It happened today - December 27, 2015

On this day in history, December 27, 1900, Carrie Nation smashed up the Carey Hotel bar in Wichita, Kansas. And a legend was born.

Now you may be thinking people smashing up bars is no big deal. Even causing thousands of dollars of damage, in real 1900 dollars, moves you up the police blotter but not the pages of history. But Carrie Nation was different. She was an activist.

Yes, they had those back then. Specifically, she was a Prohibitionist activist, which might get her in bad odor with today’s activist crowd. Or maybe not, with the push in Canada for warning labels on alcohol. Fun still attracts the hostile glare of the neo-Puritans who drive the PC movement.

In any case, Carrie Nation was one. Born in 1846, she married at 20 a guy who drank himself to death within three years, and developed a lifelong hatred for the demon rum. And for the rule of law, apparently.

She was an activist with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Again, a form of activism somewhat out of style today, sort of. But Nation, a large and powerful woman, called herself “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn't like” and claimed God told her to destroy saloons. And while the Occupy Wall St. types don’t typically invoke Jesus, they certainly do seem to think they are authorized by higher authority to ignore any laws they don’t happen to like.

Now Carrie Nation has a bit of an excuse. The WCTU and others were successful in getting Kansas to become the first constitutionally “dry” state, in 1880. But Americans often ignore ridiculous laws and they did this one in Kansas. Including, it seems, many law enforcement officials, who just didn’t try to shut down saloons. However, the proper course in a lawful nation is to seek court injunctions to get laws enforced, and persuade the public that it matters.

Instead Carrie Nation took “direct action,” a.k.a. sanctimonious vigilante-ism, and began marching into bars and throwing rocks at the liquor. Then her second husband, who she soon divorced, suggested an axe instead. She agreed with that, at least, and smashed up the Carey Hotel saloon with one. She went to jail, but was soon released, and went right on smashing saloons (she was arrested some 30 times for “hatchetations” as she called them), giving speeches, and selling souvenir hatchets. She was an appalling woman who even applauded the assassination of President McKinley, whom she suspected of drinking secretly, saying drunks “got what they deserved”.

She died in 1911, too early to see nationwide Prohibition go into effect on January 16, 1920, thanks to the 18th Amendment. It was of course highly ineffective, since the 1920s were not the most sober decade in American history. On the other hand it was quite effective in bringing the law into disrepute and funneling vast sums into the hands of gangsters. It all depends what you want, apparently.

Prohibition failed, of course. And it is long gone… unless you count the War on Drugs, equally futile in its ostensible goals and equally effective in fostering organized and disorganized crime. But while the targets and excuses change, the underlying spirit of breaking the law because you’re just that enlightened persists on the left.

It happened todayJohn Robson