Founded in 1901 at Richmond's Second Baptist Church, the league raised money and organized a network of Protestant voters through church visitations and sophisticated publicity. It aimed to close saloons and dismantle the liquor industry, which it blamed for a host of social and moral problems, wherever possible by means of restrictive licensing, local option referenda, state legislation, and ultimately outright prohibition of alcohol manufacture and sales. The league emphasized practical politics. Its dominant figure, the talented but severe Methodist cleric (later bishop) and educator from Blackstone, James Cannon Jr., rejected third-party tactics and instead worked with officeholders and politicians who actually held power, many of whom opposed prohibition.
Yet Virginia's largest cities remained defiantly wet, and the conservative organization of U.S. senator Thomas Staples Martin, which controlled the state Democratic Party, was unfriendly to prohibition. In other southern states, the Anti-Saloon League was identified with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, but the Virginia league fashioned an alliance with Martin in 1909. The organization backed a dry candidate for governor, and, in turn, the league withheld calls for state prohibition and endorsed organization candidates. By 1912 the league had demanded passage of an enabling act to allow a state prohibition referendum. Martin's wet organization blocked the bill until league threats to throw its support to the Virginia Progressive Democratic League resulted in passage of the enabling act in 1914.
1901 - The Anti-Saloon League of Virginia, a group that will lead the movement bringing prohibition to the state, is established.
1904 - The Anti-Saloon League of Virginia comes under the leadership of its most forceful member, James Cannon Jr.
1908 - The Anti-Saloon League of Virginia's James Cannon Jr. helps draft legislation to close notoriously unruly rural saloons.
1912 - The Anti-Saloon League of Virginia demands passage of an enabling act to allow a state prohibition referendum.
September 22, 1914 - Virginians endorse an act that makes a statewide referendum on alcohol law, an act that the Anti-Saloon League of Virginia has been pushing for the past several years.
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First published: November 6, 2008 | Last modified: April 7, 2011