Minnesota Supported National Prohibition, then Voted for Repeal of the Failed Experiment

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Minnesota has a long temperance history and strongly supported National Prohibition.

The National Prohibition Act of 1919 is usually called the Volstead Act in recognition of Minnesotan Andrew Volstead. It was Volstead who introduced the legislation and oversaw its successful passage through Congress. The Volstead Act was important because it was the enabling legislation for the enforcement of National Prohibition, which existed between 1920 and 1933.

Volstead was born in Kenyon, educated at St. Olaf College, became mayor of Granite Falls, and served in Congress as a member of the House from 1903 until 1923. He then served as legal advisor to the National Prohibition Enforcement Bureau. Following Repeal, he returned to Granite Falls, where he lived the rest of his life.

Minnesotans had generally supported Prohibition and expected it to reduce crime, improve health, raise morality, and protect young people. As events would soon prove, it did none of these things.

Many Minnesotans refused to give up their privilege of having a drink and the law made them criminals for doing so. To meet the demand for alcohol, moonshiners and bootleggers quickly became active. Conflicts among these illegal suppliers or between them and law enforcers sometimes turned violent -- even deadly. After all, untaxed fortunes were at stake.

The illegally-produced alcohol was hastily and carelessly made. It often contained toxic lead compounds, creosote and even embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or even death.

Illegal producers and sellers routinely bribed law enforcement officers and other officials in order to operate -- they saw it as a cost of doing business. But the public saw it as corrupt immorality and it led to a decreasing respect for both Prohibition and law in general.

Prohibition changed drinking patterns for the worse. It became fashionable for women and young people and women to drink and to do so heavily. Over-consuming was one way of expressing contempt for the law.

Prohibition also promoted a pattern of less frequent but heavier drinking. People didn't go to a speakeasy for a leisurely drink but to guzzle alcohol while they could.

Minnesotans saw that Prohibition didn't reduce crime but increased it,didn't improve health but threatened it, didn't raise morality but lowered it, and didn't protect young people but harmed them.

Prohibition not only failed but was counterproductive. So a resounding
majority of over 65% of voters in the state called for Repeal.

 

Additional Reading:

  • Asbury, Herbert. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition.
    New York: Greenwood Press, 1968 (Originally published 1950).
  • Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY:
    Arcade, 1996.
  • Cashman, Sean D. Prohibition: The Lie of the Land. New York:Free Press, 1981.
  • Clark, N. H. Deliver Us From Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition. New York: Norton, 1976.
  • Furnas, J. C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. New York: G. P.
    Pumam's Sons, 1965.
  • Kerr, K. Austin. Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League. New haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.
  • Kobler, John. Ardent spirits: the rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P.
    Putnam's Sons, 1973.
  • Krout, John A. The Origins of Prohibition. New York: Knopf, 1925.
  • Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
  • Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League.
    NY: Columbia University Press, 1928.
  • Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York University Press, 1996.
  • Sinclair, Andrew. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1962.
  • Willebrandt, Mabel Walker. The Inside of Prohibition. Indianapolis, IN:
    Bobbs-Merrill, 1929.

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