Our Mencken, "the sage of Baltimore," and Kansas...


April 22, 1994

WE HAVE our Mencken, "the sage of Baltimore," and Kansas has its William Allen White, "the sage of Emporia."

White was the elder by a dozen years (he died in 1944 at the age of 76), but both were widely familiar to Americans in the years between the world wars. They came from different worlds and spoke for different constituencies. Mencken was the urban sophisticate; in addition to The Evening Sun, he edited a magazine called The Smart Set. White, editor of the Emporia Gazette, was the voice of rural and small-town America.

Mencken disdained politicians and rained mockery on them. White was a co-founder of the Progressive Party in 1912, a liberal Republican offshoot devoted to social reform and individual rights. He was a confidant of Theodore Roosevelt and a leading light in the campaign to weaken the political power of isolationism as World War II loomed in 1939.

Inevitably, White and Mencken corresponded. Here the Sage of Emporia chides the Sage of Baltimore on the subject of Prohibition:

"One thing I think you misread, and that is the motive of Prohibition. Back of it all there isn't any jealous feeling of the fellow who wants to soak his hide full of coffin varnish, and more or less diluted carpet tacks, but instead a feeling that when his hide is so saturated he does things which cripples (sic) him as a producer of worldly goods, and makes (sic) him a burden to the taxpayers, either through his own desires to tear up sidewalks, or to take an ax and go home to make clam chowder out of the children, or to get on the taxes as a pauper."

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