The First Fairy Tale
Dale K. Brown
"THE VOLSTEAD ACT"
Unitarian theology and the willingness of mainstream Protestant churches to accommodate changing realities were regarded as godlessness under different names by many fundamentalists. The Lord and his teachings must not be compromised.
Hints of Darwinian evolution had been creeping into the collective consciousness of the nation at this time and the righteous were appalled. Humans evolving from monkeys? An earth far older than 6,000 years? Missing links? Well, there some links missing all right, but only in the craniums of the scientific idiot's who thought up this garbage!
Humans were the noblest expression of God's creation. Not the by-products of chance copulation by a pair of oversexed orangutans. Were ones grandparents apes? What were their grandparents then? Renegade particles of warm ocean slime? Of course not. It was obvious to them that the human race was the result of Divine Family Planning.
There was a sublime orderliness to the world that belied evolution. The earth was made for humans. The atmosphere was composed of appropriate gases in exactly the correct quantities necessary for human existence. Planetary temperatures were as painstakingly crafted for the Eskimos who had been created in Alaska as they were for Arabs who had been created in the desert. There were plenty of plants and animals to eat and an abundance of fresh water to drink. Perfection is no accident. Thus, the very idea of a creation without a creator was ludicrous.
These Sunday appetizers provided a welcome entree to an otherwise steady diet of shake and bake, fried Christianity. Some jaded parishioners actually began looking forward to Sabbath services and not with an eye toward self improvement either, but rather to hear for themselves what new outrages an agnostic scientific community had heaped upon God during the week.
By the 1920's, those outrages included such tools of the devil as telephones, railroads, steamboats, and airplanes, to name but a few, and still more hellish inventions were rumored to be on the way. Fundamentalism at this time enjoyed a period of revival. Not that any two persuasions managed to agree on what they thought the Bible said; they didn't. What they all agreed on was what they thought science was saying, which it usually wasn't.
On the basis of these misperceptions, hard core fundamentalists swiftly abandoned their uneasy truce with democracy. Separation of Church and State was one thing, but this was war! Their first target was education which, considering the kind of support religion had historically provided for the educated (namely, the stake), was hardly surprising. They goaded legislators in over thirty-three states to introduce bills banning the teaching of evolutionary science, bills which actually passed in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and a host of other, mainly southern, states.
The Theory of Evolution in these states was then blamed for "the progressive worsening of crime, delinquency, immorality, and war." It was paving the way for an increase in agnosticism, atheism, and Communism.
The situation was desperate. America's virtue was on was on the line. True believers everywhere saddled up to ride. They put on their breastplates of self-righteousness and armed themselves with their two edged swords. They hadn't had an enemy this definable since the last Mormon was shot. Victory seemed inevitable.
But when they got to the battlefield, no one was there.
Darwin had been dead for quite awhile, by this time. All that was left was just an idea and, try as they might, they couldn't burn that at the stake. So, in an expression of Evolution at its finest, Religion adapted to fit its changing environment, and increasing numbers of theologians adopted the Theory as the method by which God chose to create the universe.
Although Church and State were legally separated, they continued to pay each other conjugal visits from time to time. In 1874, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, or W.C.T.U., was founded. They were, apparently, not content to let their conscience be just their guide; they wanted it to be everybody's guide, or else.
Carrie Nation from Medicine Lodge, Kansas, was a charter member of W.C.T.U. Seized with the zeal of the newly converted, she began patronizing local saloons in her area with a vengeance ( and a hatchet). She was determined to rid the earth of "demon rum." There were women who were welcome in saloons at that time but Ms. Nation was not one of them. She was the kind of woman who would rather make one man miserable than a lot of men happy.
One woman with a hatchet may disrupt the quiet fellowship of a local bar temporarily, but that's about it. In 1895, however, the situation changed. A group of preachers, teachers, and businessmen incorporated to form the Anti-Saloon League of America. They hired their own political lobbyist, Wayne Wheeler. Patiently and methodically they worked state by state until the required majority of states had ratified an article of prohibition. On January 16, 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, banning the production, sale, and consumption of any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol, became the law of the land.
Wheeler, not the country's duly elected representatives, was the author of the Federal Enforcement statutes and although this, in and of itself, was unconstitutional, it was viewed as a trifling misdemeanor which was easily disregarded when compared to the felonious behavior it was designed to inhibit.
Wheeler & Company were a modest lot. They unselfishly allowed the Republican Representative from Minnesota, Andrew Volsted, to take the credit (and, if necessary, the rap) for their creation. The enforcement provisions mandated a hefty $1000.00 fine and/or six months in the slammer for first time offenders. With a law in place that would make even Ms. Carrie smile, the political goals of religion, at the expense of personal liberties, had at last been achieved, or so they thought.
But prohibitionists had apparently forgotten what it was that had gotten humans kicked out of the garden the first time. Now that liquor was illegal, men and women who, heretofore, would not have been caught dead in a saloon found themselves tormented by a desire to drink and carouse! Speakeasies, which derived their name from the obvious necessities of stealth and secrecy, sprang up virtually overnight. While sly references about "striking a blow for liberty" were intuitively understood by all, and thus alcohol, far from being vilified became equated with freedom itself.
The Volsted Act was repealed in 1933. Having never achieved the popularity of the Masters and Johnson Act, it was a dismal failure. Utah became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealing Prohibition on December 5, 1933. Liquor was once again legal. It wasn't any too soon, either. The country was in the throes of an economic depression, organized crime was corrupting the morals of innocent politicians, and a world war was threatening. If ever a nation needed a drink, it was America.
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