Speaker Discusses Impact of Prohibition in New Jersey

Sep 18, 2019
Photo by: Supplied Photo

The 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition was the theme for the New Jersey Maritime Museum fundraiser at its Beach Haven site on Sept. 14. And according to the guest speaker, Southern Regional High School history teacher Jeffrey Brown, New Jersey wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of the constitutional ban on the sale, manufacture and distribution of liquor.

“New Jersey was the last state in the union to ratify the 18th Amendment to bring about Prohibition and was the first state to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing it in 1933,” he said.

He recalled a colorful quote from New Jersey Gov. Edward Edwards, who vowed in 1920 that his state “would be as wet as the Atlantic Ocean.”

Brown said the roots of Prohibition rose in the 19th century by the formation of various temperance groups. One of the most prominent groups was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

“Women played a strong role in the temperance movement, as alcohol was seen as a destructive force in families and marriages,” said Brown. “They could see first hand what alcohol consumption caused.”

He said that in 1906, a new wave of attacks on the sale of liquor began, led by the Anti-Saloon League, which was established in 1893 and driven by a reaction to urban growth, as well as the rise of evangelical Protestantism. In addition, many factory owners supported prohibition in their desire to prevent accidents and increase the efficiency of their workers in an era of increased industrial production and extended working hours.

In New Jersey, those who were for Prohibition thought it would reduce crime, improve health, increase safety and raise public morality. But instead, New Jersey quickly became a hotbed for illegal alcohol, or moonshine.

Cracking down on illegal activities was the responsibility of Col. Ira Reeves, who became head of the New Jersey district for federal Prohibition enforcement. Brown said Reeves was determined to make Prohibition work, leading raids all over the state. He shut down speakeasies, roadhouses, stills, breweries and bottling plants. Reeves confiscated bootleg liquor shipped by car, truck, train and boat.

But, Brown said, Reeves quickly became disillusioned, since due to political pressure,  he had to promise not to raid the state Legislature’s annual dinner. But worse was the pervasive corruption of law enforcement officers and entire departments.

Reeves realized that Prohibition actually promoted organized crime, which led to political and law enforcement corruption.

Brown said after Reeves resigned his post, he became outspoken for the amendment’s repeal, coming to the conclusion that Prohibition had became a disaster.

He said that along the Jersey Shore, baymen and fishermen often helped the rum runners and smugglers.

“They were more familiar with the back bays and creeks than the Coast Guard,” said Brown. “They’d get the booze on the fast track to Philadelphia or places in New Jersey.”

He concluded his talk by saying, “In honor of the Prohibition anniversary, go have a drink!”

The event also featured a Prohibition-themed photo booth, where people could have their pictures taken with a speakeasy or tavern as a backdrop. Background music featured songs from the 1920s and the 1930s.

Deborah C. Whitcraft, museum founder and president, said the event drew 450 people.

“It was the best attended ever,” she said. “We’ve had a few fundraisers when it was raining, but this time the weather was perfect.”

— Eric Englund

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

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