Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition

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by Karen Blumenthal

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It began with the best of intentions. Worried about the effects of alcohol on American families, mothers and civic leaders started a movement to outlaw drinking in public places. Over time, their protests, petitions, and activism paid off—when a Constitional Amendment banning the sale and consumption of alcohol was ratified, it was hailed as the end of public

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It began with the best of intentions. Worried about the effects of alcohol on American families, mothers and civic leaders started a movement to outlaw drinking in public places. Over time, their protests, petitions, and activism paid off—when a Constitional Amendment banning the sale and consumption of alcohol was ratified, it was hailed as the end of public drunkenness, alcoholism, and a host of other social ills related to booze. Instead, it began a decade of lawlessness, when children smuggled (and drank) illegal alcohol, the most upright citizens casually broke the law, and a host of notorious gangsters entered the public eye. Filled with period art and photographs, anecdotes, and portraits of unique characters from the era, this fascinating book looks at the rise and fall of the disastrous social experiment known as Prohibition.

Bootleg is a 2011 Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year title.
One of School Library Journal's Best Nonfiction Books of 2011.
YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist in 2012.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The breadth of the well-researched material makes Bootleg a substantial resource for reports; a deep bibliography and copious source notes provide ample opportunities for further study…this book is also a lively read…” —School Library Journal

“While lively anecdotes and personal stories keep the reading brisk and often quite jovial, readers are never allowed to ignore the fact that so many "good" citizens became insidiously inured to casually breaking the law, and that acknowledging the realities of this moral lapse ultimately led to repeal.” —BCCB

“An informative, insightful account of a fascinating period of American history.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The scope is ambitious, but Blumenthal investigates various tangents with telling anecdotes, quotes, statistics, photographs, and illustrations without losing her focus on the bigger picture. Whether you consider ongoing problems with substance abuse or increasingly polarized political discourse, the book is startlingly relevant to modern times in many ways, marking Blumenthal as one of the more intellectually adventurous authors writing for young adults today.” —Horn Book Magazine

“…a highly readable, well-shaped look at the Eighteenth Amendment… Plenty of archival images lend to the book's pleasant design, and an ample bibliography and source notes close out this top-notch resource, which will also help spark discussion on the current War on Drugs.” —Booklist

Children's Literature - Leigh Geiger
Blumenthal provides a thorough and well-balanced look at the prohibition movement. In a mostly chronological presentation, she describes the use of alcohol and Americans' attitudes toward it, from the colonial era through the Civil War into the early twentieth century. The thoughts and influence of important figures such as Morris Sheppard, Carrie Nation, and Andrew Volstead are explored. Equal treatment is given to the arguments of those who opposed temperance, as well as to the political, social, and economic influences on both sides. When prohibition began in 1920 with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, corruption, and lawlessness ensued. Blumenthal looks at this from several different viewpoints. She describes increased drinking on college campuses, Al Capone and his gang, pharmacists filling bogus prescriptions for alcohol with lethal poisons, and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. But readers also learn about the successes of prohibition, including lowered alcohol consumption, more education about the health effects of drinking, and the eventual founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Blumenthal also discusses the social, political, and economic forces behind these reactions, providing a special focus on the Great Depression. Every other page of text includes black and white photos of the period, including portraits, newspaper coverage, and temperance posters. This well-researched reference includes a glossary of idioms from the temperance era, an extensive bibliography and source notes, as well as a thorough index. Reviewer: Leigh Geiger, Ph.D
School Library Journal
Gr 7–10—Gangsters, guns, and political battles—this book has them all—and presents them in compelling prose. Blumenthal opens with the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre, then traces the history of the temperance movement from the Puritans through the signing of the 21st Amendment. Important individuals are given the spotlight, some well-known like Al Capone and Carrie Nation, others more obscure but equally essential, such as Senator Morris Sheppard, the Father of National Prohibition. The author also adds a fascinating epilogue that examines the effects of the era, both positive and negative, including advances in technology and progress in legislative theory. Black-and-white period photographs and reproductions of propaganda material add immediacy to the text. The breadth of the well-researched material makes Bootleg a substantial resource for reports; a deep bibliography and copious source notes provide ample opportunities for further study. However, this book is also a lively read and an excellent choice for displays and booktalks. The subtitle alone will pique readers' curiosity.—Rebecca Dash Donsky, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews

When Congress passed the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol, supporters were convinced it would create a stronger, more moral nation. Instead, it ushered in an era of corruption and lawlessness, here brought to life with a fast-paced, gripping narrative and period photographs.

The story opens dramatically in 1929 with the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the murder of seven Chicago men that epitomized the gangland violence that became a routine by-product of bootlegging. Blumenthal then chronicles the rise of the temperance movement in the late 1800s, the passage of and life under Prohibition and its repeal in 1933. The story is populated with colorful and notorious characters, such as the hatchet-wielding Carry Nation, gangster Al Capone and Morris Sheppard, the golden-tongued senator and champion of Prohibition. Drawing from period newspaper accounts, personal anecdotes and other primary sources, the author puts a human face on history, chronicling how parents brewedbooze in their bathtubs and children smuggled the hooch. Blumenthal acknowledges that Prohibition was successful in some notable ways: Arrests for public intoxication declined as did alcohol-related diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver. Whatever positive outcomes there were, however, were eclipsed by the widespread corruption and violence of bootlegging.

An informative, insightful account of a fascinating period of American history. (glossary, bibliography, source notes) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)

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Product Details

Roaring Brook Press
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Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

BOOTLEG (Chapter 1)The Little Sheppard

LOOKING BACK on the childhood of Morris Sheppard, you can see glimmers of a budding statesman, the kind of earnest political leader who would want to make a big difference in the world.

Born in 1875, little Morris learned poetry and literary passages before he was old enough to recognize his ABCs. As a toddler, he would stand on the counter of a local store in rural East Texas and recite verses for a stick of candy, continuing until his pockets couldn't hold another piece.

Attending schools in small Texas towns like Daingerfield, Black Jack, and Pittsburg, he studied Greek, Latin, history, and English and developed persuasive skills and an apparent flair for leadership. At 13, he shared with some other boys the story of William Tell, the legendary marksman who shot an apple off his son's head with a bow and arrow. Admiring Tell's skill and bravery, but lacking the arrows, Morris and his friends decided to reenact the deed--with a gun.

"We are told," reported the Pittsburg Press in 1888, "that several boys stood with apples on their heads and Morris with a target rifle shot them off--that is to say, the apples, fortunately not their heads."

The boys' parents were horrified when they heard about the game and put a quick end to it. Morris escaped a whipping but got a stern lecture from his father, a local judge.

When Morris finished his regular schooling at 16, he moved on to the University of Texas in Austin. Jumping into student life at the young and still-small school, he joined a fraternity, led a literary society, played the cornet and piano, and sang in the glee club. Always fond of a good joke, he got a kick out of entering the dining hall by walking on his hands. But he was best known for his preacherlike speaking skills and was selected to compete in contests and serve as a graduation speaker.

From there he went to law school, spending two years in Austin and a third at Yale University in Connecticut. Once again, he attracted attention as a star orator, winning a debating prize and speaking at the graduation ceremonies.

Somewhere between his general-store recitations and his law degree, young Morris came to a heartfelt belief: He despised liquor and the saloons that sold it. He sometimes said his feelings grew out of his grammar school science classes, where he saw vivid drawings of a drunkard's stomach and read about how alcohol destroyed the human body.

He may have been influenced by the anti-liquor stance of the Methodist church, which he joined as a college student. His time at Yale also may have hardened his stance. He arrived there in debt and driven to succeed. So, he said, "I cut out every item of expense that was possible and quit every practice which might be injurious"--including tobacco, coffee, and tea. The result, he said, was "so satisfactory" that those items "remained on the contraband list ever since."

After Yale, young Morris began practicing law in East Texas, but in 1902, his career took an unexpected turn. His father, John, who had been elected to a second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, fell ill and then passed away. Friends immediately urged Morris to run for his father's seat.

By the mid-1920s, when he posed with two youngsters in front of the Capitol, Sheppard was a senior statesman in Congress.

Jumping in just ten days before the primary election, Morris stumped the district, delivering an average of seven speeches a day. When his opponents made fun of his youth, he replied that it was something he "was overcoming day by day."

To nearly everyone's surprise, he won the seat. At the age of twenty-seven, he headed to Washington.

Small in stature at 5 feet, 7 inches, slight at 135 pounds, and youthful looking, Sheppard hardly looked like a Congressman. "It will take the older members some time to get to know Mr. Sheppard, so that they will not try to send him on errands," the Washington Post noted.

While most known for his glittery speeches, Sheppard (center, seated) also chaired a U.S. House Public Buildings and Grounds Committee in 1912.

Nicknamed the "boy orator of Texas," Sheppard was originally known more for his speaking skills than for any special legislation. As the "boy" matured into a confident congressman, the world outside of Washington was changing. Debates that had simmered for years over whether alcohol was dangerous and should be legally banned were beginning to roll to a boil. Originally, the arguments took place community by community and county by county. But as the number of towns outlawing liquor sales and saloons multiplied, the organizers raised the ante, taking aim at entire states. To support their efforts, Sheppard introduced legislation to keep liquor from moving from wet areas--where liquor was legal--into dry ones, where liquor was outlawed.

In 1911, he actively campaigned to prohibit the sale of alcohol throughout Texas, openly supporting prohibition for the first time. Despite his efforts, the prohibition proposal fell a few thousand votes short in the hotly contested election.

In 1913, one of Texas's U.S. senators resigned. Sheppard outmaneuvered a more popular candidate, and the Texas legislature selected him to fill the powerful job as senator. In a colorful speech to the state legislature, he accepted his new job, calling for limits on working hours, clearer and simpler laws, and, with fiery eloquence, an end to liquor sales.

"The liquor traffic is a peril to society," he said. "I shall oppose this scourge from hell until my arm can strike no longer and my tongue can speak no more.

"I shall oppose it because I hear the cries of children who are hungering for bread. I shall oppose it because I see a mother's wasted face, her pale lips pleading with the besotted figure at her side.

"I shall oppose it because I see the staggering forms of men whose trembling hands hold but the ashes of their strength and pride.

He concluded, "I shall oppose it because its abolition will mean a new stability for the Republic, a new radiance for the flag."

Just months later, toward the end of 1913, the two biggest anti-liquor groups in the nation decided the time was right for an even more dramatic move. To end the scourge of alcohol now and for future generations, they proposed a national solution--not just a law, but an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would forever ban the sale of liquor throughout the country. To champion their cause in the U.S. Senate, they turned to Morris Sheppard.

On a chilly winter day in December 1913, some 4,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to take crucial steps toward changing America's drinking habits once and for all. Leading the march were children.

Sheppard was elected to the Senate in 1913.

At the very front, a young boy carried an American flag. Just behind him, dozens of girls in white dresses carried banners calling for a national prohibition on alcohol. Following them were Woman's Christian Temperance Union members from every state, many wearing the white ribbons that symbolized prohibition. Some sang their anthem, "A Saloonless Nation by 1920."

Woman's Christian Temperance Union and Anti-Saloon League members march toward the Capitol in 1913 to present a proposed prohibition amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Joining from another direction were the men of the Anti-Saloon League. Together, they marched to the Capitol. Waiting on the steps to receive a proposed constitutional amendment were Senator Sheppard and Representative Richmond Pearson Hobson of Alabama.

Later that day, Sheppard introduced this constitutional amendment in Congress for the first time, saying, "The fact that alcohol undermines the brain and paralyzes the will of man, planting in him and his posterity the seeds of physical and moral degeneracy, the seeds of disease, the seeds of poverty, the seeds of crime, makes it a peril to the very existence of free government. Let the people of this Nation insert in the National Constitution, the source of the Nation's life, a clause prohibiting an evil that will prove to be the source of the nation's death."

Results might take years. But with patience and determination, Sheppard and his supporters could--and would--change the culture, the behavior, and the course of America.

For his role, Morris Sheppard would be known as the Father of National Prohibition. It would turn out to be a most dubious distinction.

A playbill highlights the sobering message of Ten Nights in a Bar Room, a popular, long-running temperance play.

BOOTLEG Text copyright © 2011 by Karen Blumenthal

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Meet the Author

KAREN BLUMENTHAL is a long-time journalist who has written for both adults and young people. She previously wrote about the 1920s in Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929, which was a Sibert Honor Book, and about social change in Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, which won a Jane Addams Children's Book Award. She lives in Dallas, Texas.

Karen Blumenthal is an award-winning children's non-fiction writer and a long-time journalist. Her book Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition received four starred reviews and was a finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award. Later, Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929, was named a Sibert Honor Book, and Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, won a Jane Addams Children's Book Award. Karen's recent book, Tommy: The Gun That Changed America, explores the history and controversy of the famous and deadly Tommy gun. She lives in Dallas, Texas.

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Bootleg 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So shoelppp So shocking and cooat the So shocking and cool at the same time must read S l
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm 9 should I read it????