Baltimore Evening Sun (26 June 1911): 6.
Twice lately I have called attention to certain contradictions and absurdities in the statistics put forward by the Anti-Saloon League and the United State Brewers’ Association, respectively supporting and opposing prohibition. Read the Anti-Saloon League Year Book and you will be convinced straightway that the Rum Demon is the father and mother of all human evils and ills, from shoplifting to paresis and from white slavery to the boll weevil. Read the “Text Book of True Temperance” of the brewers and you will be convinced that the real parent of those evils and ills is prohibition, or, at any rate, its body servant, the blind tiger. Put the two books together and study their tables of figures alternately—and your head will throb intolerably and perchance you will rush off to the nearest kaif and bawl piteously for a tureen of narcotic malt.
Now comes Mr. Anderson, spokesman of the Anti-Saloon League, with the plea that, whatever their occasional defects, the statistics put forward by the prohibitionists are, on the whole, rather more respectable and convincing than those put forward by the brewers. You will find his argument among today’s Editorials by the People. He maintains, in brief, that the brewers are not above twisting figures to suit their purposes, and that it is not unnatural for them to do so, since they have “a financial interest in making a good showing.”
Let us admit it. But it must be obvious that they can’t play that little trick very often, for most of the figures they quote are from impartial and official reports and any chicanery would be quickly detected. For example, does Mr. Anderson question the accuracy and good faith of the census returns of deaths from alcoholism quoted on pages 217-221 of the brewers’ book? Certainly the brewers lack pull enough to influence the Census Bureau and certainly the figures of the bureau are accurately given. And yet those figures show that the mortality from alcoholism in the dry cities of Maine is 8.4 per 100,000 of population, while in the wet cities of boozy old Maryland it is but 5.8.
These returns, let it be noted, do not depend in any way upon the private attitude of officers of the law. The returns of arrests for drunkenness may be misleading, as Mr. Anderson says, because in one town only helpless sots may be arrested while in another town any eccentricity of gait or thickness of speech, however slight, may land a man in jail. But obviously there is little opportunity for error in enumerating the men who actually die of drink. Acute alcoholism is a condition seldom, if ever, mistaken for something else—and dead men are easy to count.
Maine is the favorite battle ground of the wets and drys and both sides have shed much blood upon its soil. The Anti-Saloon League Year Book for 1911 pathetically deplores the fact that the prohibition laws of the State were “flagrantly nullified” between the years 1884 and 1896 and shows that during that time the annual arrests for drunkenness increased by 58.8 per cent. and the annual arrests for all offenses by 98.7 per cent. But in the very same paragraph it appears that the putting on of the lid, presumably in 1896, did not decrease wine-bibbing in the slightest. By 1908, in fact, the arrests for drunkenness had further increased by 9.5 per cent. and the arrests for all causes by 7.7 per cent.
What do these figures show? That prohibition increases drunkenness or abolishes it? Between 1884 and 1896, when the prohibition law was a dead letter, at least in the cities of Maine, the drunks of Maine made the welkin ring with their merry shouts. And between 1896 and 1908, when the law was enforced—well, they kept on boozing. No doubt they are still at it. The brewers say they are and produce statistics to prove it, and those statistics have a suggestive family resemblance to the figures of the anti-saloonists.
The real objection to all such figures is not that they are inaccurate, but that they mean nothing. The anti-saloonists, pointing to a State which is both dry and virtuous, try to make us believe that its virtue is an effect of its dryness. And the brewers, pointing to a State which is both dry and sinful, try to make us believe that sin to the child of thirst.
It so happens that the average State shows a mixed condition of morals. That is to say, it is sinful in one respect and virtuous in some other respect. And that is why facts and figures from such dry States as Maine and Kansas and from such wet States as New Jersey and Nevada are quoted by both sides.
Going further, the rhetoricians of one side frequently use conflicting returns from the same State to prove two exactly opposite thingss. Thus the Anti-saloonists, citing the drunkenness returns from Maine, use them to show the evil effects of relaxing the prohibition law—and in the very same book the very same rhetoricians cite the mortgage, prison and insanity returns from Maine to prove that prohibition there, even though not enforced, has benefited the people. Are we to believe from this that its good effects, like those of Democracy, arise out of the very fact it can never be enforced?
The anti-saloonists, as a general thing, are altogether too eager to blame all social evils and disorders, of whatever sort, upon drunkenness. As a matter of fact, it is not at all improbable that drunkenness, 9 times out of 10, is an effect rather than a cause. It is not that the drinking man is a loafer, but that loafers are heavy drinkers. Again, the anti-saloonists fall into the constant error of confusing moderate drinking with excessive drinking—the normal man with the subnormal man. No error could be more absurd. No two things could be more unlike. That the drinking of half a gallon of whisky a day would reduce even the strongest man to the gutter I am willing to admit, but what about the drinking of one pint of beer? Is there, in fact, any good reason for believing that the average, self-controlled, self-respecting man is harmed by alcohol? And is there, in fact, any good reason for depriving this man of a harmless pleasure in order to achieve the purely theoretical salvation of a stray drunkard who, even if he couldn’t get his daily dose of poison, would still be an idle, a disorderly and a useless man?
More contributions to the dictionary of synonyms for bald heads:
The Voice of the People, as the breezes bring it in:
I voted for Preston and I’m dern glad I done it.
Them boomers won’t get none of my money.
H. L. Mencken