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One hundred years ago, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes" came into effect at 12:01 a.m. on January 17, 1920. On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which established that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex", having been approved by the House of Representatives, the Senate, and 36 states, was officially adopted--in time for that year's Presidential election (Harding vs. Cox, Republican vs. Democrat; both from Ohio!) Harding won.
The causes of temperance and women's suffrage--and the abolition of slavery--were intertwined in various ways as part of a "women's rights movement" throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The women's rights movement was also a general social reform movement with other causes as this brief article on the website for Ken Burns' PBS documentary about the suffrage movement describes:
The enormous success of the temperance movement among native-born American women between 1874 and 1900 entwined the destiny of the suffrage movement with the temperance movement during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Founded in 1874, in the midst of one of the deepest economic depressions in American history, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) quickly became the largest women’s organization in the United States during the nineteenth century.
The WCTU drew on social traditions of Protestant women’s activism that had emerged in the decades between 1830 and 1860, when the separation between church and state transformed Protestant denominations into a set of competing voluntarist organizations. Serving as a pan-Protestant umbrella organization that acted independently of male ministerial authority, the WCTU became a “woman’s church” to many of its members, complete with ritual processions, symbolic regalia, and hierarchical lines of authority.
Both the temperance and the women's suffrage movements were led by Protestants and there were some divisions between Protestants and the Catholics on these issues. The WCTU definitely espoused nativist sentiments toward immigrants from Ireland and Europe, outraged that some non-Anglo, non-Protestant immigrant men could become citizens and vote when Anglo, Protestant, native-born women could not.
There was no official teaching or direction from the hierarchy on either issue, so Catholics could choose whether or not to support the movements, and to what degree to support them. In the matter of temperance and prohibition, however, the Church was definitely concerned to protect the production, purchase, and transportation of sacramental wine to be used at Mass. The 18th Amendment did not address this freedom of religion aspect of Prohibition, although it does include the words "for beverage purposes" (a possible distinction between drinking alcohol and using wine in religious services), so the Volstead Act had to carve out an exception to the rule. This article from the Brooklyn Law Review explains how this exemption extended to Jewish, Episcopalian, and Eastern Orthodox congregations, and the producers of this wine, who were licensed and regulated. The author also explains, in great detail, the theological reasons Evangelical Protestants developed such a fear of both alcoholic beverages and Catholicism. The Volstead Act exemption may have saved California's wine industry, as this article (not entirely accurate in its depiction of the Catholic Mass, however) notes.
There was Catholic concern about the abuse of alcohol but it was focused on temperance, not legal prohibition, as this brief history of the Catholic temperance movement describes:
Curiously, however, (perhaps in a nascent spirit of subsidiarity) the resulting Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America was a wholly moral movement, emphasizing personal reform and not wishing to be part of any legal schemes for prohibiting alcohol production:
Our motto is moral suasion. With prohibitory laws, restrictive license systems, and special legislation we have nothing whatever to do. [Emphasis added.] There is blended with our proposed plan of organization the attractive feature of mutual relief. Thus Temperance and Benevolence go hand in hand.On the other hand, the Union flatly stated it would not oppose laws that shut down some gin mills.
The Union received many words of encouragement over the years from popes (Leo XIII and Pius X among them), but what’s clear from those words of greeting and from the Union’s own pronouncements is that Catholic temperance was aimed at minimizing consumption of spirits and not at banning either beer or wine. As St. Pius X stated it, the enemy was “the abuse of strong drink.” It’s worth noting that both Leo and Pius were happy consumers of Vin Mariani – basically Bordeaux wine infused with coca leaves (10 percent alcohol and 8.5 percent cocaine extract by volume), which promised to “tone and strengthen body and brain.” Leo allowed it to be promoted with his name and image.
More about Catholics and women's suffrage on Monday.