Prohibition party

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PROHIBITION PARTY, the oldest continuous third party in the United States, was founded in 1869 by temperance crusaders who broke with the Republican Party because they felt it was betraying its original spirit and aims. Men such as Neal Dow of Maine, Gerrit Smith of upstate New York, and James Black of Pennsylvania had backed the Republican Party during its early years because they saw it as an instrument of Christian reform. Although they were willing to let temperance take a back seat during the fight to end slavery, they expected prohibition to be the Republican Party's next great crusade. After the Civil War, however, Republicans increasingly focused on the economic issues favored by eastern business interests and even defended liquor sales because of the federal revenue derived from excise taxes on alcohol. When 500 delegates from nineteen states convened in Chicago to found the new party, the abolitionist Gerrit Smith declared, "Our involuntary slaves are set free, but our millions of voluntary slaves still clang their chains."

During its first several decades, the party was dominated by "broadgauge" prohibitionists who believed that the party could help remake the social order and argued that it should embrace a wide range of issues in order to win broad public support. The party's platform in the late nineteenth century included the direct popular election of U.S. senators, civil service reform, and suffrage for all of voting age regardless of sex or race. In these years, the party helped mobilize thousands of women into the political process for the first time. In addition, since party leaders often came from affluent colleges and congregations in the Northeast, the Prohibition Party brought a reform agenda to areas that were comparatively insulated from the Greenback and Populist movements of the period. The party's first presidential nominee, Pennsylvania lawyer James Black, garnered only 5,600 popular votes in 1872. By 1892, however, John Bidwell of California attracted over 270,000 votes, becoming the party's most successful presidential nominee. (Although the party has fielded presidential and vice presidential candidates in every election since 1872, it has never won any electoral votes.)

In 1896 the controversy over maintaining the gold standard or issuing unlimited silver coins temporarily divided the Prohibition Party, and by the early twentieth century, its leaders no longer envisioned replacing one of the nation's major political parties. Instead, they joined forces with other temperance organizations, and focused on persuading the major parties to support or adopt their position on prohibition. They achieved this goal in 1919 with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment.

Popular support for the Prohibition Party fell off dramatically after 1919, although the party itself remained active in presidential politics. After the repeal of prohibition in 1933, the party increasingly came to be dominated by Protestant fundamentalists who felt alienated from modern American society and called for a return to the moral values of an earlier era. In the late 1970s, the party briefly changed its name to the National Statesman, but it reversed that move because it tended to confuse hard-core supporters. As the twenty-first century opened, the party's platform included the right to life, opposition to commercial gambling and the "homosexual agenda," the right to prayer and bible reading in public schools, opposition to the commercial sale of alcohol, and concern about the role of the United Nations and international trade agreements.


Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Putnam, 1973.

Smallwood, Frank. The Other Candidates: Third Parties in Presidential Elections. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983.

Storms, Roger C. Partisan Prophets: A History of the Prohibition Party. Denver: National Prohibition Foundation, 1972.

Prohibition Party. Home page at


See alsoThird Parties .

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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.

further readings

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.


Independent Parties; Prohibition; Women's Rights.

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Prohibition party, in U.S. history, minor political party formed (1869) for the legislative prohibition of the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. The temperance movement was in existence as early as 1800, but it was not until 1867 that its leaders marshaled their forces to establish a separate political party to campaign for prohibition. The result was the organization (Sept., 1869) of the Prohibition party at a convention in Chicago attended by delegates from 20 states. The failure of the temperance cause to gain active support from the major political parties, the failure of public officials to enforce existing local prohibition laws in several states, and the nationwide founding of the United States Brewers' Association were factors contributing to the creation of the Prohibition party. Before entering a presidential race, the Prohibition party entered elections in nine states during the period from 1869 to 1871. The first three presidential candidates—James Black (1872), Green C. Smith (1876), and Neal Dow (1880)—each polled a very small number of votes. Although the central issue of the party was prohibition, typical party platforms included woman suffrage, free public education, prohibition of gambling, and prison reform. In 1882 the party made sizable gains in state elections, and in 1884 a vigorous presidential campaign by John P. St. John resulted in the party's first large popular vote (150,626). Of these votes, 25,000 came from New York state, which the Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland carried by fewer than 1,200 votes. As most of St. John's support came from Republicans angered at the comtemptuous treatment accorded a temperance petition at their national convention, the Prohibitionists helped swing a key state to Cleveland. Four years later the temperance leader Clinton B. Fisk received almost 250,000 votes. But the peak of popular support was reached in 1892, when John Bidwell won almost 265,000 votes. The popularity of the temperance cause had been greatly furthered by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (1874), and later by the Anti-Saloon League (1893), despite the latter's nonpartisan political position. Although the Prohibition party never received a large percentage of the national vote, its influence on public policy far outweighed its electoral strength. This can be seen in state platform declarations of the major parties at this time and in the institution of prohibition by the Eighteenth Amendment. Although the Prohibition party continues to run presidential candidates, the repeal of prohibition by the Twenty-first Amendment had a decidedly weakening effect on the party.

See W. B. Hesseltine, The Rise and Fall of Third Parties (1948); H. P. Nash, Third Parties in American Politics (1959); J. Kobler, Ardent Spirits (1973).