Blue Laws and the Movements to Restrict Alcohol Use in History

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The laws that limit when distilleries in Sevier County can conduct their business go back a long way in America. In fact, they go back to the colonial days. This was when Sunday activities of any kind--whether it be recreational or commercial--were strictly prohibited.

Most families used this day for worship, rest, and spending quality time with each other based on traditional religious beliefs. While these laws have mainly applied on Sundays, they can be applied to other days as well. However, due to the religious beginnings of blue laws, Sunday is a day that has been the day for families to attend church related masses or services.

Why They're Blue Laws

The reason why these laws are referred to as “blue” have nothing to do with the belief that they were printed on blue paper. They refer to someone as blue was an offensive word. It meant this person was essentially a religious zealot that held firm to strong moral codes. In 17th century America was when religion was a main partof households. Even then, it was considered mildly offensive to some if you were too religious.

It wasn’t until the 19th century did stricter laws begin to be enacted due to Protestant reformers pressing for laws. And by stricter laws, there were serious consequences for working on Sunday: getting arrested. There were many Americans during this time that were arrested for keeping their business open on Sunday. They could also be arrested for consuming alcohol. Also, for enjoying recreational activities, and even traveling was considered illegal on the Sabbath.

Laws We Don't Realize

There are many so-called blue laws that are in effect today we may not realize; for example, do you get mail on Sunday? Of course you don’t. This is taken for granted now due to the Supreme Court’s acceptance of The Lord’s Day Alliance. This is a Christian organization formed to effect change in societal acceptance of Sunday activities. The Postal Service started delivering mail on Sunday in 1810 much to the chagrin of religious groups. They started advocating against it almost immediately.

These protests were met with great pushback from businesses. However, not from union leaders, unsurprisingly. They argued that they needed the extra day for their business needs to be met. It wasn’t until the dawn of the twentieth century that technology expanded in such a way that people weren’t as reliant on the postal service. Then President Taft signed the bill into law in 1912 closing the post office on Sunday. 

Loosening of Laws

Over the years these laws have lingered in different variations in different states all over America. However most have loosened despite their benefit--as determined by a wide range of judges. This is to the American worker for secular well-being, peace, and reflection. States like Tennessee either restrict the hours of alcohol sales and consumption or prohibit the practice altogether still. There are a handful of states that even outlaw the purchase of an automobile on Sunday. This includes a large portion of housewares; and this is also the reason why the malls all over the country only operate during the afternoon hours.

Not all of this is solely related to blue laws, however. Their sales reports also tell these businesses that it’s best not to stay open all day on Sunday. This is due to the fact that many of their customers attend church service in the morning. Then they spend time at home with family to relax. This is before heading out into the real world to earn that necessary paycheck.

Recent Events and Their Effects

Relatively recent events have caused some people to say, “let’s ease up a little on repealing all these blue laws that were always standard to the American family". Some studies have shown a correlation between drunk driving on Sunday and dropping a ban on the sale of alcohol in package stores in a particular area. A larger study concluded that as a result of the repealing of blue laws, the following had occurred. There were dwindling church attendance numbers, decreased donations, and increased drug and alcohol use from church members. There have been cases, though, that have supported blue laws

Court cases have decided on the Constitutionality blue laws in recent history. The 1960’s featured several high profile cases that were handed down by the Supreme Court--the biggest one being McGowan v. Maryland in 1961. In this case, the court ruled in favor of the blue law. It ruled it was not in violation of the First Amendment.

It said that even though it encouraged people to attend church, it served to provide a secular day of rest. This meant that the intent of these laws were not solely based on promoting the Christian faith. The case originated when a grocery store owner was fined for selling goods on Sunday. This was violating Maryland’s blue law that barred this on Sunday only.

Efforts to Restrict Sale and Usage

Efforts to restrict the sale and usage of alcohol have been around for a long time. However, many people don’t realize that it’s an ongoing affair for many groups, despite its dramatic drop in support. Some of these such groups seek to educate young children to the dangers that alcohol can provide. Some obscure ones that we probably never even knew existed in the first place without some extensive research. 

Temperance Movement

The restrictions that have been put on alcohol can’t be discussed without mentioning the name of the broad--and sometimes disjointed--reforms called The Temperance Movement. Alcohol became a major part of life for the early pioneer. However, along with it came the effects of alcoholism that ravaged the early-American family, just as it does today.

Beverages became more available that caused more damages than what was originally used as short-term “fixes”, such as whiskey and rum. The first Temperance Movement was organized by farmers to ban whiskey-making; other associations began popping up in the next several decades wanting to level its usage. The ills of alcohol led to sins in the eyes of the religious person in nature. Therefore, it seemed natural that it became the belief it was antithesis to leading a moral and pious lifestyle.

This became the original checkpoint in American history that signaled limited alcohol use on Sunday. Protestant and Catholic church leaders began to join the temperance cause as a result. This influenced governments to enact laws in support.  

Total Abstinence Society

You may think that the South became a more prominent force in this movement. However, in the beginning, this wasn’t quite the case. Maine went a step farther in the Temperance Movement by forming the first abstinence organization. It was called The Total Abstinence Society in 1815. They were successful in persuading the state to pass a law prohibiting the sale of less than 15 gallons of distilled spirits.

Although it was repealed, Maine would eventually pass the first law making it a dry state. The sale and production of all alcoholic beverages was banned with the exception for medicinal, mechanical, and manufacturing purposes. This meant many people could still circumvent the law if they desired.

The Civil War

The Civil War had a devastating impact on the first Temperance Movement. It caused prohibition laws to be repealed, and to fund the war effort, states levied taxes on alcohol. So it really wasn’t as important to stunt the growth of the alcohol industry. This wouldn’t last long as momentum began picking up from Christian groups as consumption increased once again.

This second wave of temperance saw women as the main focal point of these organizations. Alcohol was the motivation for some of these women to step out of the shadows and become activists. This was because more were becoming victims of domestic abuse. Some of the most notable women of that time, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Webb Hayes--who were speaking out on women’s rights--also found the subject of temperance to be relevant and spoke out about the topic at most speaking engagements.  

Tennessee's Relevance

Tennessee’s relevance to the Temperance Movement centers on the East Tennessee town of Harriman. Activists settled here after seeking land that would attract industrial and economic development without resorting to alcohol. This would be a town founded on the principles of prohibition and reform to attract industries.

When the East Tennessee Land Company--the group that bought land for the new town--collapsed, The American Temperance University was founded in 1894, taking the space from the former ETLC headquarters. It welcomed students from across the country, but couldn’t hold strong for long, closing in 1908. 

Raines Law

The New York State Legislature added Raines Law to the books in 1896 in an effort to curtail alcohol use. They disguised it as a liquor tax. However, its provisions included a ban on selling alcohol on Sunday except in hotels. This resulted in saloon owners converting their bar into a hotel, since many workers came in on Sunday. This was because they worked six days a week, and this was the only time they could enjoy a drink. This time period--involving cases like this one--became a part of a pivotal movement. It came from some of the most influential groups in the years leading to Prohibition.

Probably one of the most thoughtful ideas that came to life during these temperance movements has to be the temperance fountains that were constructed in public. In most homes, water was not necessarily cool, crisp, and clear at that time. Alcohol provided a not-so-healthy alternative. Therefore these fountains gave people a reason not to frequent drinking establishments.

Some of these fountains were elaborately made for this reason. It gravitated people toward them and made it impossible to resist testing it. People have donated money in the past to support these causes and build beautiful bronze ones; some of them still exist today in different parts of the country.

Second and Third Wave

The second and third wave of temperance in the United States is separated because of the Anti-Saloon League’s influence. This led up to the enactment of Prohibition. They were a heavy-hitting lobbying group formed in 1893. They gained steam through rural areas picking up support from religious groups in those areas. This was where drinking was either outlawed, or frowned upon by the majority of people.

With the group centered on a single issue, they were a powerful organization that pressured legislators into believing a dry nation was the answer; whether they drank alcohol or not didn’t deter them from their agenda. Most of the members were activists at heart, and they saw themselves as preachers obligated to stomp out liquor of all forms in this country. Their influence made the other temperance groups seem very small and insignificant--ones like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition Party.

Prohibition Laws

Their attempts at securing legislation for a dry country came in different forms: national Prohibition laws, congressional hearings, emotion-based patriotism, and drumming up anti-German sentiment. They were so effective with their style, their techniques were a master class in the beginnings of modern public relations. The League’s downfall ultimately came with its failed attempts to separate some of its ties to the Ku Klux Klan, and even though their strength was lost with the repeal, it still functions today on a much smaller scale. 

The Prohibition Party is one group that we probably aren’t surprised existed during the Prohibition era, but it’s still going too; however, it’s not exactly going strong, anyway. It was actually founded a few years after the conclusion of The Civil War and lobbied pretty strongly--and effectively--against the sale and consumption of all alcoholic beverages. They were able to persuade local governments to pass laws restricting alcohol use. They also held conventions that were a big deal in their heyday; Silas Swallow was their most successful Presidential nominee, receiving over a quarter million votes in 1904. Their crowning achievement was obviously the passage of The Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol in the United States. 

Effects of the Constitutional Amendment

Their work, however, didn’t cease with the Constitutional Amendment; they continued to press for even stricter measures to enforce the law. Unfortunately for the Prohibition Party, the efforts to curb illegal usage of alcohol in communities large and small proved to be a costly affair; tax revenues were lost, and people mostly ignored the law. While alcohol use did decrease during Prohibition, a major factor in the failing of this law came from the big cities, as gangs and organized crime caused a strain on police departments and terrorized ordinary, law-abiding citizens. When the Great Depression struck in 1929, it signaled the final death knell in a law that had good intentions but no longer could be sustained. 

Ever since the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, the Prohibition Party has seen their support--in number of members and in the public--dwindle drastically. It briefly branded itself as the “National Statesman Party” in 1977 before rethinking that change a few years later. In recent elections the Party’s nominee has received just several hundred votes for President; the exception was James Hedges receiving over 5,000 votes in the most recent election, which may have spoken more about the major party candidates than an uptick in support. 

Distilled Spirits

The Prohibition period saw an increase in the usage of distilled spirits during its dwelling in the many speakeasies that existed. While in other parts of the country--especially in the South--where it was a hotbed of illegal activity for many years prior to Prohibition, many people used this opportunity to experiment with these drinks. It became popular largely because with its much higher alcohol content, it could be mixed with sodas and juices to dilute the hard liquor.

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, a sea change began to occur. Bootleggers and suppliers decided to legalize and go into business for themselves. This was in the first real efforts to broaden the range of options for alcohol in the distilled spirits category. Wine didn’t fare as well during this time. A fledgling wine industry was hindered, because productive vines were replaced with inferior quality ones that could be more easily transported. Wine-makers ended up moving to other countries to produce a better quality wine. A look around East Tennessee today is proof that the wine industry has certainly made a gigantic leap forward. It is a prominent force in the alcohol industry.

Organization's Claims of Death

In recent years, organizations have been established with the sole purpose of denying alcohol to citizens. They are claiming it’s led to countless deaths. While they aren’t wrong for that implication, it has caused some to say their efforts are too strict. They want people to make decisions for themselves about alcohol use. These organizations are--at the very least--strong advocates of limited alcohol consumption. Their funding has had a direct impact on influencing lawmakers, law officials, and ordinary citizens. Theyalter their decision-making process when it comes to purchasing and using alcohol.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving

One prominent industry watchdog is the Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization. It was founded in 1980 by a mother who lost her daughter in accident caused by an impaired driver. Their mission statement says they want to stop drunk driving, support crime victims, and prevent underage drinking. This group played a huge role in lowering the blood alcohol content levels from .10  to .08 for a DUI offense.

A vast majority have praised the efforts to prevent underage drinking--it has helped maintain the 21 year old mandate to purchase alcohol. However, its founder left in 1985 claiming they had become too neo-prohibitionist in nature. Her vision for the organization was to just focus on drunk driving. Not worrying about all the factors that she felt were outside the prism of educating on its dangers.

Another outspoken critic of the organization has felt the focus has been primarily on beer and not distilled spirits. He says that MADD should worry more about raising federal excise tax on spirits. They have significantly more alcohol per ounce. Another of the founder’s reasons for leaving is shared by a lobbying group spokesperson. They are saying that new alcohol ignition interlock devices seek to eliminate moderate drinking.

She explains that most people that are responsible should be outraged. Especially since these devices can be set in cars at the .05 level. This is still a legal level for adults under which to drive. With the increase in businesses with a license to sell distilled spirits, this is sure to be a topic that continues to be a hot button issue.

Amethyst Initiative

An undeclared opponent of some of the issues promoted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving is the Amethyst Initiative. It is an organization of college officials that recently called for a rethinking of the drinking age of 21. Their claim through observations states that promoting alcohol abstinence has not resulted in a change in behavior for students.

They feel that students are responsible enough to consume alcohol. This is especially when they can serve in the military, sign contracts, and vote. They have seen the ease at which students are able to obtain fake I.D.’s. They seek new ideas to help students make smart decisions when it comes to alcohol. While most of the signees of the initiative aren’t from large universities, they are still leaders of prominent colleges throughout the country. They seek to have their own affect on change in regards to alcohol consumption. 

Alcohol Justice

A more extreme watchdog group that takes a more severe stance on alcohol calls itself simply Alcohol Justice. This is a California non-profit advocacy group that was formed in 1987. They formed with the intent on reducing hours businesses can sell alcohol. They also advocated putting larger warning level on containers. Also, they wanted to restrict alcohol advertisements, and curtailing sponsorships at athletic events.

A decade ago they refocused their efforts that now classify them as against the entire alcohol industry. They are now seeking to go after corporations that undermine public health goals. Currently, they are going after the companies that sell alcopops--a drink that contains alcohol resembling a soda pop flavor. These come in the form of wine coolers and drinks that appeal to those who dislike the taste of beer. This is why Alcohol Justice is against them--as appealing alcoholic drinks that appeal to youths. 

Quieter than Prohibition Period

Prohibitionist and temperance groups still exist today. Their voices continue to be heard. However, they are certainly much quieter compared to similar groups prior to the Prohibition period. There is no question that there is much controversy that still lingers over the relaxing of liquor laws. These still exist in places such as Tennessee. We may still see powerful groups rise up against the tide of an industry that is finding ways of expanding its customer base. However, in the meantime, businesses are cashing in on the opportunity to make their product known.