Lips That Touch Liquor
The ‘Temperance’ movement may be as old as the country itself, but it was the evolution of the Industrial Age that gave groups such as the ‘Anti-Saloon League’ and the ‘Women’s Christian League’ real passions to demand change in the laws regarding liquor and it’s ‘availability’ in the U.S. Liberated American men and their affairs with strong drink had for decades failed wives and mothers and destroyed lives and families. The ‘Ladies of Temperance’ knew something dramatic must be done, and done now. Their ideal was resolute: total absolution from alcohol and the end of liquor sold nationwide forever. Prohibition. The strength of the organization grew as did their numbers, and they achieved what some considered impossible, adding an amendment to the very U.S. Constitution that outlawed the sale and distribution of all alcohol in America.
The Volstead Act
Ratified in October of 1919, the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, The Volstead Act, went in full effect on January 16th, 1920. Prohibition had come to America. And although police and Prohibition agents (‘Probies’) smashed and spilled millions of pints, quarts and gallons of liquor, the words and warnings of Tony Cermak and the ‘Wets’ rang cartoonishly true. Taverns were immediately replaced by ‘speakeasies’, liquor distributors were quickly replaced by ‘bootleggers’ and the revenues of the market that once went to business owners (as well as cities and states) now become the propriety of a seraglio of gangsters that ran roughshod through America. The ‘Roaring Twenties’ had started, as had the massive payroll of bribes going to cops, aldermen, and top legislators for ‘protection’ against the nation’s new law.
With the Volstead Act, came the ‘Age of Whopee’. With Mayor ‘Big Bill’ Thompson on the mound, Chicago became an electric and dangerous playground for hoods and henchmen from all corners of the country. Al Capone (who had arrived from New York just years earlier), became the town’s biggest bootlegger and speakeasy lord. The cocksure Capone said to reporters: “I’m just a simple guy supplying a commodity to thirsty Chicagoans.” With the machinery of law enforcement purchased through the Mayor’s office, the underworld activities of gambling, prostitution, burglary, strong-arming and racketeering came clearly into the light of day. In addition, the country was changing dramatically in its very culture. Women obtained not only the right to vote, but greatly increased freedom to co-mingle in the elements of American nightlife. Previously not allowed in city taverns, they now unflinchingly populated Prohibition speakeasies. The ‘Wide Open Town’ of Chicago began a New Age for America that would not, and could not, be turned back on.
Here Comes Tony Cermak!
As the spoils system of Prohibition descended on Chicago and the city council had it’s services looted by years of Thompsonism, Alderman and lead council member Tony Cermak trolled and domineered his political stock and sphere of influence. As biographer Alex Gottfried wrote of him; “He appeared to consider the entire realm of municipal problems his personal concern.” Thus amidst the frivolous recreation of fellow council members, Cermak drove himself into the details of city leadership and commanded a respect that rose out of fear of his power and aptitude. Wielding his status as a head councilman and President of the United Societies, Cermak demanded that those elected to ‘public service’ actually serve the public, an attitude that made him few friends in Prohibition Chicago.