LICENSE A FAILURE AND A DISGRACE.
For over two hundred years in this country, and for a much longer period of time in Great Britain and some of the countries of Continental Europe, attempts have been made to protect the people against the evils of intemperance by restrictive liquor laws. But as these laws were permissive and not prohibitory, the evil was not restrained. Nay, its larger growth came as the natural consequence of such laws, for they not only gave to a few men in every community the right to live and grow rich by doing all in their power to increase the evil, but threw around them the protection of the State; so leaving the people powerless in their hands.
HISTORY OF LICENSE IN MASSACHUSETTS.
The history of all restrictive laws which have stopped short of absolute prohibition, is a history of the saddest of failures, and shows that to license an evil is to increase its power.
Judge Robert C. Pitman, in his "Alcohol and the State," an exceedingly valuable discussion of the "Problem of Law as Applied to the Liquor Traffic," gives an instructive history of the license laws of Massachusetts from early colonial times down to the year 1877. The experience of Massachusetts is that of every other community, State or nation, which has sought to repress drunkenness and its attendant evils by the enactment of license laws; and we ask the reader's earnest and candid consideration of the facts we shall here present.
As early as 1636, an effort was made in the Old Colony to lessen intemperance by the passage of a restrictive law, declaring "That none be suffered to retail wine, strong water or beer, either within doors or without, except in inns or victualing-houses allowed." That this law did not lessen the evil of drunkenness is plain from the fact that, in 1646, in the preamble to a new liquor law it was declared by the Massachusetts colony that, "Forasmuch as drunkenness is a vice to be abhorred of all nations, especially of those who hold out and profess the Gospel of Christ, and seeing any strict law will not prevail unless the cause be taken away, it is, therefore, ordered by this Court,"--What? Entire prohibition of the sale of intoxicating drinks? No. Only, "That no merchant, cooper or any other person whatever, shall, after the first day of the first month, sell any wine under one-quarter of a cask, neither by quart, gallon or any other measure, but only such taverners as are licensed to sell by the gallon." And in order still further to protect and encourage the publican in his Tested and exclusive right, it was further enacted that, "Any taverners or other persons who shall inform against any transgressor, shall have one-half of the fines for his encouragement." This law contained a section which forbids any person licensed "to sell strong waters, or any private housekeeper to permit any person to sit drinking or tippling strong waters, wine or strong beer in their houses."
THE EVIL STILL INCREASING.
Still the evil of drunkenness went on increasing under the license system, until in 1692, we find in a preamble to certain more stringent laws for the regulation of the traffic, this sad confession: "And forasmuch as the ancient, true and principal use of inns, taverns, ale-houses, victualing-houses and other houses for common entertainment is for receipt, relief and lodging of travelers and strangers, and the refreshment of persons on lawful business. * * * And not for entertainment and harboring of lewd or idle people to spend or consume their time or money there; therefore, to prevent the mischief and great disorders happening daily by abuse of such houses, It is further enacted," etc.--not prohibition of the sale; but further restrictions and penalties. How far these restrictions and penalties were effective, appears from the statue of 1695, in the preamble of which is a complaint that divers persons who had obtained license to sell liquor to be taken away and not drunk in their houses, did, notwithstanding, "give entertainment to persons to sit drinking and tippling there," while others who "have no license at all are yet so hardy as to run upon the law," to the "great increase of drunkenness and other debaucheries."
These colonial fathers, in their efforts to lessen the evil of drinking by restrictive license, for which a fee to the State was required, opened a door for the unlicensed dram-shop, which was then, as it is now, one of the worst forms of the liquor traffic, because it is in the hands of more unscrupulous persons, too many of whom are of the lowest and vilest class, and whose tippling-houses are dens of crime and infamy as well as drunkenness.
How this was in the colony of Massachusetts under license in 1695 is seen above, and further appears in this recital taken from the statute to further limit the spread of drunkenness, wherein it refers to "divers ill-disposed and indigent persons, the pains and penalties in the laws already made not regarding, who are so hardy as to presume to sell and retail strong beer, ale, cider, sherry wine, rum or other strong liquors or mixed drinks, and to keep common tippling-houses, thereby harboring and entertaining apprentices, Indians, negroes and other idle and dissolute persons, tending to the ruin and impoverishment of families, and all impieties and debaucheries, and if detected are unable to pay their fine." All such were sentenced to the whipping-post.
Three years later, the curse of the licensed traffic had so augmented that another effort was made for its regulation by the enactment of a new and more comprehensive law entitled, "An Act for the Inspecting and Suppressing of Disorders in Licensed Houses."
WORSE AND WORSE.
How successful the good people of Massachusetts were in holding in check and regulating the evil which they had clothed with power by license, appears in the preamble to a new Act passed in 1711, "For reclaiming the over great number of licensed houses, many of which are chiefly used for revelling and tippling, and become nurseries of intemperance and debauchery, indulged by the masters and keepers of the same for the sake of gain."
So it went on, from bad to worse, under the Colonial Government, until 1787, when the State constitution was adopted. To what a frightful magnitude the evil of drunkenness, provided for and fostered by license, had grown, appears from an entry in the diary of John Adams, under date of February 29th, 1760, in which he says that few things were "so fruitful of destructive evils" as "licensed houses." They had become, he declares, "the eternal haunts of loose, disorderly people of the town, which renders them offensive and unfit for the entertainment of any traveler of the least delicacy." * * * "Young people are tempted to waste their time and money, and to acquire habits of intemperance and idleness, that we often see reduce many to beggary and vice, and lead some of them, at least, to prison and the gallows."
In entering upon her career as a State, Massachusetts continued the license system, laying upon it many prudent restrictions, all of which were of no avail, for the testimony is complete as to the steady increase of drunkenness, crime and debauchery.
TESTIMONY OF JOHN ADAMS.
Writing to Mr. Rush, in 1811, John Adams says: "Fifty-three years ago I was fired with a zeal, amounting to enthusiasm, against ardent spirits, the multiplication of taverns, retailers, dram-shops and tippling-houses. Grieved to the heart to see the number of idlers, thieves, sots and consumptive patients made for the physicians in these infamous seminaries, I applied to the Court of Sessions, procured a Committee of Inspection and Inquiry, reduced the number of licensed houses, etc., but I only acquired the reputation of a hypocrite and an ambitious demagogue by it. The number of licensed houses was soon reinstated; drams, grog and sotting were not diminished, and remain to this day as deplorable as ever."
OPENING A WIDER DOOR.
In 1816, so demoralized had the sentiment of the people become, and so strong the liquor interest of the State, that the saving provision in the license laws, which limited the sale of liquor to inns and taverns, was repealed, and licenses were granted to common victualers, "who shall not be required to furnish accommodations" for travelers; and also to confectioners on the same terms as to inn-keepers; that is, to sell and to be drunk on the premises. This change in the license laws of Massachusetts was declared, by Judge Aldrich, in 1867, to be "one of the most fruitful sources of crime and vice that ever existed in this Commonwealth."
Up to as late as 1832, attempts were continued to patch up and amend the license laws of the State; after that they were left, for a time, to do their evil work, all efforts to make them anything but promoters of drunkenness, crime and poverty being regarded as fruitless.
"Miserable in principle," says Judge Pitman, "license laws were found no less inefficient in practice." Meantime, the battle against the liquor traffic had been going on in various parts of the State. In 1835, a law was secured by which the office of county commissioner (the licensing authority) was made an elective office; heretofore it had been held by appointment. This gave the people of each county a local control over the liquor question, and in the very first year the counties of Plymouth and Bristol elected boards committed to the policy of no license. Other counties followed this good example; and to bar all questions of the right to refuse every license by a county, the power was expressly conferred by a law passed in 1837.
A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER.
The good results were immediately apparent in all places where license to sell intoxicating drinks was refused. After a thorough investigation of the matter, the Judiciary Committee of the Legislature reported the evidence to be "perfectly incontrovertable, that the good order and the physical and moral welfare of the community had been promoted by refusing to license the sale of ardent spirits; and that although the laws have been and are violated to some extent in different places, the practice soon becomes disreputable and hides itself from the public eye by shrinking into obscure and dark places; that noisy and tumultuous assemblies in the streets and public quarrels cease where license is refused; and that pauperism has very rapidly diminished from the same cause."
An attempt to prohibit entirely the retail liquor traffic was made in 1838, by the passage of what was known as the "Fifteen-Gallon Law," which forbade the sale of spirituous liquors in a less quantity than fifteen gallons, which had to be "carried away all at one time;" except by apothecaries and practicing physicians, who might sell for use in the arts and for medicinal purposes.
But this law remained in operation only a year and a half; when, in concession to the liquor interest of the State, which had been strong enough to precipitate a political revolution and get its own men in the legislature, it was repealed.
"But the State," says Judge Pitman, "while the memory of license was fresh, was not to fall again under its sway. The struggle for local prohibition was at once renewed, and in a few years license had ceased throughout the Commonwealth. The statement may surprise many; but I have the authority of the city clerk of Boston for saying, that 'no licenses for the sale of intoxicating liquors were granted in Boston between 1841 and 1852.' * * * And so the chapter of license was apparently closed. It had not only had its 'day,' but its centuries in court; and the well-nigh unanimous verdict was: 'disgrace--failure'"
So strong was this conviction in the minds of the people of Massachusetts, that Governor Bullock, in 1861, while acting as chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the House, gave it expression in these notable words: "It may be taken as the solemnly declared, judgment of the people of the Commonwealth, that the principle of licensing the traffic in intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and thus giving legal sanction to that which is regarded in itself as an evil, is no longer admissible in morals or in legislation"
THE LIQUOR POWER IN THE ASCENDANT AGAIN.
But in 1868, adverse influences prevailed, and after all her sad and disgraceful experience, Massachusetts abandoned her prohibition of the traffic and went back to license again; but the evil consequences began to show themselves so quickly that the law was repealed in less than a year.
Governor Claflin, in his message to the legislature in January, 1869, thus speaks of the effect of the new license law: "The increase of drunkenness and crime during the last six months, as compared with the same period of 1867, is very marked and decisive as to the operation of the law. The State prisons, jails and houses of correction are being rapidly filled, and will soon require enlarged accommodation if the commitments continue to increase as they have since the present law went in force."
While the chaplain of the State prison in his annual report for 1868, says: "The prison never was so full as at the present time. If the rapidly increasing tide of intemperance, so greatly swollen by the present wretched license law, is suffered to rush on unchecked, there will be a fearful increase of crime, and the State must soon extend the limits of the prison, or create another."
This law was repealed, as we have seen. A year of its bitter fruit was enough for the people.
SUBMITTING AGAIN TO THE YOKE.
But, strange to say, after all she has suffered from license laws, the old Bay State has again submitted to the yoke, and is once more in the hands of the great liquor interest. In 1874, she drifted out from the safe harbor of prohibition, and we find her, to-day, on the stormy and storm-wrecked sea of license. A miserable attempt has been made by the friends of this law to show that its action has been salutory in Boston, the headquarters of the liquor power, in the diminution of dram-shops and arrests for drunkenness. Water may run up hill in Boston; but it obeys the law of gravitation in other places. We leave the reader to draw his own conclusions from this extract from the report of the License Commissioners of that city, made February 1st, 1877: "It must be admitted that the business of liquor-selling in this city is, to a very large extent, in the hands of irresponsible men and women, whose idea of a license law ends with the simple matter of paying a certain sum, the amount making but little difference to them, provided they are left to do as they please after payment. Besides the saloons and bar-rooms, which are open publicly, the traffic in small grocery stores, in cellars and in dwelling-houses, in some parts of the city, is almost astounding. The Sunday trade is enormous, and it seems as if there were not hours enough in the whole round of twenty-four, or days enough in the entire week to satisfy the dealers."
The experience of Massachusetts is, as we have already said, the experience of every community, State or nation in which an effort has been made to abridge the evils of intemperance by licensing the dram-shop.
And to whom and to what class of citizens does the State accord, under license, the privilege of making gain out of the people's loss? For whom is every interest in the nation taxed and every industry hurt? For whom are the houses of the poor made poorer; and the supply of bread diminished? For whom are a crime-assaulted and pauper-ridden people driven to build jails and poor-houses, and insane asylums, and maintain courts and juries and a vast army of police, at the cost of millions of dollars every year?
For great benefactors to whom the nation owes a debt of gratitude? For men who are engaged in great industrial or commercial enterprises? Promoters of education? leaders in the great march of civilization? Even if this were so, better not to have accepted the service than pay for it at so fearful a cost.
Who and what are these men?--this great privileged class? Let us see. In Boston, we have the testimony of the License Commissioners that liquor-selling is in the hands of "irresponsible men and women," who pay a license for the privilege of doing "as they please after payment." And for the maintenance of these "irresponsible" men and women in their right to corrupt and degrade the people, a forced tax is laid on every bit of property and every interest in the great city of Boston! What was the tax on tea to this? And yet, Boston patiently submits!
Is it better in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Chicago or any other of our large cities? Not a whit! In some it is worse, even, than in the capital of the old Bay State. In one of these last-mentioned cities, where, under the license system so dear to politicians, and for which they are chiefly responsible, between seven and eight thousand places in which liquor is sold at retail exist, an effort was made in 1876 to ascertain the character and antecedents of every person engaged in dram-selling. We are not able to say how carefully or thoroughly the investigation was pursued, but it was in the hands of those who meant that it should be complete and accurate. One fact elicited was, that the proportion of native-born citizens to the whole number engaged in the business was less than one-sixth. Another was, that over six thousand of these dram-sellers belonged to the criminal class, and had suffered imprisonment, some for extended terms in the State prison. And another was, that nearly four thousand of the drinking-places which had been established under the fostering care of State license laws were houses of ill-fame as well! Comment is unnecessary.
We cannot lessen the evil nor abate the curse of drunkenness so long as we license a traffic, which, from its essential hostility to all the best interests of society, naturally falls into the hands of our worst citizens, who persistently violate every salutory and restrictive feature in the laws which give their trade a recognized existence.
What then? Is there any remedy short of Prohibition? We believe not.