A Career in Jeopardy

When Wilton B. Hudson, editor of the Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times, wrote of High Sheriff Michael B. Lynch in 1932, he concentrated on the Warwick officer’s many successes. Hudson said very little, however, about the problems Lynch encountered as a “Special Liquor Constable.”

Michael B. Lynch’s difficulties in this area began in 1886 when sufficient pressure had been exerted on the state legislature to force a constitutional amendment that prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages in Rhode Island.

“Boss” Brayton against prohibition

By this time, Charles R. Brayton of Apponaug was not only the political "boss" of Warwick, but controlled the State Legislature as well. Brayton was against this legislation and, according to William G. McLoughlin's Rhode Island, A History, decided to sabotage the bill. McLoughlin tells us, "...he had the legislature appoint him chief of the state police (a newly created post) with a large staff, …second, he had twelve new judges appointed to try those he caught." McLoughlin points out, "Being a noted tippler himself, he (Brayton) reported a year later that the law was "unenforceable." Brayton won out on the state level and in 1888 the prohibition law was repealed.

The law in Warwick

To appease those who were strongly in favor of prohibition, however, the legislature passed a local option law the same year. Some bad publicity stemming from Brayton’s handling of the situation resulted in the “boss” keeping a low profile on the issue. As a result, local laws against the use of alcohol were passed in Warwick. The Town Council, which was controlled by Charles B. Brayton, appointed Michael B. Lynch and Michael H. Riley "Special Liquor Constables." Brayton, the staunch anti-prohibitionist, exerted his political power to get Lynch and Riley appointed and also influenced their performance.

Teetotaler P.H. Quinn

According to Warwick Town Council Records dated July 1899, Town Solicitor Patrick H. Quinn challenged Lynch and Riley's performance. Quinn, a leading Democrat from western Warwick and a teetotaler, charged that Riley and Lynch failed to perform their assigned duties. Quinn said, "Lynch in his said capacity as Special Constable has neglected to close unlicensed saloons...has neglected to prosecute persons selling liquors ...without a license." He also charged that Lynch, "...has neglected to enforce the provision of ...closing of saloons on Sundays...."

P.H. Quinn was well noted for seizing every detail and he did in this instance. He asserted that if it were possible to look into the windows of a saloon, anyone drinking illegally would be exposed. Taverns, realizing, this often put screen on the windows to block the view. Quinn charged that Lynch, "...has neglected to enforce ...the General Laws relative to the removal of screens and other obstructions from the windows of licensed places on Sundays ...which prevented a clear view of the premises from the outside...."

Lynch removed from office

Michael Lynch was defended by John H. Flanagan, (a colleague and mentor of P. H. Quinn) who declined to produce evidence on Lynch's behalf and Lynch was removed from office. In later years, Lynch regarded this as a severe blow to his pride, for he strongly asserted that he always tried to do his duty as he saw it. In this case, perhaps, his loyalty to Brayton and the general disregard for prohibition in the Pawtuxet Valley seems to have affected his judgment.

It seems obvious that Quinn, who was a constant thorn in the side of the Republicans who controlled Warwick, may have seized upon the issue for political rather than moral reasons as Quinn and Lynch were lifelong friends. The episode did not hinder Lynch's career for very long, however, and it certainly aided Quinn's struggle to get recognized as a potential political leader. Within a few years Quinn became a probate judge, a Democratic National Committeeman, and was successful in helping to create the Town of West Warwick in 1913.

Lynch, in 1901, was again appointed Special Constable under the Liquor Law. Lynch also served as deputy sheriff and High Sheriff. In the years following Charles B. Brayton's death, Lynch became well known for his efforts to suppress violations of the liquor and gambling acts.

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