Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Claiming the State for the Public Welfare: The Establishment of the First Period of Statewide Prohibition in New York State
by Makeley, Jonathan Thomas, M.A., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2019, 152; 13884623
Abstract (Summary)

In April 1855, the New York State legislature passed An Act for the Suppression of Intemperance, Pauperism, and Crime. This law established the first statewide prohibition on liquor sales in New York State. This bill reflected the trend of temperance and prohibition advocates to move toward advocating for statewide prohibition laws. In the 1850's, 14 states, including New York, established state prohibition laws, as part of what is known as the Maine Law period The New York Prohibition law lasted for less than a year before the law was struck down by the New York State Court of Appeals, in Wynehamer Vs. The People. This thesis aims to provide an explanation of how statewide prohibition was established in New York State, and the major factors which were involved in its establishment and its end.

This paper draws on a combination of sources, including news reports, records of the state legislature, biographies of some prohibition advocates, state census data, and secondary writings by historians, to investigate the intellectual, social, and political dynamics of the prohibition issue in New York. As part of this I analyzed organized temperance and prohibition activism, anti-prohibition opposition, public debates on prohibition, the composition of supporters and opponents of state prohibition, the activities of the state legislature, social factors (such as social class, immigration, and nativism), state politics, and the operation of the state court of appeals.

The movement for statewide prohibition was able to successfully establish national prohibition through well-organized activism, using public discourse to promote its position and build support, building support in the state legislature, and securing the election of Governor Myron Clark in 1854. Debates over the effects of alcohol on people and society, the connection of liquor to social ills (such as pauperism and crime), the social and economic impacts of the liquor industry, the nature of individual rights, and proper role of government were common themes in public discussion, the discussions of state legislators, and the differing views of the majority and minority opinions in the Wynhamer case. The composition of supporters and opponents of state was multifaceted, and each side included New Yorkers from a variety of social classes. The factors of organized temperance and prohibitionist activism, the liquor industry, public and legislative discourse, and state politics were significant factors in shaping support and opposition to statewide prohibition. Factors such as class, immigration, and nativism, while they may have colored the views of some, appear did not appear to be as strongly connected. While the New York prohibitionist movement had succeeded in gaining enough public support and political influence to pass the law, anti-prohibitionists responded by launching a public relations campaign against the state prohibition law and challenged the law in state court. The election of two anti-prohibition justices to the State Court of appeals in 1855 provided the anti-prohibitionist interpretation with a judicial majority, and the 1855 state prohibition law was ruled to have violated the state constitution. Nevertheless, the passage of An Act for the Suppression of Intemperance, Pauperism, and Crime marked a significant point in the development of the state’s prohibition movement, and New York prohibitionists continued to advocate for new prohibition laws.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Thornton, Tamara
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: MAI 58/06M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, History
Keywords: Maine law, New York, Prohibition, Temperance
Publication Number: 13884623
ISBN: 978-1-392-27031-8
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