It was basically the Tea Party of its day: a catch-all group for the disenchanted, the bigots, the xenophobes, and the Klan. And also people who really believed alcohol was bad for society.
Purists Gone Wild: Prohibition, Revisited? - NYTimes.com
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Okrent asks the obvious question a modern reader brings when trying to understand this social engineering nightmare: “How did a freedom-loving people decide to give up a private right that had been freely exercised by millions upon millions since the first European colonists arrived in the New World?”
Prohibition got chiseled into the nation’s governing document after the temperance cause became a grand vehicle for the loosely organized loathing that was widespread at the time, from the Ku Klux Klan to viciously anti-immigrant groups. Those who hated, or distrusted, Roman Catholics, new arrivals from Italy, Greece and other nations long tied to the grape, blacks, the teeming urban mass of the working poor — they made common cause with high-minded liberals and evangelical Protestants. The bigots thought if they could deprive the disenfranchised of drink they would take away their gathering houses and political wards — the neighborhood saloons. The purists thought people would raise their eyes to God, or spend more time at home, when all a working man could look forward to at the end of the day was root beer.
“A mighty alliance of moralists and progressives, suffragettes and xenophobes had legally seized the Constitution, bending it to a new purpose,” writes Okrent, who was the first public editor of The Times.
The battering ram of the prohibitionists was the Anti-Saloon League, which Okrent calls “the mightiest pressure group in the nation’s history.” (A public editor might note that Okrent overuses the word “mighty,” a minor complaint.)
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