Close the Saloons

Of Town and Country

In Norwood, St. Lawrence County, NY a newspaper printed a take-no-prisoners anti-saloon tract in 1886. The article was reprinted from the “Independent”, possibly a newspaper of that name in New York, NY. It focused on the increasingly popular lager beer and the saloons it was sold in.

It is interesting to compare the tone of the piece to the contemporary, big city coverage we have often related pertaining to beer, breweries and booze. The Sun in New York, Daily Eagle in Brooklyn and other larger New York-area papers were writing in a proto-hard-boiled style, one that would mature in mid-20th century popular culture (“dick” films, guys and dolls dramas, Walter Winchell columns, Dashiell Hammett and similar).

The big city writers were kind of blasé about booze, explicating the endless chambers of massive breweries for readers, explaining European cafes and drinks, charting the decline of ale vs. lager, and generally covering booze in a way similar to today’s media.

One sees the shadow of temperance attitudes in some of this writing, but not much more. For example, a pro forma sentence might be included that, we intend here to talk about the way beer is brewed and sold, not the right and wrong of drinking it. Beyond that, down to business.

In small towns, it was very different, one would never read articles of this type except possibly where liquor was manufactured, as in Kentucky. Norwood is in St. Lawrence County and I’ve written before how liquor, legal and otherwise, was appreciated there too but the public face of it was always the obverse of what New York said. Propriety was everything in a small place. You couldn’t run or hide, and the preachers and others on their side had writ of the land.

The story below, which I’ve reproduced in full, covered all the bases: family integrity; morality and religion; and keeping strikers out of the workplace. It has a stark frankness and simplicity. There is no dissimulation, no fine distinctions made, no fence-sitting as are legion in our politics today. It’s more, this is what we’re going to do, and don’t cavil with us else we’ll steamroller you.

There is even an implication that if “Germans” got in the way of total Prohibition they would be dealt with, too. How was not specified. I’d assume this part of the article, at least, was simple hyperbole.

The resolution exemplified by the article grew and prevailed in the country by 1919, it is fully prescient as to what would occur within a generation. While I don’t agree with the specifics of the issue as addressed here, I do admire the forthright tone and stance, the refusal to cavil before what was seen as a mortal threat to the land. There is a lesson in it for today’s politics and today’s challenges.

The Lager Beer Saloon.

The old whisky bar, or rum-hole was bad enough; but it had this advantage, that it had the credit of being frankly disreputable. It had no defenders. Lager beer is not so intoxicating as those distilled liquors, but the lager beer saloon is more demoralizing than the old doggeries [sic]. The importation of lager beer is the worst evil that has come into this country since slaves were first brought to Virginia. The effect is not immediate, but the evil is progressive and the habit debasing. A young man who has got into the habit of frequenting the lager beer saloon, is pretty nearly ruined.

It is because lager beer tippling is not so disreputable that it is so dangerous. In our cities the lager beer saloon is everywhere and it is patronized by the mass of the workmen. Little children are sent by scores to bring a pail of beer to their parents. They are taught to haunt these spots, and to drink from their earliest years. Our modern drunkenness begins on lager beer, so that lager beer makes the most of our drunkards. It is the parent not only of drunkenness, but of all stupid inefficiency aud unthrift. It is a besotting drink, where it does not produce absolute intoxication.

The lager beer saloon is the haunt of lazy and crazy fools. It tempts men to sit still and do nothing but talk silliness and mischief. The one danger which threatens the Knights of Labor, comes from the lager beer saloon. Mr. [Terence] Powderly has again and again warned them of it. If their members can keep free from the lager beer saloon they can be trusted to be clear-headed and diligent. It is the men who hang about the lager beer saloon that stir up differences between employers and employed. We never had a report of a strike, perhaps a just one [sic], degenerating into violence, but that it is out of the saloons that a crowd runs to beat an honest laborer. It is the lager beer saloon that is always the headquarters of violence, lawlessness and anarchy. The Chicago anarchists did their plotting in their saloons. The leaders of the same crew in this city keep lager beer saloons. Shut up the lager beer saloons and you have broken up the whole organization of the anarchists.

The corrupt politics of the day has its center in the lager beer saloons. That is where the pot-house politicians gather, where the candidate sets up a keg for the crowd. Shut up the lager beer saloon, and you have done three-fourths of what is necessary to purify the politics of the country. So we say whatever else is left, shut up the lager beer saloon.

There is a curse in it. It must be abolished. It should have no quarter. The man who sells lager beer ought to be shut out of the Church. The man who makes it should be ostracised from decent society. These men are foes to God and their country. There should be no mercy shown to the traffic. The sacred cause of prohibition must make war on the fermented as well as the distilled stuff.

It makes no difference what the politicians say, what German vote the Republican party may lose, for the lager beer saloon must go, and if the German vote or the Republican party resist they must go too. Downright abolition and prohibition, sweeping and complete, unyielding and compulsory, is the only thing to which we can give consent.

Note re images: the image above was extracted from Pinterest, here. The quotation was sourced from the original newspaper article linked in the text above, available courtesy the NYS digitized newspaper archive. Image and quotation appear for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources resides solely in their lawful owners, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.