• U.S.

DRINKS: Lee’s Amendment

3 minute read

The ghost of a woe nine years dead rose up last week and reeled drunkenly across the U.S. stage. His hour was gaudy, but brief. At week’s end no innocent bystander would have begrudged Senators and Congressmen a couple of stiff quickies to quiet their jumpy nerves. For a few moments it had looked as if Prohibition might come back.

Short, glib Joshua Bryan (for William Jennings) Lee is an ordained Baptist minister, in the Senate represents legally dry Oklahoma. To the bill to draft 18-& 19-year-olds he tacked an amendment: “. . . In the interest of the common defense it shall be unlawful within such reasonable distance of any military camp, station, fort, post, yard, base, cantonment, training or mobilization place as the Secretary of War shall determine . . . for any person, corporation, partnership, or association to sell, supply, give or have in his or its possession any alcoholic liquors, including beer, ale, or wine. . . .”

Literally applied, this would have meant parched throats not only in the armed services, but in all the U.S.

In the amendment’s support came a sudden flash flood of letters and telegrams from U.S. drys. Sample, received by Kansas’ Senator Arthur Capper: “The Lydian Class of the College Hill Methodist Sunday School . . . urges the adoption of the Lee amendment.”

Senators, especially those up for reelection, shuddered as they thought of the teetotal sentiment they might have to face back home. They could have saved their shudders. The yowl of the nation’s wets was a little late, but it was loud.

The wet press rushed to the fore the gaunt, sourpuss, frock-coated figure of Old Man Prohibition. One cartoon showed him with a dishonorable discharge (1933) in his pocket, squatting under an umbrella in the halls of Congress; the heading said: “Tenting on the old Camp Ground!” (see cut, p. 23). He pointedly reminded Americans of their “noble experiment.” To jar further the memories of the forgetful, the New York World-Telegram began reprinting news stories of the 19205. One from Aurora, 111.: “State dry agents today stormed the home of Joseph De King, 40, after bombarding it with gas bombs, killed Mrs. De King, 35, and clubbed her husband into unconsciousness. . . . The raiders pointed to a half-gallon of wine found on the premises as justification.” Another told of holiday whoopee-makers going blind, dying after drinking wood alcohol.

Letters from wets descended on Senators. Sample: “Good Lord! . . . Please, oh please!” When War Secretary Stimson, Navy Secretary Knox came out flatly against the Lee Amendment, Senators at last saw the light. They voted (49 to 25) to send it back to the Military Affairs Committee “for further study.”

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