It is a pleasure to present the lucky seventh installment of the Points Interview, with Bruce Stewart joining us to discuss his new book, Moonshiners and Prohibitionists. The book has just been released by the University Press of Kentucky, as part of its excellent New Directions in Southern History series, and offers a fresh take on moonshining and its relation to the politics of prohibition. Prof. Stewart is assistant professor of history at Appalachian State University.
This book explains how prohibition sentiment, which was originally championed by middle-class townspeople, ultimately became embraced by rural Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. To demonstrate how and why this change occurred, the book chronicles western North Carolinians’ changing perceptions of local alcohol distillers (many of whom would become moonshiners after the enactment of federal liquor taxation in 1862) throughout the nineteenth century. Before the 1880s, licit distillers were viewed as entrepreneurs who provided local communities with a product (alcohol) the promoted social cohesion. Mountain residents also supported illicit distillers (or moonshiners), believing that the federal liquor tax threatened local autonomy. After the 1880s, the image of alcohol manufacturers (legal and illegal) took a turn for the worse. Portrayed as social deviants who converted “the staff of life” into “poison,” distillers on both sides of law came under attack from rural residents who – like their urban counterparts – began to advocate for statewide prohibition. Why did this change in attitude occur?