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100 years ago: Moral harm of Prohibition

29 January 2021

January 28th, 1921.

THE Canadian correspondent of the Times contributed to the issue of January 20 a remarkable dispatch describing the working of the Prohibition Law in Canada. On the following day Mr. Maurice Low began in the Morning Post a series of articles giving a account of the working of the law in the United States. Both supply striking examples of the appalling effect of the law. The operation of this class of legislation has provided an effect unforeseen by either of the protagonists in the controversy. The Times correspondent observes that “the profits of the traffic have been so tremendous that all risks are taken, and hundreds of persons defy law and decency in order to get the high rewards of a disreputable business. . . There has been, too, a general demoralization of public opinion, and an organized movement to discredit prohibition and prevent its enforcement.” The testimony of responsible men, accustomed to weigh evidence, confirms and even goes further than these statements concerning the effect of the working of prohibition legislation upon the conscience of the community. Respectable and law-abiding citizens are enlisted on the side of forces operating to defeat the law. Statistics of crime may not yet show any marked increase, but there is a lowering of the whole moral tone. Moreover, it is difficult to suggest a remedy. Prohibition legislation is an effort to supply to some members of the community by statutory enactment the moral force which they lack to resist the excessive use of alcoholic liquor. It has aroused and stimulated rebellious forces which were kept under control by their owners, and the result is something like moral chaos. Moreover, having failed in public opinion to remedy a particular abuse it is impotent to control the greater evil to which it has given birth. The State has created a regime of deceit, fraud and disregard of authority in which it is almost impossible for the religious bodies to do effective work. It is clear that the line of action is in the direction of an appeal to the law-abiding instincts of the community to organize upon a voluntary basis to combat the forces of disorder and evil. The lesson which is being taught in the Dominions and the United States is one which may be taken to heart in England in other spheres besides the control of the sale of alcoholic liquor.

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