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The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed on December 5, 1933, at which time the National Prohibition Act became null and unenforceable.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 Therefore, although national Prohibition had been repealed, 38% of the nation's population lived in areas with state or local prohibition.2 Currently, there are hundreds of dry counties across the United States and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.
Filed Under: Prohibition