What were factors in Maine's long and big fight over prohibition?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

More than most states, Maine felt the paradoxical relationship of geography and demographics.  Its large population of Puritans combined with its proximity to Canada and its alcohol-related activities made for a difficult situation.  Social problems associated with alcohol abuse, including domestic abuse and disintegrating families, clashed with Puritan values such as domestic tranquility, fealty to God, and democratic approaches to social issues.  The result was a strong push in Maine for total abstinence, resulting in establishment of the Total Abstinence Society in Portland in 1815.  This first step in the institutionalization of prohibition was followed by subsequent measures that expanded the movement across the state.  Led by Portland’s mayor, Neal Dow, the temperance movement successfully advocated for a series of state laws, starting in 1846, that outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages except for industrial and medicinal purposes.  Dow’s success getting abstinence-related legislation passed emboldened him and his army of followers to push through the 1851 “Maine Law,” officially titled “An Act for the Suppression of Drinking Houses and Tippling-Shops.”  The Maine Law strengthened the legal prohibition on the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages while preserving their medicinal and industrial-uses.  The operative provision of that law stated:

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in Legislature assembled, as follows:

Section 1: No person shall be allowed at any time to manufacture or sell, by himself, his clerk, servant, or agent, directly or indirectly, any spirituous or intoxicating liquors, a part of which is spirituous, or intoxicating, except as hereafter provided.”  [See: The Maine Liquor Law,  http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=OW18550203.2.11&l=mi&e=-------10--1----0--]

Interestingly, and commonly, the Maine Law did not explicitly prohibit the consumption of alcoholic beverages, only their manufacture and sale.  The factors that led to Maine’s temperance movement, however, involved a deeply-held commitment to the notion that alcohol consumption was fundamentally evil in terms of the effects that consumption had on society. Also relevant were the political aspirations of Neal Dow, who would run for president in 1880 on the Prohibition Party ticket.  Dow’s political aspirations, however, should not necessarily be viewed cynically or as manipulative.  His advocacy of prohibition was born of deeply-held convictions regarding the societal effects of unrestrained alcohol consumption.  The temperance movement was founded on precisely those concerns.