The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment and the American Liberty League

By David Kyvig

By the spring of 1934, some repeal [anti-Prohibition] leaders, among them John Raskob, the du Pont brothers, Jouett Shouse, William Stayton, and James Beck, were becoming upset with what they regarded as the increasingly radical course of the New Deal. They began discussing, among themselves and with a few others, the creation of a new national organization to call for "a return to the Constitution." Goaded on by Raskob especially, during the summer they made arrangements and on August 22 announced formation of the American Liberty League. The Liberty League practically reincarnated the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA). Jouett Shouse served as league president, Captain Stayton as secretary, and Grayson Murphy as treasurer. A small executive committee directed the Liberty League's affairs; its members included Shouse, Irenee du Pont, James Wadsworth, and Pauline Sabin as well as two former Democratic presidential nominees who had both been friendly to the AAPA, John W. Davis and Alfred E. Smith, and the only Republican to defeat Smith for the New York governorship, Nathan L. Miller. Raskob often met with this committee but preferred not to hold office.

The Liberty League also established a larger national advisory board of prominent individuals to enhance its stature. This too contained many names from the repeal campaign, such as Representative James M. Beck, Mrs. Henry B. Joy and Mrs. James Ross Todd of the [Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform] WONPR, Frederic R. Coudert, Jr., of the [Volunteer Committee of Lawyers] VCL, Edward F. Hutton, board chairman of General Foods Corporation and one of the Crusaders' leading financial backers, and Samuel Harden Church, Edward S. Harkness, Henry B. Joy, and Ralph Shaw of the AAPA.

Pierre, Irenee and Lammot du Pont and John Raskob became the Liberty League's heaviest contributors. Stayton used the AAPA and WONPR membership rolls to solicit members, while Sabin, Shouse and Raskob were delegated to enlist the Crusaders as well. Although Al Smith, John W. Davis, and many of the prominent businessmen who joined had not been directly involved in an antiprohibition organization, the Liberty League's leadership, membership, organizational structure, publicity techniques and doctrines nevertheless bore a striking resemblance to those of the AAPA.28
Obviously repudiated, the Liberty League sank quickly from view following the 1936 election. The du Ponts, Raskob, Shouse, and Stayton along with most of their allies thereafter avoided politics. The transformation of the antiprohibition movement into a shrill, embittered and ineffectual political splinter group distorted its historical image. The Roosevelt administration's use of the Liberty League as a political whipping boy further blackened that reputation. Prohibitionists were happy to blame their defeat on a little group of insensitive opponents of the public welfare, skillful propagandists and political manipulators who had considered only their own selfish financial interests. The image of the Liberty League having been interposed, no one disputed such charges. The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment found itself discredited and soon largely forgotten.

Source: Chapter 10, "Champagne and Sour Grapes," Repealing National Prohibition (1979)