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The Prohibition Party

Although it was (and is) a minor political organization, the Prohibition Party in its heyday trumped its negligible electoral strength with decisive influence over public policy. The Prohibition Party, whose cause was to prohibit the use of alcoholic beverages in the country, came into being in 1869 at a convention in Chicago organized by the Rev. John Russell of Michigan. Delegates from 20 states were present. Its conception was spurred by several factors, among them the failure of public officials to enforce existing prohibition laws on the local and state level, lack of support for prohibition by the Republican and Democratic parties, and the galling formation of the United States Brewers' Association. Candidates were immediately fielded in nine local and state elections, from 1869 to 1871. Prohibition Party platforms frequently included prohibition of gambling, women's suffrage, currency and prison reform, and free Public Education. In 1872, candidates for president and vice president were slated; the best showing occurred in 1892 with 271,000 votes received by John Bidwell for president. The Prohibition Party allied with other organizations whose aims were quite similar, including the Women's Christian Temperance Union (1874), the Anti-Saloon League (1893), and various Protestant church temperance societies. The party's greatest victory occurred not through the ballot box, but by grassroots pressure on national lawmakers. The Congress passed the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages nationwide. It was ratified in 1919. Prohibition was a rank failure and the party witnessed the nadir of its hopes with the Amendment's repeal in 1933. One of several tiny third parties, the Prohibition Party has survived into the 21st century; its agenda is the same and it promulgates a conservative approach to most public policy. The University of Michigan houses some of its historical documents, while other materials are located in Denver, Colorado.