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In the late 1920s and early 1930s "Bishop Cannon" became a household word in much of America. Methodist bishop James Cannon, Jr., was probably the most influential southern clergyman between the Civil War and World War II and certainly the most controversial. A paradoxical figure, he seemed as comfortable in the world of business and public affairs as in the church, and critics condemned him as an exemplar of the materialistic values of the 1920s.
Plunging into politics in Virginia and the nation to secure and protect prohibition, Cannon dramatically broke the taboo against preachers in politics. Often he bested the professional politicians at their own game. Cannon represented the older America of rural and small-town life, Victorian morality, and Protestant hegemony. Best known for leading the South in revolt against Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election, he symbolized the struggle against an increasingly urban, pluralistic society.
Intense, outspoken, and combative Cannon engendered fierce loyalty and deep enmity. His moment of triumph in 1928 was short-lived. Celebrated by his followers as Protestant America's foremost champion, he was denounced by critics for his anti-Catholicism and nativism. Beginning in 1929, political enemies and disaffected churchmen, notably Virginia senator Carter Glass, accused Cannon of stock-market gambling, adultery, and embezzling campaign funds. For the next five years, Cannon became the center of several scandals that generated sensational headlines across the country.
Prohibition and Politics reexamines Cannon's long, controversial career as a churchman, reformer, and politician. The result is a fresh, comprehensive, and balanced portraitof one of the most fascinating figures in twentieth-century American history.
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