Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City
Few scholarly studies of local resistance to Prohibition exist. This book deals with New York City as the nation’s greatest liquor market at the start of Prohibition. Supporters of the Eighteenth Amendment looked forward to “drying up” New York City as their greatest triumph. Instead, the city remained the nation’s greatest liquor market with the help of smugglers, bootleggers, and scofflaws.
Coast Guard records in the National Archives include 90 archival boxes with information on boats seized for smuggling liquor from 1920-33. Lawson examines for a history of Rum Row which emerged off Nantucket and Long Island during Prohibition. Here foreign ships supplied the New York liquor market. The book looks at smuggling from Rum Row to the southern coast of Long Island, Long Island Sound, northern Jersey, Manhattan, and up the Hudson and East Rivers. (The first chapters on smuggling include extensive photographs from the archives, many never before published.)
Next the book examines the emergence of three major smuggling syndicates in Manhattan: on the Lower East Side; West Side; and in Little Italy. These syndicates eventually merged into the Broadway Mob based in midtown Manhattan.
Further, the book studies New York City’s scofflaw population — natives and tourists who “scoffed at the law” in an estimated 30,000 speakeasies and 500 nightclubs. The city produced anti-Prohibition politicians with national reputations. These included Congressman Fiorello La Guardia, Mayor James “Jimmy” Walker, Columbia University’s President Nicholas Murray Butler, socialite Pauline Morton Sabin, and Governor Al Smith.
New York City’s smugglers, bootleggers, and scofflaws resisted the 18th Amendment and actively asserted the right to drink alcohol for enjoyment. This puts them squarely in the American tradition of fighters for liberty. Their persistence was key to the unprecedented repeal of a constitutional amendment ending Prohibition.
Published by State University of New York Press, 2013, 160 pages, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-4384-4816-9 paperback and as an ebook.
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