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American National Biography Online Yellowley, Edward Clements (12 Aug. 1873-8 Feb. 1962), federal Prohibition and Internal Revenue administrator, was born on a plantation near Ridgeland, Mississippi, the son of James Brownlow Yellowley, a lawyer and planter, and Jessie Perkins. His parents belonged to the antebellum plantation aristocracy and were financially devastated by the Civil War. The family moved to a plantation near Greenville, North Carolina, during his childhood. Best known as E. C., Yellowley attended a military academy in 1888 and subsequently operated his father's plantation. He married Mary Helms about 1896; she died childless two years later. Yellowley joined the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1899 as a revenue collector in Mississippi. At that time the bureau's chief responsibility was the collection of alcohol taxes, and Yellowley apprehended moonshiners in Tennessee and pursued rumrunners in Florida. Other assignments took him by 1919 to San Antonio, Philadelphia, St. Paul, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Promotions accompanied transfers, first to collector in charge in 1907 and to agent in charge in 1910. His excellent administrative abilities earned him a transfer to Washington, D.C., in 1919 to create a field audit system for the bureau's income and estate tax units. The next year he was back in San Francisco as Internal Revenue's regional supervisor. In 1912 he married Callie H. Gibbons, who died in 1927. This marriage was also childless. With the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920, which banned the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, Congress created the Prohibition Bureau to assist local law enforcement, under the supervision of Internal Revenue. Yellowley served a brief stint as acting director of Prohibition in New York City in 1920 but returned to Washington, D.C., in 1921 to become chief of special Prohibition agents who were assigned to those areas where enforcement lagged. His first deployment was to New York City, which he promised to "dry up." Within months twenty-six local agents were dismissed. Hotels and restaurants suspected of selling liquor were closely watched, and violators were prosecuted. Liquor imported from abroad by ship or across the Canadian border was interdicted--the latter effort was aided once U.S. Customs began notifying Yellowley of duties assessed on incoming alcohol. His work more than doubled the price of illegal whiskey to $20 a quart. From 1923 until 1925 Yellowley and his unit were headquartered in Washington, D.C., from which he traveled to almost every state. When a reorganization of the Prohibition Bureau in 1925 replaced Yellowley's national unit with twenty-four federal enforcement districts, he was assigned to the challenging Chicago office. There Yellowley's New York tactics confronted the power and political influence of Al Capone, who had built a $100-million-a-year bootlegging empire. Capone's combination of bribery and violence frustrated Yellowley. Through an aide, Yellowley secured the efforts of agent Eliot Ness to recruit special agents immune to blandishments. The resulting unit became popularized as the "Untouchables." Yellowley left Prohibition enforcement in 1930 when the bureau was transferred from the Treasury to the Justice Department, but he remained in Chicago to become supervisor of liquor permits in the area. Four years later, after Prohibition's repeal, he became Chicago regional supervisor of the alcohol tax unit at Internal Revenue. By 1939 his district included more than 164 million gallons of liquor in Internal Revenue-bonded warehouses and nearly 37,000 retail outlets. Although attacks on bootleg alcohol remained a responsibility, his more permanent legacy was in designing a model system for the collection of federal liquor taxes. Some 300 agents were working under his direction when he retired in 1946. He continued to live in a downtown Chicago hotel until his death. Yellowley was known as a superb administrator and an incorruptible agent. It was said he could judge an agent's honesty by looking him in the eye. Zealous in his enforcement of Prohibition, he disguised his agents to fit the situation. They posed as truck drivers and garment workers and even donned formal attire for New Year's celebrations in cabarets. Izzie Einstein and Moe Smith, legendary for their use of disguises, worked for Yellowley in New York City. His zeal earned him many enemies. Restaurant managers complained it was impossible to intercept flasks smuggled in by patrons. A Detroit attorney sued Yellowley in 1925 for false arrest in a cabaret raid. Apprehending bootleggers and imbibers was not Yellowley's only concern. He was also responsible for ensuring that alcohol manufactured for legal purposes--medical, sacramental, and industrial--was not diverted to illicit uses. Yellowley allegedly refused a $250,000 bribe from a Chicago alcohol plant operator to overlook irregularities. He also sought to close loopholes in the law by restricting physicians in New York from prescribing alcohol as a tonic and by arresting rabbis for allegedly selling wine illegally. Yellowley's accomplishments can best be appreciated within the context of his working environment. The Prohibition Bureau was noted for the low caliber and frequent turnover of its personnel and for political influence from various quarters. Yellowley advised his state directors that job applicants "secure congressional endorsement, endorsement of the Anti-Saloon League, and other endorsements" (quoted in John Kobler, Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition , p. 275). Yellowley's knowledge of a "sting" operation to purchase and transport Canadian liquor aroused the ire of New York congressman Fiorello La Guardia in 1927. When retired general Lincoln C. Andrews, the bureau's third director in five years, sought in 1925 to eliminate political influence (and Yellowley's position) as part of his reorganization of the agency, Congress forced his resignation within two years. Yellowley's survival and his support by some temperance groups to succeed Andrews in 1927 attest to his political acumen as well as to his considerable abilities. He remained steadfast in his faith in enforcement. " 'Any law can be enforced,' he avow[ed] smilingly, 'if the administrators of enforcement of the legislation are 100 per cent behind it' " (Wichita Beacon, 28 Jan. 1940). Bibliography In the National Archives, the Presidential Appointment Files in the General Records of the Treasury Department (RG 56) contain two files for Yellowley, including the pages of recommendations when he was being considered for promotion in 1926 and in 1940. Records of the Internal Revenue Service (RG 58) include General Correspondence of the Prohibition Unit, 1925-1930, and may contain information on Yellowley's career. There are no secondary works on Prohibition that discuss Yellowley's career at length. Information on Yellowley is in the Chicago Tribune, 30 Apr., 22 Aug., and 5 Sept. 1925, 24 Dec. 1926, and 11 Aug. 1960; the Chicago Daily Journal, 5 Apr. 1926; the Chicago Daily News, 22-23 Mar. and 31 Dec. 1927; and the New York Times, 17, 24 Feb., 9 Mar., and 15 July 1927, 2 and 11 Feb. 1930, and 31 July 1934. For a general background of federal problems in enforcing Prohibition, see Andrew Sinclair, Era of Excess: A Social History of the Prohibition Movement (1962). Obituaries are in the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago American, both 8 Feb. 1962, and in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times, all 9 Feb. 1962. Lloyd L. Sponholtz Citation: Lloyd L. Sponholtz. "Yellowley, Edward Clements"; http://www.anb.org/articles/06/06-00739.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Further information is available at http://www.anb.org.