Cannabis Time Capsule 1933: Meet the father of American Prohibition
Richard Pearson Hobson.
Today in Cannabis Time Capsule, we'd like to introduce you to the Father of American Prohibition, Richard Pearson Hobson. You can thank him for such things as marijuana prohibition, the war on drugs and America's failed attempt at making alcohol illegal in the 1920s.
In this 1933 article from the Steamboat Pilot, Hobson outlines his plan for ridding the nation of dope by 1963. That plan failed, which seemed to be the story of his life.
And now, some background. Hobson became famous for being captured during the Spanish-American War after unsuccessfully trying to block up a harbor by sinking his own ship. He was captured, imprisoned in Cuba and became a propaganda tool, with all sorts of fake stories about his bravery circulating along with photos of the guy and his most-amazing facial hair. He was later released, returning home to a hero's welcome and becoming a popular speaker. He was also apparently pretty smooth with the ladies, who all bought into the stories of his taking on a suicide mission and loved to be seen smooching with him.
Before he was thrust into the public eye, he was a kiss-ass snitch. His cohorts in the Naval Academy thought he was a complete tool because of his disdain for their tobacco and alcohol use. According to one account from a fellow shipmen found in a 1979 American Heritage Magazine piece:
"Someone who knew him as a boy in the Alabama cotton country, where Hobson had been born in 1870, remembered him as 'gravefaced'. His manner was stiff and formal; his conversation, almost comically stilted.' When he entered the United States Naval Academy, he quickly became a pariah by conscientiously reporting the misdemeanors of his classmates. Only one man is said to have spoken with him for two entire years. But when his fellow midshipmen offered to make it up, Hobson refused; he had, he said, gotten along perfectly well without them."
Hobson then rode his popularity into politics, eventually becoming a U.S. Representative for Alabama from 1907 to 1915. It was during this time that he got a bug in his ass about drugs and alcohol, and after retiring from Congress, he took up a crusade. Before and during prohibition, he was the highest-paid speaker for the Anti-Saloon League, one of the groups instrumental in getting alcohol prohibition passed in 1919 (it went into effect in January of 1920).
In his speeches, Hobson would talk about the scientific fact that alcohol would literally drown the "higher nature" part at the top of your brain with vapors and, over time, would make the user into, basically, an ape. He also blamed booze for the fall of ancient society as we know it:
"Alcohol tears down the top part of the brain, so that every time a man drinks, will power declines. In destroying the seat of the will power, alcohol destroys the seat of the moral senses, and of the spiritual nature, the recognition of right and wrong, the consciousness of God and of duty and of brotherly love and of self-sacrifice. It is this same lowering of the average citizen's character in the past that entailed the overthrow of the liberties of Greece and Rome and other Republics."
Not only that, but Hobson was profoundly racist (as were his friends in the KKK, which was also a huge supporter of prohibition). Here's just a sample, taken from a 1914 speech:
"Liquor promptly degenerates the red man, throws him back into savagery. It will promptly put a tribe on the war path."
"Liquor will actually make a brute out of a negro, causing him to commit unnatural crimes.... The effect is the same on the white man, though the white man being further evolved it takes longer time to reduce him to the same level."
His take on pot likely wasn't all that different. By August of 1933, with the failure of alcohol prohibition apparent (it was repealed in December of 1933), Hobson had moved on to the war on drugs -- which we now all recognize as another of Hobson's complete failures.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.