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The Prohibition Party was established in 1869, ostensibly in response to a growing concern among Americans that the sale and consumption of liquor contributed to crime and immorality. In fact, although Prohibition was always the top issue, the party's platform emerged as one of the most progressive of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In particular, it was one of the first parties to make women's suffrage a key platform point.
After the Civil War, the liquor industry in the United States grew rapidly, even though 13 states were officially pronounced "dry." John Russell, a Methodist minister from Michigan, began organizing a national group in 1867, and, in 1869, the group met in Chicago to adopt a political platform and plot out a campaign strategy for the 1872 presidential election. The original platform placed a heavy emphasis on the evils of alcoholic beverages, but it had a surprisingly broad scope. It advocated strong government support of public education, increased accountability of government agencies, and a liberal immigration policy. The right to vote was to be guaranteed to all citizens, native or naturalized, regardless of race, color, sex, or "former social condition." The emphasis on alcoholic drink stemmed not so much from a moral opposition to liquor as from a pragmatic one. Alcohol abuse, said the Prohibitionists, led to chronic illness, job loss, spouse and Child Abuse, and impoverishment. The best way to reduce social ills, they maintained, was to eliminate alcoholic consumption.
Russell was on the Prohibition Party's first ticket, as vice president; the presidential candidate was James Black, a lawyer and activist from Pennsylvania. The ticket drew only about 5,000 votes from six states. It drew only a few thousand more votes in the 1876 and 1880 elections, but it won the support of groups such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Anti-Saloon League. In 1884, a ticket headed by the former Republican governor of Kansas, John P. St. John, won more than 153,000 votes. The 1888 ticket, which was headed by Fisk University founder Clinton B. Fisk, won nearly 250,000 votes.
John Bidwell, a rancher and former military officer from California, won more than 271,000 votes in the 1892 presidential election, the most ever won by any Prohibition candidate. Over the next quarter century, the Prohibition Party continued to draw respectable figures, although it won few major races. The most important Prohibition victory was the 1916 election of Sidney J. Catts, a lawyer, as governor of Florida.
During the period from 1890 to 1920, the Prohibition platform continued to introduce a number of progressive initiatives, including equitable Divorce laws, equal wages for women, and laws against child labor. Still, the party was known primarily for its core issue. The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919, which banned the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages, was a victory for the Prohibitionists, as was the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which granted women the right to vote. But these victories ultimately made the party less relevant. The 1924 Prohibition Party presidential ticket was notable because the vice presidential candidate, Marie C. Brehm, was the first legally qualified woman candidate for a national election. However, except for a slight upsurge after national prohibition was repealed in 1932, the party drew fewer votes.
Beginning in the 1940s, the Prohibition Party became more conservative in scope. Its later platforms included support of a right-to-life agenda, opposition to gay rights legislation, and opposition to Gun Control. It added prohibition of tobacco and gambling to its anti-alcohol agenda. By the late 1970s, Prohibition candidates were mainly found in local elections. Still, the party continued to run a presidential and vice presidential candidate.
In 1984, Earl F. Dodge, a Prohibition Party official from Colorado headed the presidential ticket; although he won only 4,200 votes in five states, he continued to head the presidential ticket. In the 1990s, the party split into two factions, one controlled by Dodge. Despite the split, Dodge was the party's official candidate for president in the 2000 election. He won 208 votes in one state.
Kobler, John. 1973. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Putnam.
Storms, Roger. 1972. Partisan Prophets: A History of the Prohibition Party, 1854–1972. Denver: National Prohibition Foundation.