“If a Free Ballot Is Worth Fighting For, It Is Worth Using”: A Letter from the National Prohibition Amendment California Ratification Committee Before the State Primary Election of 27 August 1918

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The long war waged by temperance advocates in America over many decades finally yielded the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, which took effect in January 1920 and prohibited the production, distribution and sale of almost all alcoholic beverages in the United States. In California, there were several efforts to institute this kind of prohibition but a total ban failed, though, as noted in a previous post here, a fall 1917 campaign in Los Angeles included the Gandier Ordinance, passed on 20 November and which banned saloons, prohibited the sale of liquor within city limits and regulated wine and malt liquor sales, including limiting purchases to before 9 p.m. did pass.

In mid-December 1917, Congress passed legislation for the proposed amendment and it was sent to the states for ratification (the only time an amendment was handled in this fashion) by mid-January 1919. In the meantime, crusaders from churches, the Anti-Saloon League, The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and other organizations were able to place two propositions (this direct voting device was, along the recall and the referendum, utilized since voter approval in 1911) on the ballot for the November 1918 election.

Los Angeles Times, 9 April 1918.

Proposition 1 was to bring about an outright ban on liquor and saloons, while Proposition 22 imposed punishments for the misdemeanor convictions for the manufacture, importation and sale of intoxicating beverages ranging from 25 days in jail or a $25 fine for the first offense to a hundred days or $100 for the third or more offenses. The Rev. Daniel M. Gandier (1868-1920), who was a native of Canada and a Presbyterian minister, continued on his anti-alcohol crusade by being secretary of the California Ratification Committeee for the National Prohibition Amendment, which sought to promote “dry” candidates for the primary election, held on 27 August, as well as the general campaign.

While tonight’s featured object from the Homestead’s collection is a letter from Gandier to a “Fellow-Citizen,” dated 19 August 1918, and is from the San Francisco office, the message was statewide and he was a long-time resident of Los Angeles during many of his years fighting for prohibition. Other than that the promotion of Theodore M. Wright for reelection to the Assembly identifies the recipient of the missive as being from San Jose, the rest of the document concerns broader issues for the state.

Los Angeles Express, 26 August 1918.

Specifically, Gandier wrote that, because the United States was fighting with the Allies against Germany and her compatriots in the First World War,

The boys “over there” are fighting that we may continue free to govern ourselves. If a free ballot is worth fighting for, it is worth using. You will have an opportunity to use yours on Tuesday, August 27th. The Primary Election that day will decide whether or not California will be one of the states which are going to ratify the National Dry Amendment early next year.

It is interesting to note the exercise in equivalency between the war in Europe and the war against alcohol. Consequently, the recipient was encouraged to vote for Wright, a Theodore Roosevelt-supporting Progressive who was raised in San Jose and was a printer first elected to the Assembly in 1914, but lost his reelection campaign two years later. Running as a Republican in 1918, he won the seat again and was returned to office six subsequent times before the Democratic wave during the Great Depression in 1932 led to his unseating.

Whittier News, 26 August 1918.

For 1918, Wright was the sole candidate “who has declared in favor of the National Amendment,” while “a vote for either of the other candidates would be a vote against ratification.” As to the other figures seeking election, the letter added “we also ask your support for William D. Stephens for Governor, and C. C. Young for Lieutenant-Governor.”

Stephens (1859-1944) was a long-time Los Angeles resident (one of many who came as a health-seeker as his mother, who died shortly after arrival, sought a warmer, drier climate than Ohio.) He was a prominent grocer and banker and served almost a decade as president of the Chamber of Commerce, while he was also on the city’s boards of education and water commissioners.

In 1909, when Mayor Arthur C. Harper resigned before a recall because of alleged corruption, Stephens served a couple weeks as interim mayor. From 1911-1916 he served in the House of Representatives before accepting an appointment of California’s lieutenant governor after the death of his predecessor. When Governor Hiram Johnson resigned to take a seat in the United States Senate, Stephens moved into the chief executive role and sought election in 1918.


Clement C. Young (1869-1947) came to northern California from his native Vermont as a child and was a high school English teacher in San Francisco before working in real estate and entering politics. He served in the state Assembly from 1909-1919, including six years as its speaker, before running for lieutenant governor in the 1918 campaign. Gandier’s missive noted Young’s tenure in the legislature made “him well qualified” for the office and continued that “he is the only Candidate for that office who has declared in favor of the National Dry Amendment.”

The missive further noted that “the Republican nomination for Governor will go to either Stephens or Rolph,” this latter being the colorful mayor of San Francisco, James “Sunny Jim” Rolph, Jr. (1869-1934.) As chief executive of that city for almost twenty years, still a record, Rolph decided to seek the governorship in 1918, but did so under the provision of the state’s primary election law that allowed him to seek the nominations of both the Republican Party, of which he was a member, and the Democratic Party.

Rolph actually won the latter, but, as a member of the G.O.P., his popularity led Gandier to state that “a man who has so seriously failed to enforce law in San Francisco is not the man for Governor during these troubled times.” As if it was secondary, though the reverend was, of course, a crusader of the first order, it was added, “then, too, Rolph opposes the Dry Amendment, while Stephens is outspoken in his support of it. The letter concluded with an appeal to the recipient that, “no matter how busy you are,” to “get to the polls” and vote for the three favored candidates.

Los Angeles Record, 30 August 1918.

The California Ratification Committee endorsed Stephens and Young at a meeting in early April and ads in local newspapers just before the primary election included ones subscribed by Gandier as secretary. One from the Whittier News of 26 August issued “A Word to Patriotic Citizens” proclaming that “if democracy is to succeed we must destroy not only Kaiserism, but also alcohol,” a more direct expression than what was in the letter, and it was added that, with Americans fighting for democracy, those who chose not to vote “are slackers.”

It was further noted that “the wet voters of San Francisco” were seeking “to nominate their wet mayor as Governor.” What was needed were three-quarters of Los Angeles’ registered voters to get to the polls to nominate Stephens and Young and ensure that “the Dry Amendment will be ratified by the next Legislature.” Another ad in that day’s Express stated that the organization represented the Anti-Saloon League, the W.C.T.U., the Prohibition Party, “and all the other Federated Dry Forces of the State” in recommending a slate of candidates, noting that:

In some districts, where all the candidates favor ratification of the National Dry Amendment, all have been named. This does not mean that all are equally active in the fight for prohibition or equally deserving of support. It means that in the judgment of the Ratification Committee any one of them can be depended upon, if elected, to support this particular measure.

In other districts, one candidate has been recommended out of two or more who favor ratification, because in each of those districts there is a wet candidate in the contest and it is important to prevent a division of the dry votes among several dry candidates, thus making probable the nomination of a wet candidate.

The Committee has tried to learn the facts and to make recommendations in the interest of the cause, without considering the desires of particular individuals or factions.

So, in addition to endorsing Stephens and Young, the Committee identified candidates in three state senate and thirteen assembly races, with only one office-seeker recommended in a few races. The fundamental problem for the prohibition supporters was two-fold: primary elections are almost always marked by very low voter turnout and the support for the two propositions was not enough statewide, especially in “wet San Francisco,” to pass.

Arcadia Tribune, 31 August 1918.

Because of Rolph’s unusual position of winning the Democratic nomination, but losing the Republican one, he was “shut out of the running,” as expressed by the Burbank Review of the 30th (though Rolph did have the misfortune of serving as California’s governor during the first years of the Great Depression from 1931 until his death three years later), and Stephens was a virtual shoo-in to win the election in November, which he did, along with Young. Interestingly, Charles H. Randall, a Prohibitionist running for reelection to the House of Representatives, was roundly criticized for being a pacifist concerning the world war, but managed to win reelection, though he was defeated in 1920 (still an ardent Prohibition defender, Randall went on to serve on the Los Angeles City Council from 1925 to 1933, while consistently losing campaigns for the House and Senate through the mid-Forties.)

As for the propositions, the November election demonstrated that, overall, the Golden State’s voters were not prepared to either close saloons or to support misdemeanor punishments for those manufacturing or selling alocholic beverages. The saloon measure, Proposition 1, garnered some 256,000 votes, but about 342,000 voted against it, while Proposition 22, and its punishments protocols, had about 275,000 votes in support and some 346,000 voted against it. In both cases, the no votes constituted 57% of those who turned out, while 43% were in agreement.

Record, 2 November 1918.

Part of the issue, however, may have been that, with Congress having already set the constitutional amendment in motion and with fourteen states having ratified it between January and August 1918, that some voters might have seen the writing on the wall and cast a no vote with certainty that it was only a matter of time before the others 22 states needed to make the amendment law did so.

There was not a fifteenth state voting to ratify until the end of November, by which time the World War mercifully came to an end earlier that month. During the first three weeks of January, twenty-seven states followed suit, including California, the 22nd state to do so when it voted on the 13th. Connecticut and Rhode Island never ratified, while New Jersey put it off until March 1922. For all of the massive effort put into implementing Prohibition, it was widely honored in the breach and contributed significantly to the growth of organized crime, even as some general success was experienced in reducing alcohol consumption levels. and the “great social experiment” was repealed, the only time this has happened, in 1933.

Times, 8 November 1918.

This letter is an interesting artifact representative of the continuing push by temperance crusaders in California for national prohibition, even if their attempts at the local and state level were mixed.

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