Author: Thompson, Brent G.
Partly because belief in the Word of Wisdom supported abstinence from alcoholic beverages, Prohibition was an important political and moral issue for LDS leaders and members in the early twentieth century. Although LDS voters were naturally inclined to support legislation that limited the consumption of liquor, Utah, the state most affected by LDS votes, differed little from other western states in its position on Prohibition, with a variety of moral, political, and social issues influencing the position.
In 1908, when four states had already passed statewide prohibition laws, 600 saloons were operating in Utah. That year the national Anti-Saloon League began to recruit Prohibition supporters among the Protestant clergy and LDS General Authorities in the state. Heber J. Grant, then an apostle, became the leader among Latter-day Saints in lobbying for Prohibition. Utah Republican leader Senator Reed Smoot, also an apostle, was concerned that support for Prohibition might alienate non-Mormon Republican supporters. President Joseph F. Smith was also torn between his desire for Prohibition and his desire for defeat of the American Party, an anti-Mormon third party in the state. With many views affecting its vote, the 1909 state legislature narrowly defeated a statewide prohibition bill, and Governor William Spry later vetoed a local option bill that would have given cities authority to ban alcoholic beverage sales.
In 1910 President Smith instructed the Quorum of the Twelve to ignore statewide prohibition and work for local option. After a local option bill passed the state legislature in March 1911, Church leaders encouraged members to vote their communities "dry" in statewide elections. Most communities did so, but Salt Lake City, Ogden, and other cities with large non-LDS populations continued to allow the sale of alcohol.
Statewide prohibition again became a major political issue in 1915, with Elder Grant leading the supporters. Although Senator Smoot was no longer opposed to Prohibition, Governor Spry was. A prohibition bill easily passed the Utah legislature, but not in time to avoid the governor's pocket veto. During 1916 many LDS leaders were chagrined that Utah had not yet voted for Prohibition, particularly since Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon had already done so.
Utah joined the ranks of the "dry" states on February 8, 1917, when newly elected Governor Simon Bamberger signed a law making Utah the twenty-third state to adopt statewide prohibition. In 1919 Utah joined other states in ratifying the Eighteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution, making Prohibition national in scope.
After the depression began in 1929, anti-Prohibition forces gained strength in Utah and the rest of the country. Nevertheless, led by Grant, who had become President of the Church in 1918, LDS leaders continued to support national Prohibition. Despite this support, the citizens of Utah voted in November 1933 for both national and state repeal. One month later Prohibition ended in Utah and the rest of the nation.
Thompson, Brent G. "Standing Between Two Fires: Mormons and Prohibition, 1908-1917." Journal of Mormon History 10 (1983):35-52.
BRENT G. THOMPSON