Wisconsin Will Not Sell Rum!
“Wisconsin will not sell Rum!” was the chant of those in favor of the temperance movement in the Fox Cities beginning as early as the 1850′s. Early Yankee migrants from New England steadily moved westward by the lure of land and opportunity. These settlers held strong beliefs of the evils of intemperance and enforced anti-saloon and prohibition laws. Ten years later, however, a large influx of German and Irish immigrants brought their love of lager and indulgences. Saloons sprung up throughout the Fox Cities. Thus began a conflict over “moral decency” and the temperance movement that would continue well into the 20th century.
On January 5th, 1854, the debate intensified when the Appleton Crescent reported a gruesome story of a man who died of self-immolation. Local temperance leaders blamed rum as the cause. The reporter claimed that victim Michael Toner, an Appleton resident, became intoxicated from rum sold by a Menasha man. Toner, the reporter believed, was subjected to the evils of liquor due to the negligence of a rum salesman whose sole goal was to take their victim’s money and send them home to abuse their families, contract disease, or suffer a spiteful death.
Not only did this story spark outrage among Appleton’s Yankees, but it also angered Menasha residents who claimed the liquor actually came from Neenah. The early rivalry between the two cities bubbled up again.
“Whether Toner got his liquor in one village or the other is of little moment. Menasha is responsible for his obtaining it at all. If the grog-seller who aided in his death resides in the village of Neenah, then the curse of high heaven rest upon him. We want the Maine Law! The spectacle of the blackened and cindered corpse was a more potent argument in favor of the enactment of the Maine Law, than all the speeches ever made, or articles written, or published.” -Appleton Crescent, January 12th, 1854
Without many laws to protect women and children, the fears of abuse caused by unrestrained alcoholism were often justified. Many prohibitionists aligned temperance with women’s suffrage and the anti-slavery movements. As the movement grew, organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and Anti-Saloon League were established in Appleton and became active voices in city, state and national politics.
In 1854, an ordinance was passed prohibiting the “introduction, storing, depositing, keeping in store, in deposit or on hand, or having in possession within the corporate limits of Appleton, any spirituous, vinous, malt, fermented, mixed or intoxicating liquors or exchanging the same, or for any species of traffic.” After only two years, the fast growth of Appleton’s German population and their cultural influence on the city helped repeal the ordinance. Residents who had more moderate views on prohibition won, but others who supported temperance continued to fight for the Maine Law and their view that liquor corrupted society.
Wisconsin’s residents ultimately did not pass a referendum to support the Maine Law, but it was merely a precursor to the 18th Amendment of the Constitution (ratified in 1919) and the subsequent 1920 Volstead Act. That act prohibited the sale, possession and transportation of liquor and outlined the definition of prohibition. Read more about The Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and The Volstead Act and the lasting effects on the country including, bootlegging, Speakeasies, and crime. Just as the prohibition ordinance in Appleton was canceled, the 21st Amendment also repealed the 18th Amendment. Prohibition did not stand a chance in a nation that became the home of a collection of hardworking immigrants who knew how to have a good time, whether at the local saloon or the underground speakeasy.
Kayla Filen, intern
University of Wisconsin – Green Bay
Undergraduate in history and humanistic studies