National Prohibition Act

The National Prohibition Act of 1919 was the enabling legislation enacted to provide for the implementation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which established National Prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

The National Prohibition Act of 1919 is the official shortened title of "An act to prohibit intoxicating beverages, and to regulate the manufacture, production, use, and sale of high-proof spirits for other than beverage purposes, and to insure an ample supply of alcohol and promote its use in scientific research and in the development of fuel, dye, and other lawful industries."

The Eighteenth Amendment is only 111 words in length, but the National Prohibition Act, which was designed to define and make specific its provisions, is over 25 pages in length. Many court decisions created case law that provided additional specificity.

The law is better known as the Volstead Act after Andrew J. Volstead who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and whose job it was to sponsor the legislation. The bill was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson but was overridden by Congress on the same day, October 28, 1919.

National Prohibition went into effect on January 16, 1920. In addition to being ineffective, it created increasingly serious problems such as dangerous bootleg alcohol, organized crime, violence, law enforcement abuses, binge drinking, widespread political corruption, and an increasing disrespect for law.

As a result, organized opposition developed and included the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, the Women's National Organization for National Prohibition Reform, Labor's National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act, United Repeal Council, the Women's Moderation Union, and the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers.

Finally, in the 1932 election, the Democratic Party platform included a "wet" or anti-prohibition plank and Franklin Roosevelt won the presidency promising repeal. The popular vote for Repeal was 74 percent in favor and 26 percent in opposition.1

The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed on December 5, 1933, at which time the National Prohibition Act became null and unenforceable.

However, some states maintained their own state-wide prohibition for up to a third of a century longer and almost two-thirds of all states adopted some form of local option which enabled residents in political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition. Therefore, although national Prohibition had been repealed, 38% of the nation's population lived in areas with state or local prohibition.2 Currently, there are hundreds of dry counties across the United States and about 18,000,000 people live in the approximately 10% of the area of the US that is dry.

Surprisingly, in spite of the abysmal and undeniable failure of Prohibition, many people and organizations today support neo-prohibition ideas and strongly defend the many vestiges of Prohibition that continue to remain.

 

Resources on the National Prohibition Act of 1919:

  • Bureau of Prohibition. Digest Interpreting the National Prohibition Act and Willis-Campbell Act. Washington, DC: US. Government Printing Office, 1927.
  • Bureau of Prohibition. Prescription Forms for Medicinal Liquor: Issued under the Authority of the National Prohibition Act. Washington, DC: Bureau of Prohibition, 1932.
  • Bureau of Prohibition. Digest of Recent Court Decisions Interpreting the National Prohibition Act. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1929-1932.
  • Committee on Finance. National National Prohibition Act. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1933.
  • Committee on the Judiciary. Amendment to the National Prohibition Act. Hearings. Seventy-first Congress, Second Session. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1930.
  • Committee on the Judiciary. Senate. Amending National Prohibition Act. Hearings. Seventy-second Congress, First Session. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1932.
  • Committee on the Judiciary. Amendment to the National Prohibition Act. Hearings. Washington, DC: US. Government Printing Office, 1935.
  • Excel Company, Inc. Alcohol: Its Lawful Use by Physicians as Provided by the National Prohibition Act and Various State Laws. Lawrenceburg, IN: Excel Company, Inc., 1924.
  • Graham, George S. Enforcement of the National Prohibition Act. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1921.
  • Henius, Max. The Error in the National Prohibition Act. Chicago, IL: The Wahl-Henius Institute, 1931.
  • Hopkins, James L. The New Federal Penal Code, Annotated - with Forms; Comprising the U.S. Criminal Code, the National Prohibition Act, the Harrison anti-narcotic Act, Annotated, and a Compilation of Relevant and Adjudicated Forms. Cincinnati, OH: W.H. Anderson Co., 1927.
  • Kallenbach, Joseph E. The National Prohibition Act and International Relations. Thesis, University of Missouri-Columbia, 1928.
  • Killets, John M. Duties of Grand Jurors under the national Prohibition Act. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Company, 1921.
  • McClure, Rose L. A Philosophical Examination of Sumptuary Legislation, with Special Reference to the National Prohibition Act. Thesis, University of Notre Dame, 1928.
  • Reed, James A. Amendment of the National Prohibition Act. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1929.
  • Sterling, Thomas. National Prohibition Act. Washington, DC: US. Government Printing Office, 1919.
  • Sterling, Thomas. Supplemental to the National Prohibition Act. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1921.
  • Volstead, Andrew J. The National Prohibition Act. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1919.

References:

  • 1. Childs, Randolph W. Making Repeal Work. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania Alcoholic Beverage Study, Inc., 1947, pp. 260-261.
  • 2. Mendelson, Jack H., and Mello, Nancy K. Alcohol: Use and Abuse in America. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1985, p. 94.

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