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).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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