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Prohibition and
The Prohibitionist Party in 1896

Candidate Levering. Gold Prohibition Party. YMCA Hall. Boston Globe, 10 September, 1896.

Temperance—voluntary abstinence from alcohol—was popular in the 1890s, and widely promoted by the largest women's organization of the Gilded Age, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Prohibition—national, state, or local laws preventing the sale of alcohol—was more controversial. A minority faction of Republicans supported national prohibition, as did some Populists (mostly in the West rather than the South). Since 1869 the strongest supporters of anti-liquor had banded together in the Prohibition Party.

Candidate Levering. Gold Prohibition Party. YMCA Hall. Boston Globe, 10 September, 1896.

Prohibition may seem a quixotic goal, but advocates at the time were unwilling to accept the immense social costs of liquor consumption—costs which we ignore today. Prohibitionists viewed themselves as progressive reformers, not as conservatives. Frances Willard, leader of the WCTU for many years, sought solutions to poverty and unemployment, and by 1896 had declared herself a Christian Socialist. Prohibitionists were the only party that consistently endorsed national woman suffrage, and a substantial part of the party's convention delegates were women from the WCTU.

Like the Republican, Democratic, and Populist conventions, the Prohibitions became mired in the currency issue. The convention first passed a "broad-gauge" platform calling for woman suffrage, generous pensions for Union veterans, arbitration of international disputes, and other measures. After much debate, a substitute, "narrow-gauge" platform won passage, calling only for the prohibition of liquor. The convention nominated Joshua Levering of Maryland, a longtime prohibition advocate. The remaining Prohibitionists were often called "Gold Prohibitionists" because they had rejected the silver plank among other reform issues. Many "Silver Prohibitionists" left the party to work through other means.

In the long run, prohibitionists won their cause by working with major parties rather than through an independent party movement. A federal constitutional amendment for prohibition of liquor passed in 1919. It was repealed in 1933, and today is largely considered a failure. At the state and local level, however, prohibitionism lived on, and even today "dry" counties in various parts of the U.S. testify to the movement's legacy.

Many Republicans believed in prohibition, even though they were unwilling to join Prohibitionists in calling it the nation's most important issue. Many McKinley supporters were distressed when, soon after his election to the presidency, he began serving wine at White House dinners and receptions, reversing a no-alcohol policy implemented by Rutherford B. Hayes. The Ohio State University has posted commentary on the return of liquor to the White House.

Joshua Levering, chairman of the State Prohibition Conventions

Life of Joshua Levering

Joshua Levering was born in Baltimore September 12, 1845. He attended private schools until the spring of 1861, when the exigencies of the Civil War necessitated business occupation. In 1866 he became partner with his father in the coffee importing business, under the name of E. Levering & Co., the same as at present. Eugene Levering, Sr., died in June, 1870, since which time the business has been conducted by his sons.

Mr. Levering was one of the originators of the American Baptist Educational Society in 1888, and has been its Treasurer since its organization. He has also ... held the position of Vice-President of the Southern Baptist Convention. At present he is acting Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Louisville, Ky.... He is a member of the International Committee of the Young Men's Christian Association of the United States and Canada.

Originally an independent Democrat, Mr. Levering bcame a Prohibitionist in 1884, and voted for [John] St. John that year. He was chairman of the State Prohibition Convention of 1887 and again in 1893, and also a delegate to the National conventions of 1888 and 1892....
—From Great Leaders and Issues of 1896.


Troy, Al., Oct. 5—W. K. Cameron of the Cameron Furniture Company, had his head cut off by being run cover by a Central Railroad Train in the yard at 7 o'clock. He leaves a wife and four children. He lost his eldest daughter six weeks ago. He was drinking. —Birmingham World Herald, October 6, 1896

Platform of the Prohibition Party

The Prohibition party, in National Convention assembled, declares its firm conviction that the manufacture, exportation, importation and sake of alcoholic beverages has produced such social, commercial, industrial, political wrongs, and is now so threatening the perpetuity of all out social and political institutions, that the suppression of the same by a national party, organized therefor, is the greatest object to be accomplished by the voters of our country; it is of such importance that it, of right, ought to control the political action of all our patriotic citizens, until such suppression is accomplished. The urgency of this cause demands the union, without further delay, of all citizens who desire the prohibition of the liquor traffic; therefore, be it Resolved, that we favor the legal prohibition, by State and National legislation, of the manufacture, importation, exportation, inter-State transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages.

That we declare our purpose to organize and unite all the friends of prohibition into our party, and, in order to accomplish this end, we deem it but right to leave every Prohibitionist the freedom of his own convictions upon all other political question as the changes occasioned by prohibition and the welfare of the whole people shall demand. —reprinted in Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896

To the Editor of the World:

If upon a gold basis, under which our Government is supposed to have been doing business all these years, we workingmen have been getting smaller wages every year and employment has been getting scarcer and scarcer, until at the present time, good authority says, 1,000,000 honest men are out of a job, do you think we hanker to perpetuate this very thing which has brought us to want and ruin? ...I shall not vote for either McKinley or Bryan. I shall vote for the only man that is honestly standing up for the people of American to-day, Joshua Levering. If McKinley wins, look for blood four years hence, for the people will not be fooled all their lives. —Robert Lyons, Black River, N.Y., in New York World, 10 August 1896

© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press

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Major events of the campaign,
in cartoon and story. (Click date)

  • Feb 27: People’s Advocate: Reading Tillman's Speech
  • Mar 19: People’s Advocate: Pitchfork
  • Apr 4: The Ram’s Horn: Rescued
  • Apr 15: Sound Money: History Repeats Itself
  • Apr 25: The Ram’s Horn: The Stranger at Our Gate
  • May 28: Prohibitionist’s convention, Pittsburgh, PA
  • June 16: Republican convention, St. Louis, MO
  • June 21: Denver New Road: Cleveland's Romance
  • June 28: L.A. Times: Bucking a Wall
  • July 4: Socialist convention, New York, NY
  • July 11: Democratic convention, Chicago, Illinois
  • July 9: Rocky Mountain News: A Soliloquy
  • July 11: Harper’s Weekly: Gold Bugs
  • July 12: L.A. Times: The Old Lady and Her New Wheel
  • July 16: People’s Advocate: McKinley's Evil Sprit
  • July 18: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Bryan
  • July 22: Silver convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 25: People’s Party convention, St. Louis, MO
  • July 22: Rocky Mountain News: Wall Street's Private Studio
  • July 25: Harper’s Weekly: Farmer McKinley
  • July 25: Judge: The Silver Candle
  • July 27: Chicago Record: Bryan's Tightrope
  • Aug 5: Rocky Mountain News: The Plain English of It
  • Aug 6: Sound Money: Spain and Rothschilds
  • Aug 8: McKinley accepts Republican nomination
  • Aug 9: Denver New Road: Bryan's Romance
  • Aug 12: Bryan accepts Democratic nomination
  • Aug 13: American Non-Conformist: Farmer Hanna
  • Aug 15: Rocky Mountain News: Bryan the Lion
  • Aug 16: L.A. Times: Aesop's Fox
  • Aug 18: Rocky Mountain News: Hanna the Wizard
  • Aug 20: Sound Money: The Cross of Gold
  • Aug 20: L.A. Times: Popocratic Witches
  • Aug 22: The Ram’s Horn: A Double Burden
  • Aug 29: Harper’s Weekly: McKinley the Veteran
  • Aug 29: Labor Advocate: Look at This
  • Aug 30: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Dime Museum
  • Sept 2: National (Gold) Democratic convention, Indianapolis, IN
  • Sept to Nov 1: McKinley front-porch campaign, Canton, OH
  • Sept 3: New York Journal: Li Hung Chang
  • Sept 5: Harper’s Weekly: The Crown of Thorns
  • Sept 5: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Just the Bare Facts
  • Sept 6: L.A. Times: Comrades in Arms
  • Sept 6: St. Paul Pioneer Press: A Bryan Dollar
  • Sept 8: Early election day in Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 9: Rocky Mountain News: John Bull
  • Sept 10: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Arkansas and Vermont
  • Sept 11 to Nov 1: Bryan travels 13,000 miles by train, stump-speaking around the nation.
  • Sept 11: St. Paul Pioneer Press: The Divorcee
  • Sept 11: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Uncle Sam Diagnoses
  • Sept 12: Labor Advocate: Their Argument Misses Fire
  • Sept 12: The Ram’s Horn: Building Up His Business
  • Sept 12: Harper’s Weekly: Populist Supreme Court
  • Sept 12: New York Journal: Hanna's Funds
  • Sept 13: Boston Globe: The Silver Dog
  • Sept 13: L.A. Times: Uncle Sam's Circus
  • Sept 14: L.A. Times: Populist Pandora
  • Sept 14: Rocky Mountain News: Playing Upon a Single String
  • Sept 17: Rocky Mountain News: Chinese Immigration
  • Sept 18: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Against Turkey
  • Sept 18: Rocky Mountain News: A Horrible Suspicion
  • Sept 19: Judge: Bryan's Cross
  • Sept 19: Labor Advocate: How They Love The Farmers
  • Sept 19: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Election-Year Friend
  • Sept 20: Boston Globe: Writ of Replevin'
  • Sept 20: L.A. Times: Populist Delilah
  • Sept 20: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: The Sultan Laughs
  • Sept 20: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: John Bull's Theft
  • Sept 21: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Robber And His Victim
  • Sept 24: L.A. Times: Resurrecting Secession
  • Sept 24: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Treachery
  • Sept 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Democratic Jonah
  • Sept 26: Harper’s Weekly: Silver Bullfight
  • Sept 26: L.A. Times: For Sale
  • Sept 26: National Reflector: Rings On The Hog
  • Sept 26: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Bicyclist Bryan
  • Sept 29: L.A. Times: Poor Circulation
  • Oct 1: Pioneer Press: Silver Trust Hog
  • Oct 3: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Workingman's Friend
  • Oct 4: Raleigh New and Observer: Hanna and Dixon
  • Oct 6: Election Day in the state of Florida (not all states voted on the first Tuesday in Nov).
  • Oct 6: Chicago Times: X-Ray of Bryan's Brain
  • Oct 6: Pioneer Press: Silver Conversation
  • Oct 6: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Florida's Lifeline
  • Oct 8: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Democratic Florida
  • Oct 8: New York Journal: Confident Hanna
  • Oct 10: Harper’s Weekly: Three Witches
  • Oct 10: The Coming Nation: The Worker's Treadmill
  • Oct 11: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Resurrection
  • Oct 13: New York Journal: Hanna and Workers
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Globe Democrat: Bryan as Jack Cade
  • Oct 13: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Gold Balloon
  • Oct 15: Coxey's Sound Money: Uncle Sam Enslaved
  • Oct 15: Rocky Mountain News: Elected McKinley
  • Oct 16: Boston Globe: Bryan the Salesman
  • Oct 17: Coming Nation: Labor Exploitation
  • Oct 20: L.A. Times: Burning Cross of Gold
  • Oct 21: The Coming Nation: Socialism
  • Oct 22: Sound Money: The Old Party Scale
  • Oct 22: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna's Crown of Thorns
  • Oct 24: Harper’s Weekly: Altgeld and Guiteau
  • Oct 25: Daily Inter-Ocean: Bryan's Balloon
  • Oct 25: Omaha World Herald: Getting Women to Register
  • Oct 27: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna, Trusts, and Morgan
  • Oct 28: Puck: A New Civil War
  • Oct 30: St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Hanna in Lehigh Valley
  • Oct 31: Republicans announce “Flag Day,” then argue with Democrats and Populists over meaning of the flag
  • Oct 31: Harper’s Weekly: Democratic Wind-Up Toys
  • Oct 31: New York Journal: Buncombe Brigade
  • Oct 31: The Ram’s Horn: Ignorance, Stupidity, and Fraud
  • Nov 2: McKinley wins presidential election
  • Nov 2: L.A. Times: Clown Bryan
  • Nov 4: L’Abeille de Nouvelle Orleans: Knock-Out Punch
  • Nov 4: St. Paul Pioneer Press: Elephant on the Silver Pillow
  • Nov 5: Sound Money: Prediction for 1900
  • Nov 14: Judge: Republican Tam O'Shanter
  • Nov 14: Coming Nation: Our Farmers Situation
  • Dec: Overland Monthly: Uncle Sam Looks Abroad
New Spirits
New Spirits
Perceptions and Realities: The Victorian Age Inventions of the era Tramps and Millionaires Yellowstone Park Journals of the era White City/1893 Worlds Fair The Civil War President McKinley