The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71
General Remarks on Schemes for the Control of the Liquor Traffic, [unclear: United] States of America, based upon Reports issued by Mr. II. G. [unclear: Edwards] in 1887 and 1890.
In certain States of the Union—Iowa, Kansas, Maine, and [unclear: Vermont-]general prohibition exists, and under local option the sale of [unclear: intoxicating] liquors is forbidden in districts in other States. The tax for licenses has [unclear: been] generally raised all over the country, the highest fee paid for a license to [unclear: sell] spirituous liquors, etc., being £240 in the Salt Lake city. On the [unclear: relative] advantages of the "prohibitory system" and the "high license system" it is very difficult to arrive at any decided opinion. The partisans of each system [unclear: maintain] that the one they uphold will prove to conter the greater benefits on the communities where it is carried out. When the cause of temperance is held in view, the system of prohibition must naturally present itself most favourably. Unfortunately, the proper and just enforcement of this system is surrounded with [unclear: as] many difficulties that it is, in the eyes of many who have earnestly and [unclear: impartially] studied the question, a simple impossibility. Total abstinence cannot be [unclear: legislated] into a nation. Men will obtain drink when they have an appetite for it, and [unclear: as] long as that appetite exists—and exist it will until the world has reached a [unclear: far] higher state of education than that of the present time—people will be found [unclear: to] supply them with drink, no matter what risks they may run of punishment [unclear: for] violation of the law: the greater the risk, the greater [unclear: will] be the profit they will look for from their illegal traffic, which is, moreover, carried on with a [unclear: greater] amount of adulteration than under all other systems.
Under nearly all prohibitory laws which obtain in the different States [unclear: and] districts of America, intoxicating liquors may be imported into such States [unclear: and] districts, but not sold, except by importers in the original packages. The meaning of this is that the rich man can obtain as much liquor as he may drink, where the poor man, however temperate he may be, cannot obtain a quantity small in accordance with his means without a violation of the law. This fact alone would tempt most people, with the exception of the authorities charged with the enforcement of the law, to assist in its violation, and, as is shown in many cases where i law is perpetually violated, it has become a dead letter. This must be prejudicial If people are allowed to disregard one law they soon learn to have contempt and disregard for others. To quote the opinion of a high official in one of the principal cities in a Prohibition State, who is and always has been a total abstainer, and who has made every exertion steadily and without favour to enforce the law from the time it came into effect, Prohibition pure and simple is in this State and impossibility confessedly, for the Prohibition law itself gives to importers a right to sell liquors "in the original packages," and a rich man can buy liquor by the quantity, while a poor man cannot buy a drink. This, at least, seems unfair.page 15
The revenue must naturally suffer from Prohibitory laws. Owing to the difficulty of obtaining statistics, it is difficult to show what is the sacrifice which has been made in this respect in States, &c., where Prohibition exists, with a view to further the cause of temperance; but it has been a very large one.
It is maintained—and with evident reason—that the "high license system" really advances that cause as much as and to a greater extent than Prohibition, and at the same time brings about a large increase of revenue. As far as they go, statistics show that the high license system has certainly reduced the number of drinking saloons in places where it has come into force, and naturally the opportunity for intemperance is lessened by this reduction. The enforcement of Prohibition is not only not assisted, but opposed by the general public, whereas those who pay a high license will naturally help the authorities in the conviction of breakers of the law under the fundamental principle of self-preservation. Under the high license system, it is shown that the smaller and more disreputable places where intoxicating liquors are sold are bound to disappear, and the worst temptation of all, the sale of drink at groceries, has been stopped. It may be said that everyone wanting a drink has to go a greater distance to get it, and consequently may think twice before doing so. In spite of the adverse views of the Prohibitionists, it is strongly maintained that the high license system has thrown the liquor traffic into the hands of a more respectable class of dealer. The brewers, etc., are reported in many cases to pay the high license for the dealers. This may be true. If it is, it can be very justly assumed that the brewers will take care that the dealers, for whom they do pay, belong to at least as good a class of dealers as those who are well enough off to pay for themselves the increased license fees. In conclusion, it may be stated that to whatever influences it may be due, whether to Prohibition or to High license, the cause of temperance has made great strides within the last few years. This advance in the right direction should be attributed rather to the general enormous progress made in the country than to any special legislation on the matter.
The contest between High license and Prohibition has been carried on since 1887 with as great, if not greater, vigour as before that date. The popular vote has been taken, since 1887, in five States on the question of adopting an amendment to the State Constitution by which, if carried, Prohibition would have been established in the State. In each case the voters have declared themselves, by a large majority, against Prohibition. In the State of Rhode Island, where Prohibition had existed since 1886, an election was held during 1889 by which that system was voted against by considerably more than the required majority of three-fifths of the whole vote. An amendment to a State Constitution can only be made by a majority of three-fifths of the popular vote. In Rhode Island in 1886, Prohibition was carried by the necessary majority. In 1889 Prohibition, which had thus become a law of the State Constitution, was defeated by the necessary majority. This change of opinion on the part of such a large number of the population of one State, amounting to, as it must have done, at least one-fifth of the whole, having taken place, as it did, after less than three years' experience of the working of the prohibitory law, is a strong argument against the system. The theory of Prohibition may be worthy of consideration and praise, but the absolute impracticability of the working of such a system in most places where it has been tried has led a large number of those who earnestly desire to promote temperance to consider whether the object they have in view will not be better advanced by a change to a system of legislation which, although not so perfect in theory, can be practically worked. It is the business or advantage of none but authorised officials to help to carry out Prohibition, whereas such officials are sure to be materially aided in enforcing the law under the "high license" by those who have conformed to its provisions. Whatever statistics have been obtained, few and incomplete as they may be, tend to show that under High license the number of drinking saloons decreases, as well as the number of cases of intoxication brought before the local magistrate. The latter result is undoubtedly a consequence of the former.page 16
Legislation can certainly help certain classes of the population to be [unclear: abstemio] and temperate, but with the others no amount of legislation on such a subject [unclear: can] have any influence. As the higher orders change so with the lower. The steps [unclear: is] the right direction which are being made, and there is no contesting the fact [unclear: that] they are being made, although perhaps not with that rapidity which [unclear: might] be desired or expected by some people, must be attributed solely to the [unclear: general] progress of the country. This progress will continue [unclear: and] an increasing rate, and with it the cause of temperance, independent of legislation, will advance.