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Little Rhodys Big Thirst: Rhode Island and Alcohol Prohibition,

1919-1934
Eric Casey
April 17
th
, 2014
Professor Mather
HIS 495
Final Draft
1
Introduction
On January 17
th
, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution went
into effect. The production and sale of alcoholic beverages were now illegal under federal law.
The Amendment was the result of a century long effort by temperance reformers to combat the
societal problems caused by alcohol abuse. Approved overwhelmingly by the U.S. Congress, it
was one of the most rapidly approved constitutional amendments in the history of the United
States, with 22 state legislatures approving the amendment in just over a year. The Assistant
Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service declared that the country would be entirely dry
within six years.
1
The mechanism for enforcing the Eighteenth Amendment was known as the Volstead
Act. Enacted into law in 1919, the legislation was largely drafted by Wayne Wheeler, leader of
the American Saloon League. The manufacturing of any beverage that contained more than .05%
alcohol was now illegal, and the legislation relied on a combination of federal and state
authorities to enforce the law. In some states, such support from local officials would be hard to
come by. This would be especially true in the state of Rhode Island.
Rhode Islands opposition to prohibition came from both public officials and private
citizens. The State Senate of Rhode Island was one of two legislative bodies in the country to
reject ratifying the Eighteenth Amendment. In front of the United States Supreme Court, Rhode
Islands Attorney General argued that federal prohibition was being foisted on the citizens of
Rhode Island in direct violation of the states sovereignty.
2
As the years progressed and flaws in
national prohibition became more evident, Rhode Islanders would continue their opposition,
1
Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, 1979.
2
Ibid.
2
playing a large role in national organizations that sought to re-legalize alcohol production. By
the 1930s, support for prohibition in Rhode Island would be weak enough to allow for the State
Legislature to pass a resolution calling for the end of federal prohibition.
Historiography
In order to fully understand Rhode Islands reaction to federal prohibition, the states
earlier experiments with prohibiting the sale of alcohol must be also examined. Rhode Island's
first experiment with prohibition in 1886 is documented in The Cyclopedia of Temperance and
Prohibition. The states prohibition law was enacted by a statewide vote. The General Assembly
then passed legislation that allowed for enforcement of the new law, but notorious party boss
Charles Brayton was put in charge of the laws enforcement. Brayton was alleged to have close
ties with the liquor agency, and enforcement of the law was virtually non-existent. Furthermore,
the Providence Journal was hostile to the idea of prohibition, and blamed violations of the new
law on the inefficiency of prohibition itself.
3
In 1890, a vote was held regarding the repeal of the Prohibition Amendment. It is alleged
in The Cyclopdia of Temperance and Prohibition that the vote was scheduled in such a way
to guarantee that repeal passed. It was only announced 20 days before the vote was to be held,
and was scheduled at the same time that Pennsylvania was holding a vote on their constituional
amendment regarding prohibition, meaning prominent temperance speakers were unable to
be in Rhode Island at the time of the vote. Repeal passed overwhelmingly, 28,315 to 9,956.
4

3
The Cyclopdia of Temperance and Prohibition: A Reference Book of Facts, Statistics, and General Information
on All Phases of the Drink Question, the Temperance Movement and the Prohibition Agitation. Princeton
University: Funk & Wagnalls, 1891.
4
Ibid.
3
Rhode Islands early experiments with prohibition may have helped shape the public perception
regarding the effectiveness of prohibition legislation.
Early works regarding prohibition were often composed by those who were involved
in the prohibition movement itself. One such early analysis, written by religious scholar and
proponent of temperance Ernest B. Gordon, blames the failure of prohibition on elitist elements
of society. Gordon believes that the enforcement of prohibition was undermined by corrupted
elements of the government, and that the movement for repeal was led by wealthy lawyers who
represented the liquor industry. He argues that alcohol prohibition was entirely enforceable,
and that regulations needed simple reform in order to be more effective. Gordons work is
highly critical of Franklin Roosevelt, who he accused of having connections with the criminal
underworld, and puts the blame on Roosevelt for prohibitions eventual demise.
5
Another work from the era that criticized the repeal of prohibition was Fletcher Dobyns
The Amazing Story of Repeal. Dobyns portrays the repeal of prohibition as a result of a well-
organized propaganda campaign from the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment
(AAPA). Dobyns also claims that the Volstead Act had its flaws but was fixable, and that
prohibition itself was not proven to be a failure. Dobyns examines the financial records of the
AAPA, attempting to show that the organization was bankrolled by wealthy members of society
who often were involved in the liquor industry themselves. Dobyns describes all work published
by the AAPA as propaganda, claiming they used the same strategies that were used to draw the
American public into supporting the First World War. Dobyns sees the return of legal alcohol as
a grave moral threat to society, declaring that the alcohol problem was getting worse than it had
been before.
5
Gordon, Ernest. The Wrecking of the Eighteenth Amendment. The Alcohol Information Press, 1943.
4
Later works did not seek to glorify or decry the idea of alcohol prohibition, but rather
attempted to examine prohibition from a sociological viewpoint. One such work is Joseph
Gusfields Symbolic Crusade. Gusfield sees prohibition as the high point of a struggle by rural
protestant society to assert the dominance of their values in opposition to the values of the
growing urban, modern elements of society. He claims it established the victory of Protestant
over Catholic, rural over urban, tradition over modernity, the middle class over both the lower
and the upper strata.
6
As early temperance movements failed to curb alcohol abuse, many believed that more
coercive tactics were necessary. For the old middle class, prohibition was becoming an issue of
power and prestige, with temperance being showcased as an American value.
As opposition to prohibition became more organized, dry forces became increasingly
more anti-immigrant, aligning themselves further with the nativist movement.
7
The Depression
also had a devastating impact on the momentum of the drys. Unions began vocally calling
for repeal. Coinciding with this, American values were changing. The culture of compulsive
consumption was replacing the culture of compulsive production. As leisure time increased,
work-oriented values declined. The economic devastation of the depression has severely
undermined the prestige of the old middle class, with promises of post-prohibition prosperity
being unfounded.
8
In Prohibition and Democracy: The Noble Experiment Reassessed, historian Paul Carter
largely agrees with Gusfields analysis. Carter argues that class conflict was not responsible for
6
Joseph Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement, (Urbana, IL:
University of Illinois Press, 1963), 7.
7
Ibid. 124.
8
Ibid. 150.
5
the implementation or the repeal of prohibition. He shows that the elite were divided over the
issue of prohibition, and that they played a role in both the creation of the eighteenth amendment
as well as its demise. For Carter, the battle over prohibition represents a more normal political
controversy, meaning it was the result of conflicting ideals, and not a battle over economics.
9
Prohibition: The Era of Excess, by British historian Andrew Sinclair, also claims that
the battle over prohibition was the result of clashing ideologies. Sinclair views prohibition as
the final assertion of rural Protestants against urban culture. He sees the success of national
prohibition legislation as being caused by the collective energy of war-era reformers and the
spirit of the times. For Sinclair, repeal represented a change from rural to urban ideals, the
metamorphosis of Abraham Lincoln's America into the America of Franklin Roosevelt.
10
Other historians have chosen to examine aspects of prohibition through the lenses of
social science. In Access to Saloons, Wet Voter Turnout, and Statewide Prohibition Referenda,
19071919, Michael Lewis analyzes data regarding voter turnout in state referendums regarding
alcohol prohibition before national prohibition was passed. By examining the percent of various
demographic groups in a county, along with whether or not a county produced alcohol or had
access to salons, Lewis attempts to examine the notion that prohibition was the result of rural,
native Protestant forces.
Lewis concludes that large immigrant populations, as well as the existence of saloons
and/or alcohol production in a county, had a positive impact on wet voter turnout. Lewis claims
that this evidence supports the notion of scholars that religious and cultural factors played
9
Paul Carter, "Prohibition and Democracy: The Noble Experiment Reassessed," The Wisconsin Magazine of History,
56, no. 3 (1973)
10
Andrew Sinclair, Prohibition: The Era of Excess, (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1962), 5.
6
the largest role in the implication of prohibition. Lewis also concludes that saloons were an
important place for mobilization of wet voting forces.
11
In Democracy At Rest: Strategic Ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment, Thomas
Schaller attempts to examine the choice states made between using the legislature or a
Constitutional convention as a way to ratify the Twenty-First Amendment, in order to examine
the battle between liberalism and populism during the 1930s.
Schaller claims the Constitutional conventions used to ratify the Twenty-First
Amendment were largely organized by supporters of repeal as an easier way to end prohibition
then through the legislator. He says that votes to elect delegates to the conventions were
dominated by wet forces, and once the conventions were held, little debate actually occurred
before the votes were held. Schaller concludes that Article V of the Constitution is rather vague
regarding the process by which these conventions were to be held, allowing strategic politics to
play a role in their use.
12
David Kyvigs Repealing National Prohibition is a further examination of the repeal
process. Kyvig attempts to explain how the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment became a
reality by examining the formation of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment
(AAPA). Considering a constitutional amendment had never previously been repealed, chances
that wet forces would be able to end federal prohibition seemed slim.
11
Michael Lewis, "Access to Saloons, Wet Voter Turnout, and Statewide Prohibition Referenda, 19071919,"Social
Science History, 32, no. 3 (2008): 373-404,
12
Schaller, Thomas. "Democracy at Rest: Strategic Ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment,"Publius, 28, no. 2
(1998): 81-97, http://0-www.jstor.org.helin.uri.edu/stable/3331051 (accessed September 24, 2013).
7
Kyvig also examines the1920 Supreme Court case of State of Rhode Island v.
Palmer. Rhode Island Attorney General Herbert A. Rice argued that enforcing the Eighteenth
Amendment violated the sovereignty of Rhode Island, since the state had failed to ratify it.
Rices argument failed to move the Court, who ruled in favor of the federal government.
Kyvig studies the motivations behind prominent wet leaders such as James Wadsworth
and Pierre S. du Pont, contending that they thought prohibition to be a very serious policy issue.
Wets saw prohibition as a dangerous expansion of government power and a major cause of
distrust in government. Kyvig claims that those who argued for repeal were incredibly organized
and devoted to the cause, describing repeal as both an unlikely and important political process.
13

Donald L. Canneys Rum War: The U.S. Coast Guard and Prohibition is an overview
of the Coast Guards role in enforcing prohibition, and an explanation of how prohibition
enforcement changed the Coast Guard. It documents early instances of alcohol smuggling during
prohibition, detailing how Captain William McCoy and others began to unload their vessels
several miles offshore to avoid U.S. jurisdiction, forming what became to be known as Rum
Row. It also explains how the Coast Guard was vastly underequipped in the early days of
prohibition. At the beginning of prohibition, the Coast Guard only numbered 4,000 men, and
had to cover thousands of miles of shore line, as well as preform non-prohibition related duties.
Furthermore, the Coast Guard lacked the number of craft necessary to be able to stop smugglers,
and the boats they did have were unable to keep up with the fast and agile private vessels that
smugglers used.
13
Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, 1979.
8
By 1925, the situation for the Coast Guard had approved. New international maritime
laws extended jurisdiction from three miles to twelve. With 12,000 men and a fleet of faster,
small vessels, the Coast Guard was more prepared to take on smugglers. Airplanes were now
being used to track rum runners, as was new radio tracking technology. Smugglers fought back
by radioing fake distress signals to the Coast Guard as a means of distracting their patrol vessels,
building secret compartments into their vessels, or by using the cover of night to move mother
ships within the twelve mile limit before retreating again when they were detected.
Canneys Rum War also details the seizure of the Black Duck in Narragansett Bay during
December of 1929, as well as the repercussions stemming from the three rum runners that were
killed during the incident. Canney notes that incident was used by wet leaders while testifying in
front of Congress as an example of the failures of prohibition.
He notes, however, that the inability of the Coast Guard to stop maritime smuggling of
alcohol only played a small role in the failure of prohibition. Domestic production of illegal
alcohol greatly outnumbered the amount that was smuggled into the country via waterways.
While Canney admits that it is hard to make any definite claims about the efficiency of the Coast
Guard in enforcing prohibition, he feels that future work will reveal that the 1925 offensive
was particularly successful in reducing the supply of illegal alcohol.
14
While scholars have examined certain aspects of Rhode Islands history with prohibition,
most of this research has focused on how these events were relevant to the federal aspects of
prohibition, largely ignoring how these events helped shaped public perception of prohibition
14
Canney, Donald. "Rum War: The U.S. Coast Guard and Prohibition." Coast Guard Bicentennial
Series. http://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/RumWar.pdf (accessed October 15, 2013).
9
amongst Rhode Islanders themselves. Given the important role that state governments played in
enforcement of prohibition and its eventual repeal, more research is needed to determine why
Rhode Island was generally more skeptical of prohibition than other states in the country.
This thesis will attempt to examine how previous works related to prohibition are
relevant to Rhode Island. By studying primary sources regarding prohibition in Rhode Island,
it will also examine the enforcement of prohibition along Rhode Islands coastline in order to
determine the role of maritime smuggling in supplying illegal alcohol to the state. Furthermore,
the repeal of prohibition in Rhode Island will be examined. This further illustrates the reasons
why wet forces succeeded in passing the Twenty-first Amendment.
Rhode Islands Early Prohibition Experiments
The 19th century saw a number of states enact their own prohibition laws, inspired by the
temperance sentiment that was sweeping the nation. In 1852, a Rhode Island prohibition law was
passed, but it was declared unconstitutional by the state courts. A similar state law was enacted
just a few years later in 1855, but it too was short lived and repealed in by the Republican
legislature in 1863. Local authorities, often influenced by their close ties to the liquor industry,
had largely failed to enforce the law.
15

It became clear to temperance activists that an amendment to thepubk state constitution
was the only way to prevent a prohibition law from being easily repealed by the corruptible state
legislature. In 1881 through 1883, temperance reformers petitioned the legislature but were
15
The Cyclopdia of Temperance and Prohibition: A Reference Book of Facts, Statistics, and General Information
on All Phases of the Drink Question, the Temperance Movement and the Prohibition Agitation. Princeton
University: Funk & Wagnalls, 1891. Rhode Island.
10
unable to convince any legislators to take up their cause. The Rhode Island chapter of the WCTU
called for national support, and several prominent reformers, including Mary Livermore, came to
Rhode Island to give public speeches urging adoption of prohibition. In 1884, after receiving a
petition from 11,000 Rhode Island citizens, the Rhode Island House of Representatives and
Senate passed a resolution calling for a referendum on the proposed prohibition amendment on
the 1884 ballot. However, due to a technical defect in the proceedings, the vote was delayed until
1888.
16

Passage of the amendment seemed highly unlikely. The law required there to be a 3/5th
majority in order for the referendum to pass. Rhode Islands large urban, foreign-born and
Republican demographics worked in the favor of those who were against the law.
17
With passage
seemingly unlikely, little organized opposition formed, but temperance groups worked tirelessly
to raise support. The Rhode Island chapter of the WCTU worked together with the Rhode Island
Temperance Union to distribute literature and to hold public speeches. Young men formed
organizations to support the wearing of blue ribbons to raise awareness for the cause.
18
The temperance movements efforts had paid off. The amendment was approved by the
voters 15,118 to 9,230.
19
This equated to 507 votes more than needed to obtain the 3/5th
majority. The strongest opposition to the amendment was found in Providence County, but even
there it passed with just over 59% of the vote.
20
It was now up to the state legislature to draft the
details of the laws enforcement.
16
Ibid.
17
Ibid.
18
Ibid.
19
Ibid.
20
Ibid.
11
When the Rhode Island Senate met in Newport that May, prohibitionists had already
drafted the enforcement legislation. Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the
legislation, but the Senate added a provision that created a constabulary that would enforce the
law. The prohibitionists did not object to this until it was revealed that Charles Boss Brayton,
the infamous lobbyist and a well-known friend of the liquor industry, was to be made Chief of
the Constabulary.
21

With Brayton in charge, prohibitions enforcement in Rhode Island was undermined
immediately. Law enforcement in Providence, the wettest area of the state, refused to enforce the
law. While some legislators attempted to make provisions to the law to improve its impact, many
more were uninterested, either due to their own personal beliefs on the laws potential
effectiveness or the corrupting influence of the liquor trade (or a combination of both).
According to a New York Tribune article, the Liquor-Dealers' Protective Trade Association
raised a great deal of money in support of repeal.
22
In a confidential letter to an associate in
Nebraska, Thomas Grimes, a Rhode Island liquor dealer who worked with the Trade
Association, openly described paying Charles Brayton to ensure that Republican politicians
would vote in favor of repeal. Rhode Islands two most powerful papers at the time, the
Providence Journal and the Providence Telegram, both also clamored for the Amendments
repeal.
23
In 1889, the State Legislature called for a vote on the repeal of prohibition. The
announcement was made only 20 days before the election, giving the temperance movement
little time to counter the growing political opposition to the law. The turnout for the vote was
21
Ibid. Rhode Islands Repeal.
22
Ibid.
23
Ibid.
12
much larger than it had been in 1886, and the results were an overwhelming victory for the anti-
prohibitionists, 28,315 to 9,956. Prohibition in Rhode Island was defeated for the third time.
24

The Movement Towards Prohibition
The movement to enact a federal prohibition law was the result of the long-term
campaign that stretched over decades. According to historian David Kyvig, the three main causes
of federal prohibition were the century long temperance campaign in America, the 20th Century
progressive environment, and the temperance spirit of wartime sacrifice.
While the problems caused by alcohol abuse are evident to virtually all societies in which
consumption has become a cultural norm, alcohols cultural influence, as well as its importance
to societies which lacked access to potable water, prevented ideologies from forming which
called for its complete eradication. It was not until the 1820s that the Rev. Lyman Beecher
called for total abstinence from alcohol consumption, proclaiming it was the only true way to
prevent drunken behavior.
25

According to historian Joseph Gusfield, the act of drinking is something that is socially
controlled, with the proper and improper uses of alcohol being socially defined. It is claimed that
the abstinence doctrine was the result of a style of life which ascetic character was prized both
institutionally and culturally.
26
Gusfield sees the American temperance movement as consisting of two phases. The first
phase of temperance was a reaction by the old Federalist aristocracy to their loss of political,
24
Ibid.
25
Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, 1979. Ch. 1.
26
Joseph Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement, (Urbana, IL:
University of Illinois Press, 1963), 36.
13
social, and religious control. It is noted that the post-revolution period saw a breakdown of
the old order of town life. It was a period of dissent towards religion and an overall decline in
religions influence. These new cultural attitudes, combined with a lack of access to high quality
beer and malts from England (and therefore an increase in spirit consumption) led to an increase
in problematic drinking.
27
The second phase of temperance was an effort by the urban middle class to distinguish
themselves from immigrant farmers and laborers. Drinking was an important part of the
culture of many newly-arrived immigrants, especially with the Germans and Irish. Since these
immigrant groups were considered to be at the bottom of the social structure, their drinking was
an issue for the native middle class. As new immigrants began to flock to major cities, many
early temperance organizations, such as the Womans Christian Temperance Union (WCTU),
began to blame urban issues solely on alcoholism.
28

Federal Prohibition Gains Momentum
At the turn of the 20th century, many temperance reformers were calling for more drastic
tactics than moral persuasion or state-level legislation. While many attempts to ban alcohol at the
state level had failed to be effective in the later 1800s, the temperance movement remained well
organized and influential. In 1869, the Prohibition Party formed, followed by the WCTU in 1873
and the Anti-Saloon League in in 1893.
29

The concept of federal prohibition also spoke to many in the emerging progressive
movement. According to historian David Kyvig, both the ideals of progressivism and prohibition
27
Ibid. Ch. 2.
28
Ibid.
29
Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, 1979. Ch. 1.
14
desired to enact middle class reform that would deal with economic and social issues through the
use of centralized government power. Historian Paul A. Carter claims that the modern notion
that prohibition is somehow the sole result of Americas puritan traditions is misguided, claiming
that prohibition was actually an extension of progressive reforms.
30

Progressives were attracted to the notion of prohibition for a variety of reasons. They
argued that it would lead to a more modern, advanced society, where worker production (and
therefore pay) was up, and insurance costs were down. For many, societys potential benefit
from prohibition outweighed the potential violations of individual's rights. The political
machines which often operated out of major city saloons also bothered many progressive
reformers.
31
While many progressives supported prohibition, there were some notable exceptions.
Many Eastern, urban progressives rejected bans on alcohol, largely a result of immigrants
cultural ties to beer and spirit consumption. Perhaps the most famous example of this was 1928
presidential candidate Al Smith, a progressive New York democrat who opposed prohibition
from the start.
32

Congress first took up the question of a prohibition amendment to the Constitution in
1914, but it failed to gain the two-thirds majority in the House needed to pass. In 1916, more dry
candidates were elected to Congress, giving more hope to temperance reformers.
World War I turned out to be the final boost that the prohibition movement needed. With
grain needed for the war effort, Congress banned the production of spirits in 1917. In November
1918, the sale of all intoxicating beverages with more than 2.75% alcohol content was banned
30
Ibid.
31
Ibid.
32
Ibid.
15
until demobilization from the war was complete.
33

In 1917, the drys finally secured the momentum they needed in Congress to push the
Amendment through, and the process of it becoming law began. On August 1st, the Senate
approved the 18th Amendment by a vote of 65-20. On December 17th, the House followed suit
with a vote of 282 to 128. Since neither party was united enough to adopt a platform either in
favor or against the amendment, the Anti-Saloon league lobbied members of both parties with a
good deal of success, and as a result, the vote did not follow party lines.
34

Opponents to the Amendment in the Senate attempted to undermine it by entering a
provision that stated that the proposed amendment must be ratified by the states within seven
years of its passage in Congress, mistakenly thinking that this would derail the process. In fact,
the 18th Amendment would be the most rapidly ratified constitutional amendment in the history
of the United States. On January 16th, 1919, the 18th Amendment went into effect. Alcohol
prohibition was now enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
35

Legislation was now required to render the details of prohibitions enforcement.
Written by Anti-Saloon League leader Wayne Wheeler, Congress passed the Volstead Act
overwhelmingly in 1919. The act banned all beverages with an alcoholic content of more than .5
percent, redefining what was considered to be an alcoholic beverage at the time and baffling
those who had assumed that beer and wine would escape a complete ban. The legislation also
called for combined enforcement of prohibition between federal and state authorities.
36
President Wilson, a supporter of temperance, vetoed the act, stating his unhappiness that
prohibition had originally been fostered on the American people as a provision for war.
33
Ibid.
34
Ibid.
35
Ibid.
36
Ibid.
16
However, Wilson would collapse from a stroke shortly after the veto, leaving him unable to
expend further political capital on the fight, even if he was willing.
37

Constitutional Challenges and Rhode Island
Despite the overwhelmingly decisive victory by the drys, Wilson was not alone in
his objection to the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. A number of legal challenges to
prohibition would play out in the U.S. Supreme Court in what are now commonly referred to as
the National Prohibition Cases.
38

In 1917, the citizens of Ohio voted against a prohibition amendment to their state
constitution, while also voting in favor of a referendum that would put all actions taken by the
State Assembly on federal actions under citizens review. When Ohios legislature approved the
18th Amendment, citizens filed a petition calling for a referendum on the subject and ended up
rejecting the Amendment.
39
In Rhode Island, the General Assembly failed to ratify the amendment. The resolution
regarding the 18th Amendment was introduced to the Rhode Island Senate on January 22th,
1918. For the next few weeks, the Senate received a number of petitions for and against
ratification. However, on February 13th, a motion to indefinitely postpone discussion of the
amendment prevailed with a 20 to 18 vote.
40
The topic of ratification did not come up again
during the 1918 legislative session, making Rhode Island one of the two states, alongside
Connecticut, that failed to ratify the Amendment.
41
While the Anti-Saloon League had
37
Ibid.
38
Ibid.
39
Ibid.
40
Journal of the Senate, State of Rhode Island 1917-1919. Rhode Island State Archives. Providence, RI.
41
New York Times, "Connecticut Balks at Prohibition," February 5, 1919.
17
established enough political capital in other states to push ratification to a vote, it lacked that
capital in Rhode Island.
Using this failure to ratify as his primary argument, Rhode Island Attorney General
Herbert Rice argued in front of the Supreme Court that the 18th Amendment violated the
sovereignty of the state. According to historian David Kyvig:
The amending power, Rice contended, was provided to allow for the correction
of errors in the fundamental instrument of government. The first ten amendments
were adopted to insure against the encroachment by the federal government upon
state functions and powers. If the amending power were to be construed as to
allow any type of amendment, the boundary between federal and state authority
could be shifted at will, and the people of a state would be at the mercy of others
in matters of political institutions and personal rights.
42
The arguments of Attorney General Rice and others failed to move the court, and they
ruled the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Acts to be constitutional. The only way to repeal
federal prohibition now would be through another Constitutional Amendment, something which
had never been done before. Many people now believed that prohibition would be respected
by the common citizen regardless of his or her personal opinion on the matter. Expecting
compliance and cooperation with state law enforcement agencies, in the first few years of
prohibition, the Federal Prohibition Bureau remained small.
43
However, organized defiance
to the new alcohol ban formed quickly. Within a few years of passage of the Volstead Act,
15,000 physicians had obtained licenses to prescribe alcohol, as the act allowed for alcohol to be
prescribed to patients. While the infamous rum row began to form off the East Coast, California
grape growers kicked production into overtime, quadrupling the amount of grapes available to
42
Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, 1979. Ch. 1.
43
Ibid.
18
consumers and packaging them with tongue-in-cheek notices warning consumers that placing the
grapes in darkness with the right combination of other ingredients would create illegal alcohol.
Political opposition to prohibition would begin to form as well.
Italian-American Sentiment
Originating from a country with a large catholic population and were alcohol
consumption was an important part of culture, the Italian-American population in Rhode Island
largely opposed Prohibition from the start. In December of 1918, just weeks before Nebraskas
passage of the 18
th
Amendment would cause its adoption, a referendum was held in Federal
Hills ninth ward. The referendum was in regards to whether or not the municipal authority
should be authorized to grant liquor licenses. The referendum passed with 76.1 percent of the
vote. Local Italian language newspapers encouraged citizens to vote yes, claiming that outlawing
alcohol consumption was incompatible with a free society. Later, thirteen different Italian-
American organization joined forces with other ethnic organizations to form a group called the
Anti-Prohibition Committee of Rhode Island. The Committee worked closely with the Italian
language press to criticize prohibition at every turn.
44
In 1930, Rhode Island held a non-binding referendum on whether the 18
th
Amendment
should be retained or not. Over 94 percent of Italian American voters chose to show their support
for repeal. Some have speculated that the idea of prohibition, along with the rise of Al Smith,
was responsible for many Rhode Island Italians leaving the Republican Party in 1928.
45

44
Luconi, Stefano. The Italian-American vote in Providence, Rhode Island, 1916-1948. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh
Dickinson University Press, 2004. 54.
45
Ibid. 64-5.
19
Association Against the Prohibition Amendment
Organized opposition to prohibition began to form shortly after the laws
implementation. By the early 1920s, prospective wet activists had a choice of over 40
organizations to join.
46
For college-aged activists, there were The Crusaders, an organization of
young anti-prohibition activists headquartered in Cleveland. For others, there were numerous
organizations, including The Constitutional Liberty League of Massachusetts, The Women's
Organization for National Prohibition Reform, and the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers. The
messaging of these groups appealed to a wide variety of demographics, but all opposed the 18th
Amendment. Perhaps the most famous of all the wet organizations was the Association Against
the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA).
47

The AAPA was founded in 1918 by Captain William Stayton, a former Navy officer.
Stayton was born in 1861 in a small farming community in Delaware.
48
His impressive
mathematical skills landed him at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, and he served
in several different roles before being assigned to the Navy Judge Advocate General's Office in
Washington, D.C. While in Washington, Stayton attended what is now George Washington Law
School, eventually resigning from the Navy to practice law in New York.
49
In 1904, he joined
the Navy League of the United States, an organization arguing for stronger naval defenses. By
1918, Stayton was back in Washington D.C, working as the executive secretary and chief
spokesman for the League.
50

46
Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, 1979,Ch.3
47
Ibid.
48
Ibid.
49
Ibid.
50
Ibid.
20
Staytons political philosophy were based on the idea of states rights, which he claimed
was a result of an influential instructor at the Navy Academy, as well as his experiences in the
Navy dealing with state authorities, who he saw as more informed about the problems their
citizens faced.
51
The emerging movement to prohibit the consumption of alcohol was a growing concern
for Stayton, who saw prohibition as one the many ways that the federal government was
attempting to control public morals. For Stayton, enshrining national prohibition in the U.S.
Constitution was a great diversion from the documents original intentions, and he predicted
that the 18th Amendment would be a cause of great tension and discontent with the Federal
government.
52

While Stayton was opposed to other progressive movements of the era, including new
child labor laws, prohibition quickly became his main focus. At regular lunch meetings in
Washington D.C., Stayton urged his friends to speak out against prohibition, but they were
hesitant, claiming that it was improper to speak out against government programs during a
time of war.
53
Stayton reluctantly accepted this notion, but on November 12th, 1918, just one
day after the armistice in Europe, Stayton proposed the idea again. This time, his colleagues
supported the notion, and the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment was formed.
54

Early support for the AAPA was mostly from Staytons colleagues in the Navy, but word
of the organization quickly spread, and soon applications for membership were coming in from
across the country. However, it quickly became evident that Staytons efforts would come much
51
Ibid.
52
Ibid.
53
Ibid.
54
Ibid.
21
too late to end federal prohibition before it was implemented. By 1919, the necessary number
of states had ratified the 18th Amendment, making prohibition the law of the land. The AAPA
would now have to work to repeal a Constitutional amendment, something that had never been
done in the history of the United States government.
Despite what was seemingly a massive setback, Staytons colleagues encouraged him
to press on with his efforts. In 1919, his group released a letter expressing their views. They
claimed that while prohibition's intentions were pure, it was improper for the government
to impose it on the states.
55
Arguing that each states unique features meant that what may
be proper in one state may not work for another, and claimed that prohibition would cause
dissention and future political conflict.
56

The conservative ideology of states rights and home rule were integral to the members
of the AAPA throughout its time as an organization. The certificate of incorporation outlined the
groups view on the Constitution:
The particular business and objects of the Association shall be to educate its
members as to fundamental provisions, objects, and purposes of the Constitution
of the United States; to place before its members and before the American citizens
information as to the intentions and wishes of those who formulated and adopted
the Federal Constitution; to publicly present arguments bearing upon the necessity
for keeping the powers of the several States separated from those of the Federal
Government, and the advisability of earnest consideration before further yielding
up by the several States of those powers which pertain to local self-government.
57

55
Ibid.
56
Ibid.
57
Ibid.
22
The AAPAs rhetoric targeted professional business men who were concerned about the
new powers that were being allotted to the federal government. Much of the rhetoric used by the
AAPA sounds very similar to the criticism directed at the New Deal a decade or so later. Indeed,
many of the AAPAs most active members would later become some of Franklin Roosevelts
harshest critics.
58

While Staytons Navy background gave him the platform with which to launch his
organization, he quickly sought out even more influential individuals to join the ranks. One
target was the Du Pont family, famous for their creation of the DuPont Chemical Company.
Originally, Stayton was only able to get the Du Ponts to become regular members, but as
prohibition continued, the Du Ponts involvement would become greater. After hearing reports
from his factory managers that prohibition was failing to address the societal problems caused by
alcohol abuse, the oldest brother, Pierre du Pont, decided to become more involved. By March of
1925, he was managing the Delaware chapter of the AAPA and paying the dues of 50,000
members who could not afford the $1 membership fee themselves.
59

Pierre du Pont considered himself to be a true believer of temperance, arguing that
prohibition had gone awry by failing to differentiate between moderate alcohol consumption and
abuse. It was also an issue of constitutionality. Pierre claimed "if the people of thirty-six states
believe they are better off not drinking alcoholic beverages, or if they think they have stopped
their drinking simply by prohibiting it, they are welcome to their belief. They have neither moral
nor constitutional right to insist that all other states shall pretend to the same view."
60

58
Ibid, Ch. 10.
59
Ibid. Ch. 5.
60
Ibid.
23
Now with the backing of the Du Ponts and other influential individuals, the AAPA
began to have a serious impact on the national discussion regarding prohibition, including having
members testifying in front of Congress.
61
Eventually, frustrated with the slow, cautious nature
of Staytons reform efforts, Pierre du Pont managed to reform the way the AAPA worked,
implementing a Board of Directors and increasing his influence over the AAPA in the process.
The elderly Stayton no longer had full control over the organization he had founded.
62

The new Board of Directors for the AAPA included many influential businessmen,
including Charles Schwab, owner of U.S Steel, and Henry Westinghouse, owner of
Westinghouse electricity. These new additions also meant the AAPA had even more funds to
work with. Between 1928 and 1933, the average budget of the National AAPA was $450,000.
63

Although this number represented a substantial amount, it was dwarfed by the amount of funds
raised by dry organizations like the Anti-Saloon league.
64
By 1928, organized opposition to
prohibition had grown enough for the AAPA to shift their efforts from state-by-state reforms to
what was considered by many to be impossible; the repeal of a Constitutional Amendment.
The AAPA in Rhode Island was managed by G. Alder Blumer. Blumer was in charge of
Butler Hospital in Rhode Island from 1902 to 1921. He would also later be President of the
Rhode Island Historical Society, and is perhaps known best today for his writing in support of
eugenics.
65

61
Ibid.
62
Ibid.
63
Ibid.
64
Ibid.
65
Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press,
1999.
24
The Rhode Island AAPA chapter was sponsored by 99 individuals, many of them famous
politicians and businessmen. Supporters of Rhode Islands chapter included former governor
Emery J. San Souci, and also business leaders such as Frank Matteson, director of Gorham
Manufacturing Company, and Harry Parsons Cross, director of the Rhode Island Tool
Company.
66
In a speech during the 1933 Constitutional Convention regarding the repeal of the
18
th
Amendment, Frank Fitzsimmons proclaimed that much credit be given to the Association
for their work to push for repeal in the Ocean State.
67

The Coast Guard and Prohibition Enforcement
Americas vast coastlines were a near perfect environment for smuggling alcohol.
Rumrunners could simply sail a few miles out to international waters, and link up with a foreign-
registered vessels packed with alcohol ready for sale.
Following the passage of the Volstead Act, it quickly became apparent that the Coast
Guard lacked the resources to adequately enforce prohibition along the countrys thousands
of miles of coastline. The Coast Guard numbered only 4000 men in 1920, and was assigned
a number of duties besides enforcing prohibition. Even if the Coast Guard could use all of its
resources solely on alcohol smuggling, it would have faced a daunting task. By 1922, hundreds
of so-called mother ships waited off coastal cities in the Atlantic, with the Jersey Coast and
Long Island sound being some of the busiest areas. Mother ships often advertised their products
with flashy signs. These ships would typically originate from port in Canada or elsewhere in the
66
The Jeweler's Circular, "Providence," January 17, 1923.engines
67
Proceedings of the Constituional Convention of the State of Rhode Island, Held on the Eighth Day of May, A. D.
1933.. Providence: The Oxford Press, 1933.
25
British Empire. The port of Nassau saw liquor imports increase from 50,000 quarts in 1917 to
10,000,000 quarts in 1922.
68

As enforcement efforts picked up, so did the ingenuity of the smugglers. Boats powered
with new aircraft engines easily outran Coast Guard cutters. Even when rum runners were
caught, the laws lack of popularity made bribery and sympathetic jurors a common occurrence.
In some instances, boats that were seized were auctioned off, only to be turned back into
rumrunners again.
In 1924, dry forces successfully lobbied the Federal government to allocate more
resources to prohibition enforcement. Congress raised 14 million dollars, the largest single
increase in the Coast Guards history, to assist in enforcement. The service also received 20
World War I era destroyers and hundreds of smaller, faster vessels. The Coast Guard added
thousands of seamen to their ranks, which numbered 10,009 by 1926. The addition of aircraft to
the Coast Guards arsenal, as well as the implication of new radio technology made prohibition
enforcement easier. Along with these new advantages, changes in international maritime law in
1924 meant that any boat within an hours steaming time of the shore could be seized. This
increased law enforcements effectiveness and handicapped faster boats.
69

Rumrunners fought back by changing their tactics. Mother ships used the cover of night
to creep closer to shore, monitoring radio traffic to determine when it was safe. The mobility
of smaller ships combined with the use of smoke screens helped the smugglers dodge the new
destroyers.
68
Canney, Donald. Rum War: The U.S Coast Guard and Prohibition. Coast Guard Bicentennial Series. http://
www.uscg.mil/history/articles/RumWar.pdf (accessed March 17, 2014), 4.
69
Ibid. 6.
26
In 1925, the Coast Guard launched an unprecedented offensive against the rum runners.
Every single available Coast Guard vessel was called into action, with efforts focusing on the
area between New York and Block Island. According to Coast Guard Commandant Frederick
Billard, all of the mother ships in the area were dispersed, and the operation was a success.
However, resources did not allow for the Coast Guards efforts to be sustained. Billard called for
even more destroyers and 100-foot boats. The emerging strategy was to focus on picketing the
larger supply ships, preventing them from making contact with smaller crafts and forcing them to
return to their port of origin. Action-packed chases of these smaller vessels would play a minor
role in the Coast Guards strategy, but the deaths they occasionally brought about would grab the
attention of the public.
70
The Black Duck Incident
Perhaps the most infamous interaction between federal authorities and rumrunners came
on December 29
th
, 1929. The Black Duck, a 45 foot craft fitted with two 300 horsepower airplane
engines, was heading into Narragansett Bay towards Newport with 383 cases of alcohol aboard.
The Black Duck was known to be a rumrunner, but since the law at the time required authorities
to catch its owners in the act of smuggling, the crews werent too concerned, even tying up their
vessel next to the Coast Guard while in port.
Visibility was poor the night of December 29
th
. Coast Guard vessel CG-290 was
anchored east of Jamestown Island, in the narrowest passage on the eastern side of the Bay. At
2:15AM, the boats commander, Alexander Cornell, heard the rumblings of an approaching ship.
70
Ibid. 11.
27
He ordered the searchlights on, and they revealed a familiar sight. It was the Black Duck. In the
past he had stopped the vessel, finding it empty of contraband but allegedly warning the boats
captain that somebody may fire upon his boat someday.
Cornell claimed he sounded the boats horn and ordered the Black Duck to halt. The
ships captain, Charlie Travers, later claimed that no such warning was given. Regardless, The
Black Duck slipped past CG-290s bow at 25 knots. Even with the foggy conditions, the crew
could see crates of liquor loaded into a dory at the back of the boat. The dory was loaded in such
a way that it could be released easily in case of pursuit.
With the Black Duck disappearing into the distance, and CG-290 still at anchor, Cornell
ordered the seaman stationed on the foredeck with a .303 caliber Lewis light machine gun to
open fire.
Cornell later claimed that these shots were intended to be warning shots, and the Black
Duck had turned into the field of fire at the last moment. However, Cornell had previously been
warned not to use a machine gun to fire warning shots by Rear Admiral F.C. Billard, after an
incident where Cornell fired over a suspected rum running vessel and ended up hitting several
homes on the Island of Jamestown. According to writer Judith Babcocks later investigations
of Coast Guard records, diagrams of the bullet trajectories indicated that they were fired in a
tight grouping directly at the back of the ships cabin. This directly conflicted with Cornell and
his crews testimony.
71
A Providence Journal report on the incident the next day said that Coast
Guard officials stated that the shots had been fired in an attempt to disable the boat.
72
71
Babcock, Judith. "The Night the Coast Guard Opened Fire. A new look at a 70-year-old file raises a troubling question:
Was the rum-running crew of the Black Duck murdered?." Yankee, October 1999.
72
"Three Rum Runners Slain; Cutter Rakes Boat With Machine Gun Fire In Bay." Providence
Journal, December 30, 1929.
28
Following the gunfire, the Black Duck disappeared into the fog. Cornell gave the order to
lift anchor, but before CG-290 could begin its pursuit, the Black Duck reappeared, heading back
towards the boat. The Coast Guard crew tied ropes to the Black Duck and boarded.
The machine gun fired had devastated the Black Ducks crew. Two of the men onboard
had been killed instantly, while a third lay dying. Captain Travers had been shot through the
hand and was in the need of urgent medical attention. CG-290 towed the ship to Fort Adams and
Travers and the bodies of the three other crewmembers were brought to Newport City Hospital.
Officials identified the dead as Jake Weisman, of Providence, Dudley Brandt, of Boston, and
John Goulart, of Fairhaven.
73

The following day, the Providence Journal dedicated the entire front page to prohibition
enforcement coverage, with the Black Duck Incident being its main focus. The Journal
documented the mens autopsy report in great detail, as well as the conflicting testimonies of
Cornell and Travers. On the inside of the paper, the front pages story continued, directly next to
a piece about how drunkenness in the United States was at an all-time high.
Protests of the Coast Guards actions were immediate and widespread. In Boston, Coast
Guard posters were tore down by protestors.
74
Crowds forced the Guard to temporarily close the
recruiting station. In Newport, a pastor by the name of Rev. Roy Magoun delivered an
impassioned sermon, declaring the crew of the Black Duck had been murdered by methods that
would have made a German submarine commander proud. He claimed that the men had been
shot like rats, blaming the violence on prohibition.
75

73
Ibid.
74
Babcock, Judith. "The Night the Coast Guard Opened Fire. A new look at a 70-year-old file raises a troubling
question: Was the rum-running crew of the Black Duck murdered?." Yankee, October 1999.
75
"Pastor Calls Rum Killings 'Murder'." Providence Journal, December 30, 1929.
29
Cornell received a poorly worded death threat through the mail.
76
In New London, an
angry crowd surrounded his family home, throwing rocks at the windows. Days later, two
guardsmen who were falsely accused of being CG-290 crewmembers were beaten by a mob. The
same night of the beating, as curious on-lookers examined the Black Duck as it sat in New
London harbor, a drunken guardsmen threatened them with pistols before falling on his face,
revealing a broken bottle of whiskey. The guard was suspended.
77

An official state investigation into the shooting was launched, but on January 14
th
, a
grand jury in Providence concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge the Coast
Guard crew with manslaughter. A few months later, the same grand jury refused to press charges
against Captain Travers, ruling that the loss of his thumb and his treatment by the Coast Guard
had been sufficient punishment.
78
The Black Duck was taken over by the Coast Guard and given
the designation CG-808. It would serve in Narragansett Bay for the remainder of prohibition,
assisting in the capture of other rum running vessels.
79
Izzy Einstein comes to Rhode Island
Federal prohibition enforcement in Rhode Island was not limited to its waters. Federal
agents also patrolled Rhode Islands streets searching for violators of the Volstead Act. Among
them was the most famous prohibition agent in the country, Izzy Einstein.
76
Babcock, Judith. "The Night the Coast Guard Opened Fire. A new look at a 70-year-old file raises a troubling
question: Was the rum-running crew of the Black Duck murdered?." Yankee, October 1999.
77
Jim Ignasher, Rhode Island Disasters: Tales of Tragedy by Air, Sea and Rail, (The History Press, 2010).
78
Babcock, Judith. "The Night the Coast Guard Opened Fire. A new look at a 70-year-old file raises a troubling
question: Was the rum-running crew of the Black Duck murdered?." Yankee, October 1999.
79
Jim Ignasher, Rhode Island Disasters: Tales of Tragedy by Air, Sea and Rail, (The History Press, 2010).
30
Einstein, a former post office worker, signed up for the Prohibition Bureau in 1920,
viewing it as a more entertaining form of employment. Less than five and a half feet tall and
weighing over 250 pounds, Einstein certainly didnt appear to be a law enforcement officer
and this combined with his ability to speak several languages, allowed him to be an incredibly
effective undercover agent. Einstein was a master of disguise, once going as far as dressing up
as an African-American man to make a bust in Harlem. Einsteins eccentric behavior and his
thousands of arrests quickly made him the focus of much media attention.
80

On September 7
th
, 1922, Izzy and several other agents headed towards Rhode Island
from New York. When Einstein arrived in Providence, it quickly became evident that the citys
overwhelmingly wet sentiments were going to make his job difficult. Saloon owners laughed
when he notified them that they were to appear in Federal court. One irate owner threw a pitcher
of whiskey at him.
81

Two days after his arrival in Rhode Island, Einstein and another federal agent, Peter
Reager, were arrested by Rhode Island State Police. A saloon owner in Central Falls alleged that
he had been assaulted by the officers when they had attempted to arrest him for selling alcohol.
Both men were charged with assault and trespassing and held on $10,000 bonds. When they
were placed under arrest, Reager struggled with the officers, resisting their attempts to handcuff
him. Reager claimed that the officers beat him and that one of them had allegedly jammed the
barrel of his pistol into Reagers stomach. Attorneys of several men claiming to be vendors of
neer-beer, a non-alcoholic brew designed as a substitute for alcoholic beverages, filed a suit
with the U.S. District Attorney, alleging that Einstein and his men had rushed the bartenders
80
Hanson, David. State University of New York Potsdam, "Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith." Accessed April 1, 2014.
81
Jim Ignasher, Forgotten Tales of Rhode Island, (The History Press, 2008), 136-8.
31
with revolvers, assaulting them with vile language. The attorneys went on to say that the agent's
actions made them guilty of intentionally violating the constitution and said "from the evidence
presented to us it would appear that publicity had carried these men to a mental stage where they
ignore all provisions of the law"
82
Following his arrest, Einstein declared Providence to be the wettest city in the entire
nation, worse than the infamously wet New York City. He claimed that there were over 700
places where whiskey could be purchased, saying "Liquor is sold openly in all parts of the city,
in the most fashionable places as well as in the cheap dives along the waterfront." Einstein
claimed that all the people that he arrested claimed that it was the first time they had ever been
confronted about breaking the law. Eventually, Federal officials would send legal help to free
Einstein and Reager, although no legal action was taken against the state officials who had
arrested them.
83
Repeal
David Kyvig attributes the speedy nature of the 18
th
Amendments repeal to three factors;
Democratic Party support, sustained anti-prohibitionist pressure, and fortunate timing. According
to Kyvig, the landslide victory by Democrats in the 1932 federal elections was seen by many as a
mandate for repeal.
84
Republicans paid dearly for their continued support of Prohibition
following the Great Depression. Already frustrated with the lack of success that prohibition had
with reducing problematic alcohol use, many Americans were no longer willing to suppress a
82
"Wets Cause Arrest of Izzy and Moe; Rhode Island Saloon Keepers Charge Assault and Using of Obscene
Language." New York Times, September 9, 1929.
83
"Izzy Einstein Found Providence Wide Open." New York Times, September 11, 1929.
84
Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, 1979. Ch. 9.
32
major industry in times of economic decay. Campaigns such as Beer for Prosperity highlighted
the potential economic benefits of re-legalizing production of beer.
85
Many AAPA members who
had been firm Republicans left the party due to their unrelenting support for the 18
th

Amendment.
86
Rhode Islands Republicans stated they would abide by the results of a state
referendum on the 18
th
Amendment, unwilling to risk alienating their wet constituents.
87

Article V of the United States Constitution is vague when it comes to the details of how
states should go about ratifying amendments. This is especially true when it comes to the details
of how states should precede with ratification via a convention. Capitalizing on this opportunity,
wet forces from across the nation sought to gain control over how states would operate these
conventions, seeking to implement rules and regulations that would benefit those pushing for
repeal. The Voluntary Committee of Lawyers embarked on a campaign to convince states
governors to form state conventions that would allow for at-large districts rather than basing
them off pre-existent districts used for House elections. According to Thomas Schaller, these
lobbying efforts led to Conventions that acted more like referendums. The decision as to whether
or not a state would favor repeal was made by voters who elected delegates to the conventions
rather than the convention themselves. In many states, almost all voters selected either all dry or
all wet candidates. Schaller notes that in almost every state, conventions regarding the question
of repeal were largely a formality, and contained little debate or discussion by the delegates.
88

Support for repeal came for a variety of reasons. As prohibition went on, the control
of the liquor trade by organized crime became more apparent and irreversible. As the power
85
How Crime is Financed. Beer for Prosperity Campaign. Hagley Digital Archives.
86
Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, 1979. Ch. 8.
87
Ibid.
88
Schaller, Thomas. "Democracy at Rest: Strategic Ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment,"Publius, 28, no. 2
(1998): 81-97, http://0-www.jstor.org.helin.uri.edu/stable/3331051 .
33
of organized crime grew across the country, corruption also grew at all levels of government.
The honest enforcement agents were simply becoming overwhelmed.
89
The potential economic
benefits of re-legalizing beer and spirit production were also a strong motivating factor,
particularly after the beginnings of the Great Depression.
90
These potential economic benefits led
to many powerful labor unions throwing their support behind repeal.
91

In Rhode Islands Constitutional Convention elections, 82% of the electorate voted in
favor of pro-repeal candidates.
92
Total turnout for the special election was 171,118 voters, which
was 64% of the turnout for the 1932 Presidential election.
93
Considering the importance of the
1932 election, in addition to the fact that the 1933 election was held in an off-year and only dealt
with electing delegates to the convention, this turnout cannot easily be dismissed as inadequately
representing the will of Rhode Islands population.
Rhode Islands Constitutional Convention was held on May 8th, 1933, only one
week after the results of the delegate election were finalized. Only delegates who supported
prohibitions repeal were elected to the convention. Many of the delegates were established
Democratic politicians, including former Governor William S. Flynn. The Convention was
chaired by Governor T.F. Greene.
Greene started the Convention with some prepared remarks. He claimed that Rhode
Islands opposition to prohibition had been there all along, and now other states were beginning
to catch up. He criticized the 1922 State Enforcement Act, which the General Assembly had
89
Willoughby, Malcolm Francis. "The End of Prohibition." In Rum War at Sea. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
1964.
90
How Crime is Financed. Beer for Prosperity Campaign. Hagley Digital Archives.
91
Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. University of Chicago, 1979.
92
Schaller, Thomas. "Democracy at Rest: Strategic Ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment,"Publius, 28, no. 2
(1998): 81-97, http://0-www.jstor.org.helin.uri.edu/stable/3331051 .
93
Peters , Gerhard. "Election of 1932." The American Presidency Project.
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showelection.php?year=1932 .
34
passed to allow for state officials to enforce prohibition. He said that the Act was at no time in
alignment with the will of the people of Rhode Island. Greene also noted the results of a non-
binding referendum on the 1930 ballot, where Rhode Islanders voted against Prohibition by a
margin of three to one. Taking note of the fact that the 1933 delegate election had the strongest
turnout of any special election in Rhode Islands history, Greene thanked the citizens of the state
for their response and said that their overwhelming expression of opinion would be represented
well.
94
Former Governor Flynn was then given the floor. Highlighting Rhode Islands colonial
past, Flynn noted that it was appropriate that the Convention was being held in May, as it was the
same month that Rhode Island declared its independence from Great Britain.
Flynn went on with his comparisons to the American Revolution, saying:
It demanded the highest courage fostered and sustained by our peoples passion
for true liberty to lead all the other colonies in taking the momentous step of
complete separation from Great Britain, thus defying the greatest world power of
that day. In the same spirit our people refused to ratify the Federal Constitution
until assured of the guarantees contained in the Bill of Rights.
95

Flynn went on to list the ways that Rhode Island had opposed federal prohibition,
mentioning how state officials had challenged the validity of the law in front of the Supreme
Court. He referred to the delegate election results as the most decisive mandate ever given to
their representatives by the people of Rhode Island, and commented that he hoped that Rhode
Islands speedy action on the 22nd Amendment would inspire other states to follow suit.
96

94
Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Rhode Island, Held on the Eighth Day of May, A. D.
1933.. Providence: The Oxford Press, 1933.
95
Ibid.
96
Ibid.
35
Following Flynns speech, former Democratic Senator Peter G. Gerry took the floor
briefly. Noting that he voted against the 18th Amendment during his time in Washington, Gerry
expressed his pride that Rhode Island would be the third state to repeal.
97

Next to the floor was Walter I. Sundlun, a Republican who would later be most famous
for losing to T.F Greene in the 1954 Senate election. Sundlun also attempted to tie Rhode
Islands rejection of prohibition to colonial Rhode Islands rejection of British rule. Calling the
Convention a historic day in Rhode Island history, he claimed that Rhode Island had raised
objections to prohibition since the day it was adopted. Attempting to explain Rhode Islands
resistance, Sundlun proclaimed:
Rhode Island has always had a clear understanding of human nature, a comprehension
of our institutions and the purpose of our government, a recognition of the great
basic principles that our government, in order to retain its character, must respond
to the popular will, and always maintained that our government in order to remain a
government of the people, by the people, for the people must recognize the principle
that it derives from the powers from the governed.
98
Sundlun then turned his focus to the alleged failures of alcohol prohibition, claiming that
it only increased drunkenness, violent crime, and discontent with the law. Stating that the eyes of
the nation were on Rhode Island, Sundlun expressed his pleasure in being part of the Convention
that would lead to repeal.
99
The results of the vote that had yet to take place were not in doubt.
Following a brief speech by Independent Party chair Luke Callan, Eugene Jailbert, a
catholic Republican lawyer, took the floor. Jailbert claimed that the 18th Amendment was
pushed upon the American public by a vocal minority, and expressed his pride in helping bring it
to an end.
100

97
Ibid.
98
Ibid.
99
Ibid.
100
Ibid.
36
Joseph Veneziale was the last delegate to speak before the vote. Veneziale, an Italian-
American who had recently been appointed to the position of Special Assistant U.S. Attorney,
spoke about the influence of immigrants over Rhode Islands rejection of Prohibition. Speaking
of Rhode Islands demographics, Veneziale said We know that the State of Rhode Island has a
cosmopolitan population. It is heterogeneous, not homogeneous, at all. He claimed that 5,000
Italians from Federal Hill came out to vote for repeal while only a handful voted for continuing
prohibition.
101

Following Veneziales remarks, former Governor Flynn moved to have a roll call vote on
the resolution. The motion was seconded, the vote was held, and repeal passed unanimously.
Rhode Island had become the third state to repeal the 18th Amendment.
102

Conclusion
While Rhode Island was not alone in its objection to federal alcohol prohibition, the
attitude of both public officials and the citizens of the state towards it are significant. Due to
Rhode Islands large immigrant population, and the states seemingly timeless concerns over
its sovereignty, Rhode Island failed to get fully swept up in the prohibitionist fervor that swept
the nation during the first decades of the 20
th
Century. Rhode Islands earlier failed experiments
involving prohibition may have played an additional role in prohibitions lack of support. The
success of the AAPA, the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, and other wet organizations in
the state suggest that a strong anti-prohibitionist sentiment already existed in the state. The
actions of federal officials during the Black Duck Incident and prohibition agent Izzy Einstein
101
Ibid.
102
Ibid.
37
further alienated Rhode Islanders from the concept of a federally enforced liquor ban. Finally,
the takeover of the state government by the Democratic Party in the 1920s and Rhode Island
Republicans refusal to stand with the official party position on prohibition cemented Rhode
Islands legacy as a wet state. As only one of two states to reject ratification, and the third state
to repeal the 18
th
Amendment, Rhode Island was certainly a leader amongst the states when it
came to objection to federal prohibition.
The era of prohibition is important to American history because it represents the broader
ideological struggles that have been important to the political fabric of the nation, whether it be
protestant versus catholic, populist versus progressive, or Democrat versus Republican. While,
with todays hindsight, prohibitions failure may seem like it was inevitable, when the 18
th

Amendment first passed, it seemed as if the prohibition of alcohol was to be cemented in the
Constitution forever. If it had not been for the organized, persistent efforts of wet forces, it is
possible that prohibitions death would have been a much slower and gradual process. Indeed,
with the existence of dry counties throughout the contemporary United States, and the continued
existence of the Prohibitionist Party into modern times, the ideological concept of complete
abstinence from alcohol consumption cannot be solely written off as a movement of the past.
As the federal government and state governments across the nation continually re-examine their
alcohol and drug policies due to economic and social concerns, the lessons learned from the
federal prohibition of alcohol remain relevant today.
38
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