Little Bits of History

Circumvention

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 23, 2014
Raines Law saloon/hotel

Raines Law saloon/hotel

March 23, 1896: The Raines Law is passed in New York State. The law was predominantly a liquor tax. There was also included in a line item which limited liquor sales on Sundays. It did not completely ban the sale but instead granted the privilege only to hotels. At the time, most men worked six days a week and Sunday was their day to relax in the saloons. This irritated the prohibitionists and so the law was written to stop this behavior. The luxury traveler could still get a drink either with their meal or served in their rooms. A building was considered a hotel if it had ten rooms for lodging and served sandwiches.

As many poorly written laws, this one was rife for circumvention. Many of the saloons began opening upstairs rooms and applying for hotel licenses. There were many “Raines law hotels” situated directly over working saloons. Creative businessmen also found an added use for the rooms and rather than stopping Sunday drinking, the new law increased Sunday prostitution or extramarital flings. Of course, the rooms were available all week for the other uses, as well. Since the hotels were also able to serve alcohol with meals, there were sandwiches available in the saloons, sometimes just a brick between two slices of bread. Even if the sandwich was real, the patron was not permitted to eat it when ordering his Sunday libation.

There were fourteen upstanding citizens who found this misinterpretation of the law appalling. The Committee of Fourteen demanded that saloons be examined and a city inspection passed before being given the license for hotel keepers. The twelve men and two women worked tirelessly until finally on May 1, 1905 a new law was passed making the inspections law. However, as late as 1917, a protagonist in a novel saw “A Raines Law hotel with awnings, indicating that it was not merely a blind to give a saloon a hotel license but was actually open for business.” The Committee remained active until it ran out of funds in 1932.

Blue laws are written to restrict or ban certain behaviors on Sundays in deference to religious standards. Some Islamic countries may have laws written to ban certain activities on Fridays while Israel celebrates their religious practices on Saturdays. There remain many communities, mostly in the US and parts of Europe, with stores closed on Sundays. The US Supreme Court has often upheld Blue laws as constitutional. Many places in the US are now open for business but still restrict the sale of alcohol – as well as cars. The old assumption that the laws are “blue” because they were written on blue paper is considered to be unfounded and a mistake.

Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power. – P. J. O’Rourke

Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life. – George Bernard Shaw

Two great European narcotics, alcohol and Christianity. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Alcohol gives you infinite patience for stupidity. – Sammy Davis, Jr.

Also on this day: The Man Who Would Be Pope – In 752, Pope Stephen was elected but he died before taking his seat.
Safety First – In 1857, Elisha Otis installed his first passenger elevator.
Patrick Henry – In 1775, Patrick Henry spoke to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
Row, Row, Row your Boat – In 1889, the free Woolwich Ferry began service.

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