James Wadsworth, Jr. (1877-1952) was a leader in the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1904 and was selected Speaker of the Assembly in 1905, serving until 1910. After briefly managing his family's ranch in Texas, Wadsworth headed the state delegation to the Republican National Convention in 1912.
The 1914 election was unique in that it was the first popular election in New York State for the U.S. Senate. Prior to that time senators had been elected by the New York State Legislature. James Wadsworth won that historic election. He became Senate Minority Whip in 1915 and co-authored the Wadsworth-Garrett amendment in 1921, commonly called the back-to-the-people amendment. Wadsworth was re-elected in 1920 but was defeated in 1926 by Robert F. Wagner.
Wadsworth was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1933, where he served continuously until 1951. He did not run for re-election in 1950 and was appointed by President Harry Truman to the position of chairman of the National Security Training Commission in 1951, where he served until his death on June 21, 1952.
Wadsworth was a firm defender of individual rights and feared federal intervention into the private lives of Americans. He believed that the only purpose of the Constitution was to and limit the powers of government and to protect the rights of citizens. For this reason, he voted against the Eighteenth Amendment when it was before the Senate. Before it went into effect, Wadsworth predicted that Prohibition would result in widespread violations and contempt for law and the Constitution.
National Prohibition indeed led to the legal problems about which Wadsworth was so concerned, including the intrusion of the federal government into peoples' private lives on an unprecedented scale. It is unclear if even Wadsworth realized how serious and numerous the problems caused by National Prohibition would quickly become. The "Noble Experiment" of Prohibition caused a dramatic growth of organized crime, violence, gangsterism, law enforcement corruption, political corruption, needless deaths from tainted moonshine, loss of legitimate employment, loss of tax revenue, increased burdens on tax-payers, and many other serious problems.
By the mid-1920s, Wadsworth was one of a handful of congressmen who spoke out forcefully and frequently against Prohibition. He was especially concerned that citizens could be prosecuted by both state and federal officials for a single violation of prohibition law. This seemed to him to constitute double jeopardy, inconsistent with the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution.
Wadsworth appeared on the cover of Time magazine on December 28, 1925. In its cover story, the magazine wrote that "He is an acknowledged authority on military affairs, a thorough Republican party man, says little, works hard, and is strangely respected by all factions, although still comparatively a young man (only 48)." It asserted that "He has no political glad hand, no oratorical or political tricks. As Clinton W. Gilbert describes him: ‘When he speaks, he talks common sense in an easy, unemphatic way, with a slight touch of impatience in his voice.'"
In 1926, Wadsworth joined the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment and became the chairman of its New York State Division. Representing that organization, he made 131 speeches across the country between then and Repeal in 1933. His political acumen and contacts proved valuable in overturning the failed and counterproductive experiment of National Prohibition.
A resounding 74% of Americans voted against National Prohibition and in favor of its repeal. Nevertheless, in spite of the dismal and dramatic failure of Prohibition, many people and organizations today support neo-prohibition ideas and strongly defend the many vestiges of Prohibition that continue to remain.
Note: James W. Wadsworth, Jr. was also known as James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr. but only occasionally as James Wadsworth, Jr.
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