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Moonshining and Prohibition

Long before the 18th Amendment outlawed the sale and consumption of alcohol in America, prohibition and moonshine had already formed an uneasy relationship.

Starting in the late 1870's the prohibition or temperance movements began to slowly seep into the South, town by town or county by county. By the 1890's the movement was gaining strength nationally, a fact that aided moonshiners tremendously. If a town outlawed the legal sale of liquor, the demand for moonshiners and their product became even greater. Prohibition reached much of the South on a state-wide level in the early twentieth century.

Prohibition also helped lower the standards of many moonshiners, the emphasis became quantity of liquor that could be produced with the quality taking a backseat. Faced with little alternative, thirsty drinkers were often not very discriminating and accepted "mean whiskey".

Prohibition movements changed the focus of the battle against moonshine. It was no longer just about taxation and collecting revenue, it was now about elimating liquor altogether, and was thus as much a moral war as it was an economic one. This proved to be a much harder task for both federal and local agents, and it only got more difficult with the rise of national Prohibition that became law with the passing of the 18th Amendment.

Men with captured still

A captured moonshine still
From the John C. and Olive Campell Collection
Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina

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