Barleycorn Must Die
The War Against Drink in
F. Johnson III
Foreword by U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson
illustrated history of the state’s war against demon
traditional British folk song that the rock group Traffic
made famous in the 1970s and that lends its name to this
book’s title demonstrates, the battle against John
Barleycorn was a losing one: “And little Sir John
and the nut-brown bowl / Proved the strongest man at last.”
Ben Johnson’s sweeping, highly readable, and extensively
illustrated “spirited” overview of Arkansas’s
efforts to regulate and halt the consumption of alcohol
reveals much about the texture of life and politics in the
state—and country—as Arkansas grappled with
strong opinions on both sides.
early attempts to keep drink from the American Indians during
the colonial period, temperance groups’ efforts switched
to antebellum towns and middle-class citizens. After the
Civil War new federal taxes on whiskey production led to
violence between revenue agents and moonshiners, and the
state joined the growing national movement against saloons
that culminated in 1915 when the legislature approved a
measure to halt the sale, manufacture, and distribution
of alcohol—including that of Arkansas’s substantial
wine industry. The state supported national prohibition,
but people became disillusioned with the widespread violations
of the law. However, the state didn’t repeal its own
prohibition law until a fiscal crisis in 1935 required it
in order to raise revenue. The new law only authorized retail
liquor stores, not the return of taverns or bars.
effort to restore laws against John Barleycorn in 1950 was
rebuffed by voters. Still, there are a number of counties
in Arkansas that remain dry and disputes over the granting
of private club licenses continue to make news.
is an indefatigable researcher, tenacious in ferreting out
the details. His study of the war against demon rum is fascinating.
. . . [T]his book doesn’t take a position ‘fer
or agin’ spirituous liquor, but it does help the reader
to understand that, in earlier times, opposition to the
sale and consumption was deep and wide.”
the 1890s a southern farmer could make about ten dollars
when he hauled his twenty bushels of corn to town, whereas
distilling forty bushels into 120 gallons of whiskey could
clear $150, without the federal tax."
book has been supported by the Old State House Museum and
the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.
Johnson III is an associate professor of
history at Southern Arkansas University. He is the author
of Arkansas in
Modern America: 1930-1999 (Arkansas) and Fierce
Solitude: A Life of John Gould Fletcher (Arkansas).
exhibit on which this book is based won an Award of Merit
from the American Association for State and Local History
(2004): “This is an exhibit worthy of being a national
model for others to emulate. ”
106 pages, 50 photographs,
7 1/8" x 8 1/2"
$24.95 (s) cloth
ISBN 978-1-55728-787-8 | 1-55728-787-2