Progress in the twentieth century
Although the temperance movement in Great Britain shared the goal of their comrades in America of eliminating alcoholic beverages entirely, they were realistic in appraising their chances of success. In the first decade of the 20th century the British temperance movement adopted the tactic of limiting the number of places where alcoholic beverages could be obtained, and then limiting the number of hours per day in which they could be open for business. Britain’s ruling Liberal Party adopted the policy of supporting local options and attempted to pass a law closing a significant number of pubs, but resistance by the Conservatives and the powerful brewing industry stopped them.
The temperance movement in the UK received a boost when the First World War began, and US President Woodrow Wilson issued limits to the sale of alcohol to nations at war. Officially neutral, the United States was divided for a time over whether to support the British and French or the Germans, such was the extent of the German community in America. The pro-German leanings led to much of the British generated war propaganda which identified the Germans as the “brutal Hun”, an image the Germans added to themselves with their U-boats, especially after the sinking of the Lusitania and the loss of American lives.
With limited alcohol from the United States and grain sales curtailed to support food production, the Liberal Party in the UK passed the Defense of the Realm Act in 1914. It was determined that watering beer to stretch its supply, lowering its alcohol content and weakening its taste, was an important contribution to the defense of the Empire. The hours in which pubs could operate were subject to licensing, longer hours required a more expensive license, and an additional tax was placed on beer and ale, at the rate of one penny per pint. In 1916, many of the pubs which were up to then operated by the breweries were nationalized by the government.
In other parts of the British Empire other methods were taken to curtail the sale and consumption of alcohol, urged by the temperance movement and enacted under the guise of war measures. New Zealand came close to enacting national prohibition several times during the course of the war. As with its neighbor Australia, laws were passed which severely limited the hours during which purveyors of alcohol could be open for business, and bars were required to close early. Canada passed similar laws, as well as limiting alcohol content in beer to 2.5%. For a short time, Canadians crossed to the United States for beer.
While the worldwide temperance movement still argued that the banning of alcohol was a moral Christian imperative, by 1915 the actual accomplishment of prohibition was in the hands of the politicians. In December 1917 the United States Congress passed a resolution calling for an amendment to the Constitution establishing national prohibition. By January 1919 it had been ratified in 36 states and became law. In October of 1919 Congress passed the Volstead Act – legislation which established the means of enforcing the new national law. Americans began to buy up existing stocks of alcohol before Prohibition began in 1920.