“Our safety and happiness lie in obedience to law by every man, woman and child,” pontificated Attorney General Harry Micajah Daugherty in his keynote address to the 1921 annual conference of the American Bar Association in Cincinnati. His homily on the supposed virtue of submission to the state was offered in the service of the crusade to “suppress the age-long evil of the liquor traffic,” a holy errand to which the assembled legal luminaries were firmly committed, at least while they were on the clock.
“After hours,” Edward Behr wryly observed in his book Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America, “many of those attending the meeting were haunting the speakeasies they denounced.”
Everyone in Daugherty’s audience was aware that the Attorney General was profiting handsomely from the kickbacks and other illicit emoluments that inevitably accompany prohibition. Most of them were likewise aware that Daugherty had selected Cincinnati as the site of the conference because its police and municipal court system were entirely controlled by bootlegger George Remus – who was among the Attorney General’s most generous benefactors.
In order for the “Noble Experiment” to proceed, certain “needful lies” had to be recited by people in positions of “authority” – the most significant of which was that the state’s enforcement caste was essentially incorruptible, and thus suited to the task of reforming lesser beings through the application of violence.
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