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Progressive Era to New Era
Prohibition: A Case Study of Progressive Reform
Every Attempt to Legislate Morals Resulted in Disaster

Samuel D. Mobley lived in Winnsboro, South Carolina during the Great Depression. A former cotton broker and banker, Mobley was 74 years old when he was interviewed by the WPA. Following is an excerpt from that interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Mobley discusses a number of trends he thought were significant. What trends did he discuss? What was his view of prohibition? [The excerpt below has been slightly reorganized from the original.]

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"What are some of the most significant trends of the times I have observed in my seventy-four years?

1. The Red Shirt movement and the entire elimination of the Negro as a factor in South Carolina politics. The final chapter was written in that history when the last democratic convention of 1938 debarred the Negro from the rolls of the party. I feel like and believe that this provision will be in force for the next 100 years.

2. The change and migration of white people from the rural districts of the State to the towns and cities. This is bad. The [United?] States Government has made some attempts to check it. Looks like rural free delivery of mail and the telephones would have been helps to keep white people in the country, but good roads, consolidated schools, and the movies have proven stronger attractions. The rural part of the State has been nearly depopulated of white people. What few land owners who farm find it easy, because of good roads, to jump into their automobiles and ride out to their farms in ten or fifteen minutes. I don't look for rural electrification to induce the white people to stay in the country. The march will grow on. In fact, I look for our small towns to die out in favor of courthouse cities. See how such towns as Ridgeway and Blackstock and trading places like Woodward, White Oak, and Simpson, in Fairfield County, have gone down from importance to insignificant points of interest? It's expensive to maintain a U. S. Post office or a railroad station agent at such points nowadays. Cast your eyes around. Reflect. There is not a physician, a preacher of the Gospel, nor a school teacher living in the country outside of an incorporated town in Fairfield County.

3. The frantic assertions and demonstrative [ebulitions?] in regard to State's rights are less proclaimed than they were forty years ago. There has been full acquiescence in the National Government taking part in building our highways, looking after our health, conserving our forests, preventing the erosion of our soils, building our schoolhouses, and administering our criminal laws. Andrew Jackson has become a fixed star of the first magnitude in luminosity, and John C. Calhoun an asteroid fading and disappearing into the realm of innocuous desuetude. In the last twenty years, from 1918 to 1938, the National Government has changed its position from a servant of big business to something like a guardian ad litem in a court proceeding, wherein the people are the words who are helpless and unable to understand what is best to be done to promote their health and happiness.

4. In my young boyhood there was a phrase, 'cynosure of all eyes and the observed of all observers'. The planter occupied that position before the War of [Secession?]. Perhaps the preacher occupied the place a short while after the war. Next came the lawyer, then the doctor, next the merchant, than the banker, capitalist and captain of industry. Just where this 'seat of the mighty' is since the depression, 1929, I can't figure out. People don't bow down as much to money now as they formerly did. It begins to look as if it might have a political cast of countenance the next time. There are so many new offices and bureaus created since my boyhood, and they are so correlated with tentacles stretching out from Columbia into every county that, perhaps, the county dispenser of patronage is to be the next 'cynosure of all eyes and the observed of all observers.'

"I have noticed that every attempt to legislate morals into the people has resulted in disaster. I will call your attention to the fact that you and I remember when we had the old barroom system, the State dispensary system prohibition , and the present retail liquor shops. No system is perfect, but the worst of all was the prohibition law. Whiskey caused some trouble in Papa Noah's family and resulted in some confusion in Uncle Lot's household. But religion and morals should be taught and inculcated in the church and home, and self-control and temperance should be read and studied from the Bible rather than the Statutory Code."
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View the entire interview with Samuel Mobley from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.