Debate On Prohibition – Little Blue Book No. 884, 1924.

Recently I was exploring some of the books my grandfather had left me. Even though they are identified and known as Little Blue Books, they are 3 ½” x 5” inexpensive newsprint paper booklets. The books are compact, cheap, and often have alluring titles or topics. They have been referred to as chapbooks and have been noted to represent the true reading taste of Americans.

Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1888-1951), a known Socialist, published the “Little Blue Books” beginning in 1919. He believed that classic works of literature could be made available at a much lower price. These little booklets were made available at five or ten cents each. He purchased the Socialist paper, Appeal to Reason, along with their printing press for publication of these books. The publishing company was in Girard, Kansas. There are over a thousand titles in the series from novels to philosophical tracts to advice manuals. After World War II the popularity of these books began to decline; with the prosperity of the American public the books were less appealing. By 1949, over 300,000,000 of these books had been sold.  

Haldeman-Julius was the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant bookbinder in Philadelphia. He married Anna Marcet Haldeman in 1916 who was the daughter of a prominent banking family in Girard, Kansas and the niece of Jane Addams, famous social worker from Chicago. 

The Great Debate at the Manhattan Opera House During December 1924

The Little Blue Book chapbook being discussed in this writing puts on record the discussion regarding Prohibition and the Eighteenth Amendment which took place December 14, 1924 under the auspices of the League for Political Discussion at the Manhattan Opera House in New York as documented in the New York Times on December 15, 1924. Generally, the issue of Prohibition was not confined to liquor alone, but debates during the Prohibition Era (1919-1933) were had on what liberties governments, or its legislatures were able to take from individuals. 

Dr. Holmes Makes His Case

Dr. John Haynes Holmes defined the following reasons for liquor legislation and a constitutional amendment, for prohibition. He stated, “Liquor, in the first place, is dangerous to the public safety because it creates poverty, it cultivates crime, it establishes social conditions generally which are a burden to society. He continued with, “Secondly, liquor legislation is social legislation because liquor constitutes a deliberate exploitation of the weak by the strong. He summarized with “the real thing that the Eighteenth Amendment was after was the liquor business, the manufacturing of liquor, the distribution of liquor, the sale of liquor under a public license – a business in the hands of a few for the amassing of great millions which preyed upon the weaknesses of the people as a tenement house owner would prey upon the weaknesses of the people if he were allowed to do so in the absence of tenement house legislation”.

The Great Lawyer, Clarence Darrow, Counters With His Case

Clarence Darrow countered with these statements to Dr. Holmes affirmative thoughts on prohibition. “Men ought to hesitate a long time before they vote that a certain thing is a crime – and prohibition means crime”.  He continued with “In this world of ours we cannot live with our neighbors without a broad tolerance. We must tolerate their religion, their social life, their customs, their appetites of eating and drinking, and we should be very slow, indeed, when we make criminal conduct of what is believed by vast numbers of men and women to be honest and fair and right”. He concludes with, “This Prohibition Law has filled our jails with people who are not criminals, who have no conception or feeling that they are doing wrong. It has turned our Federal Courts into Police Courts, where important business is put aside for cases of drunkenness and disorderly conduct. It has made spies and detectives, snooping around doors and windows. It has made informers of thousands of us. It has made grafters and boodlers of men who otherwise would be honest. It is hateful, it is distasteful, it is an abomination, and we ought to get rid of it, and we will if we have the courage and the sense.”

Prohibition Made Informers of Thousands

There is always new information to be found on Prohibition in the United States; how it happened, why it happened, what was involved leading up to it, where it began, how it became legislature, what people thought of it, how it affected everyday lives, who benefited from it, who suffered because of it, what changed in American because of it, and on and on.  


Little Blue Book No. 884, 1924.