Chalfant: League’s agenda was to wipe out alcohol

February 20, 2013

The issue of temperance, which included an awareness of the problems caused by alcohol and campaigned for closing saloons and banning the use, sale and production of alcoholic beverages, was a popular topic for social reformers in Sedalia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Temperance organizations such as the Independent Order of Good Templars, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League actively worked for laws mandating prohibition. Other organizations, such as the Salvation Army, the Y.M.C.A., and most Protestant churches, encouraged their members to avoid alcoholic beverages.

Sedalia’s first temperance crusade occurred in the mid-1870s. Local saloon owners vigorously protested what they perceived as a threat to their livelihood. Throughout the remainder of the 1900s, temperance workers periodically organized efforts to close not only saloons and wine rooms but also bawdy houses and gambling dens.

In 1902, the Rev. E.E. Barclay and the Rev. E.L. Hill, of the Anti-Saloon League, visited Sedalia to organize another temperance crusade. Local saloon owners again protested. When a Sedalia Democrat reporter interviewed saloon owners regarding Barclay’s and Hill’s campaign, one saloon operator replied that “anti-saloon agitation is ‘unwarranted,’ hence Rev. Barclay and his co-workers should seek a more fertile field.”

Sedalia’s approximately 25 saloon owners, and the city’s distributors, brewers and distillers had a right to be concerned. The major aim of the Anti-Saloon League was to eliminate the use of alcoholic beverages by closing the venues which sold them, believing that most people would not drink if alcohol was not readily available. In addition, the League wanted to enforce prohibition through the passage of a national prohibition law.

Barclay responded to their concerns with some interesting comments about Sedalia. He began by praising the city, noting that he would “not say one word against this beautiful city. It is alive, it is growing, it has substantial finances, good schools, fine churches, up-to-date papers and some of the finest people I have ever met.”

However, Barclay pointed out that the league wished to “awaken the public conscience to the evils in your midst.” By doing so, Barclay claimed, “venal politicians, cowardly office holders and saloon domination” would be eliminated.

The Anti-Saloon League’s “agitation and action” were definitely warranted, Barclay noted. He cited violations of state statues and city ordinances governing saloon operation, specifically the laws barring saloons being open and serving alcoholic beverages on Sunday. He also noted that saloon owners often sold liquor to “boys who take their first drink at a Sedalia bar.”

Barclay also denounced the presence of wine rooms, which served wine and which, by city ordinance, were closed to women. However, as Barclay noted, Sedalia’s wine rooms “flourished and the scarlet woman plies her trade on the public streets.”

Sedalia’s gambling dens also fell victim to Barclay’s criticism. Poker games, roulette wheels and crap games were regular features in the back rooms of several of Sedalia’s bars and restaurants, and young men were being “ruined” by participating there.

Barclay made one statement that contradicted the league’s goal of closing all saloons and encouraging prohibition through political action. Specifically, he told the reporter that, “We are not after the liquor dealers who live up to the laws of the city and state, but, instead, those who do not, as well as gamblers, bawds and all others who disobey the law.”

In his closing remarks, Barclay focused in the league’s secondary purpose — supporting political candidates who supported prohibition. Barclay indicated that he would support any party that nominated “good, clean men,” meaning those who would enforce existing laws and who would eliminate Sedalia’s position as a “wide open town.”

It is possible that Barclay downplayed the league’s interest in legally mandated prohibition in hopes that Sedalians would rally behind the league if its primary purpose was to eliminate gambling, prostitution and flagrant violation of liquor ordinances. Overall, however, the league worked to establish a thoroughly dry nation.