The Illinois Issue and The American Issue: Prohibitionist Newspapers

The Illinois Issue was a weekly newspaper created in January 1906 for an audience of prohibitionist readers. The Illinois Issue was centered in Chicago, IL, and published in Downers Grove, IL. In February 1912, the Illinois Issue ceased production. Starting in July 1913, the Illinois Issue merged with a weekly national publication called the American Issue. Both papers were organized by a political group called the Anti-Saloon League. The American Issue began in 1896. It then ramped up production in 1909 because the town of Westerville, OH, donated a printing plant to the Anti-Saloon League to further the cause of alcohol prohibition.   

He wants the revenue–Is the game worth the bait? / Z.? Deball. , None. [Westerville, ohio: published by american issue publishing company, between 1915 and 1919] Photograph.

The January 19, 1906 edition of the Illinois Issue explains that “Our purpose is to set before the people of this state, in a plain way, plain facts in regard to the greatest enemy of the home, the church and the state, and the greatest lawbreaker in civilization—the organized liquor traffic.” The Illinois Issue, edited by James K. Shields, successfully shaped public opinion within Illinois against the sale of alcohol. Through the use of articles and political cartoons, the Illinois Issue galvanized believers in the temperance cause. Much like the national temperance movement, the Illinois Issue possessed a strong undercurrent of nativist political beliefs. 

Anti-saloon League of America. Anti-saloon League delegate badge. Used: 1916. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, (Accessed January 13, 2021.)

Beginning in 1918, the American Issue became a bi-monthly paper. Illinois ratified the 18th amendment to the United States constitution in 1919. The passage of the amendment marked the high point of the American Issue’s relevance and political influence. The Anti-Saloon League’s publications had a national reach. At its height, the American Issue was circulating nearly 1,800,000 copies per edition. Articles in the American Issue discussed the latest news and the depredations caused by alcohol. For most of its publication period, the editor of the American Issue was Ernest Cherrington, a former teacher who had become a prohibition activist. Headlines such as “Are Speakeasies Ruining our Youth” and “All Illinois Stirred Over Threatened Repeal of Prohibition Enforcement Laws” were crafted by Cherrington to provoke an emotional response to the issue of prohibition.   

The Great Depression’s economic effects made the idea of tax revenue from liquor sales broadly appealing politically. By 1932 the American Issue spent many of its articles attempting to rebut the claims of anti-prohibition activists. The May 1932 edition argued, “More than ten times as much beer would have to be made as was produced before the war. Or more than ten times the tax would have to be levied on the beer drinker, to bring in the revenue promised by the wets”. The American Issue remained committed to prohibition until the end. Finally, in December 1933, the 18th amendment was overturned. Prohibition was over, and groups such as the Anti-Saloon League and their publications went into permanent decline. The American Issue ended publication in 1942. 

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