William H. Stayton

Naval Captain William H. Stayton (1861-1953) founded the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment in 1918 and incorporated it in 1920. He had resigned his naval commission in 1891 to practice law. Among his clients was the eccentric and penny-pinching Hetty Green, widely known as "the Witch of Wall Street," whom he had to sue for $50,000 in unpaid legal fees.

Stayton's interest in Prohibition was based on his belief that the Eighteenth Amendment was both unnecessary and a dangerous intrusion into what should be a state and local matter. He was especially distressed that persons could be prosecuted under both state and federal law for the very same prohibition violation. He believed that this was inconsistent with Fifth Amendment constitutional protection against against double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same crime).

The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment was a non-partisan, non-sectarian organization open to anyone who had not been in the alcohol business. Membership dues were set at one dollar per year, not a small amount of money at that time but membership grew rapidly. There were reportedly 100,000 members in 1921, 457,000 in 1922, and 726,000 in mid-1926. An early gift of $10,000 from John Roebling assured that finances would not be a problem. Indeed, it reportedly raised $800,000 between 1921-1926.

By the late 1920's, the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment increasingly attracted business and professional men. Leadership roles tended to be held by those of wealth and power and included an ex-New York City mayor, two du Pont brothers, publisher Charles Scribner, business owner Marshall Field, the president of Carnegie Institute, financier Grayson Murphy, retired auto manufacturer Henry Bourne Joy, a retired federal judge, several members of Congress and several railroad and bank presidents. Women were enrolled in an auxiliary organization.

Time magazine wrote that "What the late Wayne B. Wheeler was to Dryness, Captain William H. Stayton is to Wetness. Upon repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, journalist H. L. Mencken described Stayton as "the hero of the day" and said that "He has done the American people a fast service , and I only wish that they will not forget it." The New York Times reported that Captain Stayton had convinced the vast majority of Americans that Repeal could be achieved and then pushed Congress and the states to act.

Prohibition had 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. The American people came to realize this and rejected Prohibition by an overwhelming vote of three-to-one.

In spite of the dismal failure of Prohibition, many people and organizations today support neo-prohibition ideas and strongly defend the many vestiges of Prohibition that continue to exist.

Resources on William H. Stayton:

  • Charles S. Wood (Ed.) A Criticism of National Prohibition. Washington, DC: Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, 1926.
  • Columbian College of the District of Columbia. Catalogue of the Columbian College of the District of Columbia. Washington, DC: Columbian College, xiii. William H. Stayton listed as vice-president of the New York Alumni Association.
  • David E. Kyvig. Repealing National Prohibition. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000.
  • Elinor R. Cleaver and Willliam H. Stayton. After Many Amendments: The Story of Another Prohibition. NY: Grafton, 1928.
  • Facts on File, Inc. World Almanac & Book of Facts. NY: Facts on File, 1906, p. 361. William H. Stayton listed as an officer of the Naval Order of the United States.
  • Grace C. Root. Women and Repeal: The Story of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1934.
  • James Langland (ed.) Chicago Daily News Almanac and Yearbook for 1919. Chicago: Chicago Daily News, 1918, p. 207. William H. Stayton listed as the executive secretary of the Navy League of the United States.
  • New York Public Library. Guide to the Social Science Research Council committee records, 1926. Social Science Research Council. Committee on a Study of Sources of Information on the Operation of the Eighteenth Amendment. Catalogued April, 1981. Reports that William H. Stayton accused the Committee of being biased in favor of Prohibition.
  • Larry Engelmann. Intemperance: The Lost War Against Liquor. London: Collier Macmillan, 1979.
  • Lorraine Eaton. Virginia's Prohibition history. Virginian-Pilot, November 30, 2008. William H. Stayton said "This prohibition business is only a symptom of a disease, the desire of fanatics to meddle in the other man's affairs and to regulate the details of your lives and mine."
  • Time. National Affairs: Wet [pro-Prohibitionist] Plans. Time, December 12,1927. Reports the activities and plans of William H. Stayton and the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment.
  • Time. Prohibition: The Devious Decade. Time, July 12, 1926. Investigation of illegal political funding by the Anti-Saloon League involved testimony of William H. Stayton.
  • U.S. Naval Academy Graduates Association. Register of Alumni. Captain William H. Stayton, class of 1881, was the first president (1931-1939) of the Graduates Association to be elected by the membership. Previously, the president was determined by seniority.
  • William Stayton. The naval militia. Outing, August, 1896, pp-394-400.http://www.aafla.org/SportsLibrary/Outing/Volume_28/outXXVIII05/outXXVIII05l.pdf
  • William H. Stayton. Have we Prohibition or only Prohibition laws? North American Review, June, 1925, 221, 591-596.
  • William H. Stayton. The official view of the Anti-Prohibition Association, Current History, April, 1928, 4-9.
  • William H. Stayton. Prohibition is a Failure (1926). In William Dudley and John Chalberg (eds.) Opposing Viewpoints in American History: From Reconstruction to the Present, Vol 2. Cenage Gale, 2006.
  • William H. Stayton. A Message for Opponents of Prohibition. (pamphlet) Washington, DC: Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, 1925.
  • William H. Stayton. American Ships for Foreign Trade. 1922. Chicago Historical Museum and Wisconsin Historical Society.
  • William H. Stayton. Naval Militiaman's Handbook. NY: A.R. Pope, 1895.
  • William H. Stayton. Big Navy League Meeting. (pamphlet) Chicago, IL: Navy League of the United States, 1918.
  • William H. Stayton. Is the Constitution for Sale? (pamphlet) Washington, DC: American Liberty League, 1935.
  • William H. Stayton. Today's Lessons for Tomorrow. (pamphlet) Washington, DC: American Liberty League, 1935.

Filed Under: Biography