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THE WICKERSHAM SPEECH

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Most of the opinions expressed by parties to either side of the wet-dry controversy can be liberally discounted on grounds of violent partisanship. But a speech such as that made by George W. Wickersham, chairman of the Law Enforcement Commission, at the Boston Garden Monday night cannot be passed over so lightly. His conclusion that America's policy of legal prohibition has been less successful in reducing alcoholism than the indirect methods employed by England cannot but make the most sincere dry wonder whether his ends might not be better accomplished in some other way.

Mr. Wickersham's emphasis upon the importance of popular habits in determining the issue of a conflict such as is tearing the United States, if accepted at its face value, makes the struggle seem strangely futile. What actual effect would the repeal of prohibition legislation have? Those who now drink would drink better, cheaper and possibly more liquor, but it is hard to imagine that the substantial part of the population which finds its relaxation in other ways would be greatly affected. With working hours made shorter and less wearing, and sports, radio and automobiles to provide harmless occupations for leisure time, there is small reason to suppose that any great increase in the consumption of alcohol would follow such a step.

Factors such as these exert a constant influence whether assisted by conscious governmental action or not. If prohibition has made any permanent contribution to the cause of temperance it has been in the indirect encouragement it lends this process through making liquor less accessible. But this end is also achieved by the English system of restricted licensing. When the situation is thus reduced to its fundamentals, it is hard to see that our "noble experiment" could not advantageously be replaced by one which would retain the nobility of purpose without the accompanying disruption of the whole life of the nation.

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