Prohibitory laws and enactments in this country are a repetition of the reform efforts of centuries ago, only on a higher plane, showing decided evolution and growth. The laws of those early times were based on observation of the ill effects of spirits, and the expediency of checking these evils. The same laws in modern times are founded on moral theories and facts which seem to indicate no other means for relief.
In all times the sanitary evils of drink have been recognized at first only faintly, then in an increasing ratio, down to the present. To-day scientists and sanitarians are beginning to understand the perilous and dangerous influence of alcohol in nearly all conditions of life.
Modern prohibitory laws appear to be founded on mixed theories, and are not clear or harmonious in their workings. The applications of these laws, from the earliest settlements of the country down to the present time, give abundant illustrations of this. In several States prohibitory laws have been on trial for a quarter of a century and more, and have seemed to meet the expectations of their supporters. In others such enactments have been abandoned after a short experiment for various complicating reasons. Political partisanship has been so intimately concerned with these questions that the facts are very obscure.
The assertions and denials of the practical value of prohibitory enactments are equally confusing. The only unbiased authority from the census and internal revenue reports, in the states where these laws are in force, points to a diminishing use of spirits, better social and sanitary conditions, and lessened lawlessness.
Widely different explanations of this fact are urged and defended with great positiveness. High license and local option have their warm defenders and bitter opponents. Their value in different communities rests on the same uncertain and differently explained facts; often their adoption or rejection is mere caprice, political selfishness, and the changing sentiment of the hour.
The theoretical scientific study of spirits and their effects opens up another field that brings a wider conception to the problem. Here the student is confronted with the same evidence of evolution. Theories urged two thousand years ago—that drunkenness was a disease, and that spirits was an exciting cause, in some cases merely exploding a condition which was due to influences more remote and widely varied, or building up a morbid state which will require the narcotism of spirits ever—after have become demonstrable facts of modern times.
The remedies for these are restraint, control, and medical treatment of the victims, by legal enactments prohibitory and coercive. It is also evident that vast ranges of unknown causes and