The New Galahad.
Comments on prohibition by H. L. Mencken, from The American Mercury, March and April, 1924
My agents in attendance upon the so-called moving pictures tell me that persons who frequent such shows begin to tire of Western films ... It can't be that movie censorship is to blame, for the same thing is visible in the field of belles lettres.... What is needed, obviously, is a new hero for the infantry of the land, for if one is not quickly supplied there is some danger that the boys will begin admiring Y.M.C.A. secretaries, crooked members of the Cabinet and lecturers on sex hygiene. In this emergency I nominate the bootleggerÄÄnot, of course, the abject scoundrel who peddles bogus Scotch in clubs and office buildings, but the dashing, romantic, defiant fellow who brings the stuff up from Bimini. He is the true heir, not only of the old-time Indian fighters and train-robbers, but also of the tough and barnacled deep-water sailors, now no more. He faces the perils of the high seas in a puny shallop, and navigates the worst coast in the world in contempt of the wind and storm. Think of him lying out there on wild nights in Winter, with the waves piling mountain-high and the gale standing his crazy little craft on her beam! Think of him creeping in in his motorboat on Christmas Eve, risking his life that the greatest of Christian festivals may be celebrated in a Christian and respectable manner! Think of him soaked and freezing, facing his exile and its hardships uncomplainingly, saving his money that his old mother may escape the poor-farm, that his wife may have her operation for gall-stones, that his little children may be decently fed and clad, and go to school regularly, and learn the principles of Americanism!
This brave lad is not only the heir of Jesse James and Ned Buntline; he is also the
heir of John Hancock and all of the other heroes who throttled the accursed Hun in 1776.
All the most gallant among them were smugglers, and in their fragile craft they brought in
not only rum but also liberty. The Revolution was not only against the person of the
Potsdam tyrant, George III; it was also, and especially, against harsh and intolerable
lawsÄÄthe worst of them the abhorrent Stamp Act. But was the Stamp Act worse than
Prohibition? I leave it to any fair man. Prohibition, in fact, is a hundred times as foul,
false, oppressive and tyrannical. If the Stamp Act was worth a Revolution, then
Prohibition is worth a massacre and an earthquake. Well it has already bred its Hancocks,
and soon or late, no doubt, it will breed its Molly Pitchers, Paul Reveres and Mad Anthony
Waynes. Liberty, driven from the land by the Methodist White Terror, has been given a
refuge by the hardy boys of the Rum Fleet. In their bleak and lonely exile they cherish
her and keep her alive. Some day, let us hope, they will storm the coast, slit the gullets
of her enemies, and restore her to her dominion. The lubbers of the land have limber
necks; their blood runs pale and yellow. But on the roaring deep there are still men who
are colossally he, and when the bugle calls they will not fail.
Here are the heroes - gallant, lawless, picturesque, adventurous, noble. Let the youth of the land be taught to venerate them. They make the cowboys who linger in the movies look like puny Christian Endeavorers; they are the only Olympians left in a decayed and flabby land, or in the seas that hedge it 'round. Who will be the first poet to sing them? (H.L. Mencken, American Mercury, April, 1924 pp. 451-2)
Vanished Hobgoblins. (...) The saloon, seen from the outside, probably bore a sinister and romantic aspect. It was the place where father acquired his hiccup, where improper anecdotes originated, where politicians, burglars and other criminals met to plan their rogueries. In most American States women were forbidden by law to enter its doors; in all states their entrance was frowned upon by the communal mores. (...) Suburban clergymen, in their Sunday-night discourses to victims of the laws against Sunday movies, depict it as a sort of moral slaughter-house, and speak of its suppression as one of the greatest triumphs of Ku Klux Christianity. (...) (H.L. Mencken, American Mercury, April, 1924 pp. 453-4)
If the Hippocratic Oath obliges a surgeon to trephine the skull of a Prohibition enforcement officer who has fallen a victim to the just wrath of a posse comitatus, then why should it forbid him to relieve the agony of a young woman whose nose, in saggital section, is like a clam shell, or whose ears stick out like studding sails? (...) To save a Prohibition agent's useless and degraded life is to carry humanitarianism to the verge of pedantry; to convert a homely and unhappy girl into a pretty and happy one is to increase the general store of joy in the world. (H.L. Mencken, American Mercury, April, 1924 p. 455)
Pathological effects of Prohibition in Illinois, as revealed by a news dispatch from Chicago, "the literary capital of America": Figures compiled by State Prohibition Director Moss show that 2,289,600 persons applied for, obtained and succeeded in having filled prescriptions for whiskey, gin and other alcoholic "medicines" during 1922. The prescription blanks returned number nearly 500,000 more than the government issued. A majority of the reputable physicians of Chicago refuse to write any whiskey prescriptions, but those who specialize in this branch of "medicine and surgery" made approximately $7,000,000 during 1922, while druggists who filled the prescriptions show a profit of $2,500,000. (AMERICANA, H.L. Mencken, American Mercury, March, 1924 p. 306)
Effects of the Volstead Act in the faubourgs of San Francisco, as reported by the Examiner: Scores of yound girls and youths were found stupefied by liquor in San Mateo county yesterday. Some of the girls were only 14 or 15, the agents said, while in many cases their male companions were years older. Helpless under the influence of liquor, the girls were unable to resist the attentions of the men. (AMERICANA, H.L. Mencken, American Mercury, March, 1924 p. 306)
THE KU-KLUXER by Gerald W. Johnson. I think that my friend Chill Burton is an Exalted Cyclops, although he may be only a Fury, or a lesser Titan, for my knowledge of the nomenclature of the Ku Klux Klan is far from exact. (...) The necromancy by which the guardian of the sacred fires of civilization, race and religion is transformed into a whipper of prostitutes and a lyncher of bootleggers is no mystery. (...) The Ku Klux Klan has swept beyond the racial boundaries of the negro and flourishes now in the Middle West because it is the perfect expression of the American idea that the voice of the people is the voice of God. (...) Now the Ku Klux Klan calls him to step up and for a trifling consideration of ten dollars he is made a Roland, a Lancelot, a knight-errant vowed to the succor of the oppressed, the destruction of ogres and magicians, the defense of the faith. (...) The shocked surprise of many prominent publicists and educators in the presence of the phenomenon of the Klan is the crowning absurdity of the farce. These men have spent years and gained great renown making just this thing possible. They have stuffed millions of youths, and filled miles of bookshelves with twaddle about the glory of the masses. (...) To inculcate patriotism, to immunize against foreign radical ideas and to strengthen the bulwarks of true religion are certainly prominent among the aims of the current program of Americanization, which is absorbing enormous quantities of money and time and the energy of innumerable massive brains. I submit that the magical rise of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, is one outstanding proof of th tremendous effect of that program. (...) (American Mercury, February, 1924 pp. 207-211)
AMERICANA: From a circular distributed by Nordic Blond evangelists at a recent revival in Dallas under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Bob Jones, an eminent pastor of those remote steppes: I am a searchlight on a high tower. I run my relentless eye to and fro throughout the land; my piercing glance penetrates the brooding places of Iniquity. I plant my eyes and ears in the whispering Corridors of Crime. Wherever men gather furtively together, there am I, an austere and invisible Presence. I am the Recording Angel's Proxy. When I invade the fetid dens of Infamy there is a sudden scampering and squeaking as of rats forsaking a doomed ship. I am the haunting dread of the depraved and the hated Nemesis of the vicious. The foe of Vice, the friend of Innocence, the rod and staff of Law, I amÄÄTHE KU KLUX KLAN (H.L. Mencken, American Mercury, April, 1924 p. 432)
AMERICANA: Exitus of an ancient legal maxim, as recorded in a dispatch from Portland:
Speaking before the District Attorneys' Association of Oregon here last night, Governor
Walter M. Pierce declared time has modified the old adage that every man's home is his
castle and sanctuary, and in the future Oregon homes must be kept in such condition that a
visit from an inspector of the State Prohibition forces will be welcomed at any time.
"The laws and customs have changed vastly since first was announced the right and doctrine that every man's home was his castle and sanctuary," the Governor said. "The law clearly makes it your duty as district attorneys to cooperate with the Prohibition commissioner. We claim the right to go into any place in the State, at any time as secret agents and to discover, if possible, law violations." (H.L. Mencken, American Mercury, April, 1924 p. 431)
Contents | Feedback | Search | DRCNet Home Page | Join DRCNet
DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Historical Research