 2008

Table of Contents

The Wimberly Affair
The Beer Apartment Raid
Source Page

Editorial Note:The following is a transcription of an article from the Daily Nebraskan student newspaper.

This Prohibition Question.

Mounting conviction that something is wrong with the liquor control laws in the United States, which found expression in a profound shift in the American public's attitude toward prohibition sometime between last April and the time the national conventions met in June, has opened up this question to dispassionate consideration on its own merits, divorced from the prejudices which had beclouded the issue in the past, for the first time since the temperance societies of the 19th century began their evangelism which culminated in the passage of the eighteenth amendment in 1918.

The prominence given to the effect, beneficial or detrimental, of prohibition on "the youth of our nation" justifies such frank discussion in the college press. The Nebraskan will attempt to hand out no ready-made opinions on the prohibition issue. It will seek only to establish certain well-grounded premises from which the intelligent reader can come to his own conclusions.

To question the present prohibition laws no longer brands one as ipso facto destined to damnation, but to extract the truth from the pile of propaganda and mass of misconceived notions, remains a difficult undertaking. For the present student population the matter is doubly complicated because, though we may know what conditions are now, we have no first hand knowledge of what they were before prohibition's era.

The real truth must lie somewhere between the extremes claimed by the rabid enthusiasts on each side. Honest recognition of certain fundamental facts will clear the question of a number of now vigorously debated elements.

* * * * *

1. Let us first recognize that insertion of the eighteenth amendment into the constitution is an attempt to enforce conformity to a moral code through the agency of the law. Whether or not this is a proper function of government is open to question. In this particular case, the record shows, the attempt has not been very successful.

2. Liquor, itself, has been overemphasized as a moral issue by those honest zealots who have seen the evils of over indulgence. Let those proponents of legally enforced total abstinance [sic] who revere the Bible recall that on a certain occasion Christ, having been invited to a wedding by a hostess so careless as to have forgotten to order beverage for the event, took a jar of water and demonstrated His divine propensities by manufacturing some on the spot.

3. America has never been a people to scruple too much at disregarding those laws which they found not to their liking. A long time ago England made some shipping laws which forbade her American colonials trading with certain islands. By pursuing this tgrade contrary to the law the America ncolonies [sic] grew strong enough to successfully defy the mother country when at last a determined effort to enforce these laws was made. In the same way the United States hi-jacked Texas from the Mexicans. That Mexico had forbidden American migration into the territory made little difference to those who decided they wanted to live there.

With prohibition the case has been much the same. Those who don't like the law have disregarded it until, for them, it has been practically nullified.

4. Prohibition is a bigger question than merely outlawing liquor. The result of the law, because it has not or cannot be enforced, has been to breed contempt for all law. The man who makes and drinks beer in his home and with his family does not feel himself a criminal. Yet he is asked to forego this indulgence on the same grounds that forbid him to rob and murder his fellows.

It is this weakening of all law by prohibition that has brought the American public to tolerate real crime on an unprecedented scale during the last decade. Because people who want to drink will drink anyway, gangdom with its racketeering methods have been able to organize and spread into other fields without effective public protest until today it defies the forces of law.

5. Much of the drinking done by young people at present is done in the spirit with which a little boy goes out behind the barn and makes himself deathly sick smoking a forbidden cigar. That young people drink because it is an "adventure" may not be much of a recommendation for them but that this is a fact has been our observation.

* * * * *

These are but a few observations. But their existence, whether we like it or not, must be acknowledged before we can reach a solution to the problem.

The evil of drink lies not in the drinking, but in the results of over-indulgence. To prevent this, then, should be the aim of whatever measures are adopted. This is what the prohibitionists seem to have forgotten. Until the passage of the eighteenth amendment, the fight was for temperance. Since that time it has been for the preservation of prohibition.

A favorite retort to every suggestion has been that no acceptable substitute for prohibition has been offered. To those who answer thus, we commend the plan submitted last week by Dr. Butler of Columbia.

In any case, prohibition having failed, the only course now open is to try something else. Before this is undertaken there must be a definite conception of the purpose and a recognition of the obstacles which have appeared under prohibition.

The object is temperance. Whether by law, or by education, or by some other mans, this legitimate end can best be attained is now the question to be answered.

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Author: Staff, The Daily Nebraskan
Title: "This Prohibition Question"
Periodical: The Daily Nebraskan
25 September 1932