Pressure politics generally refers to political action which relies heavily on the use of mass media and mass communications to persuade politicians that the public wants or demands a particular action. However, it commonly includes intimidation, threats, and other covert techniques as well.
The use of pressure, intimidation and manipulation has existed for millennia. However, its origins are most commonly associated with the temperance movement in the late 19th century and first two decades of the 20th century. Discovering the power of utilizing the mass media to exert pressure on politicians is usually attributed to Wayne Wheeler, the de facto leader of the Anti-Saloon League. Under his mentorship, a number of skilled practitioners of pressure politics emerged within the league (Odegard, 1928). One of the most accomplished of these was William E. Johnson, better known as "Pussyfoot" Johnson.
One leader of the league testified that prior to its passage in Congress, he had compiled a list of 13,000 business people who supported prohibition. They were then given their instructions at the crucial time:
We blocked the telegraph wires in Congress for three days. One of our friends sent seventy- five telegrams, each signed differently with the name of one his subordinates. The campaign was successful. Congress surrendered. The first to bear the white flag was Senator Warren Harding of Ohio. He told us frankly he was opposed to the amendment, but since it was apparent from the telegrams that the business world was demanding it, he would submerge his own opinion and vote for submission. (Pollard, 1932, p. 107).
The league was so powerful that even national politicians feared its strength. The Eighteenth Amendment creating Prohibition might well not have passed if a secret ballot had made it impossible for the league to have punished the "disobedient" at the next election (Sinclair, 1962, p. 110).
The Anti-Saloon League did not believe its actions to be immoral. To the contrary, its activities to bring about Prohibition were viewed as moral and justified because it believed it was working to bring about God's will (Asbury, 1968, pp. 101–102).
- Asbury, Herbert. The Great Illusion:An Informal History of Prohibition. NY: Doubleday, 1950.
- Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973.
- Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League. NY: Columbia University Press, 1928.
- Pollard, Joseph P. The Road to Repeal: Submission to Conventions. New York: Brentano's, 1932.
- Sinclair, Andrew. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1962.