Naval Captain William H. Stayton established the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment in 1918. He did so in an unsuccessful effort to prevent the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment established National Prohibition (1920-1933). However, the Association grew dramatically after Prohibition. That was because Prohibition caused very serious problems.
The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment was a non-partisan, non-sectarian organization. It was open to anyone who had not been in the alcohol business. Membership dues were one dollar per year.
That was not a small amount at the time. Yet membership rose very quickly. There were reportedly 100,000 members in 1921, 457,000 in 1922 and 726,000 in mid-1926. John Roebling gave an early gift of $10,000. That meant that finances would not be a problem. Indeed, it reportedly raised $800,000 between 1921-1926.
Leadership roles in the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment tended to be held by those of wealth and power. They included an ex-New York City mayor, two du Pont brothers, publisher Charles Scribner, and business owner Marshall Field. Also the president of Carnegie Institute, financier Grayson Murphy, retired auto maker Henry Joy, and a retired federal judge. And they included several members of Congress as well as several railroad and bank presidents. Women were enrolled in an auxiliary group.
At first, the group wanted to reform Prohibition. However, members couldn’t agree. Some wanted to promote better enforcement of the law. Others wanted to encourage people to disregard the law. During the early to mid-1920s it appeared that repealing Prohibition was a political impossibility. In addition, many people thought doing so would be illegal.
However, with the passage of time, the terrible problems caused by Prohibition continued to grow. As a result, public sentiment turned against the failing law.
The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment launched a major publicity campaign in 1928. That helped mobilize the growing opposition to the Eighteenth Amendment. It published numerous pamphlets, including
- Scandals of Prohibition. Documented official crimes and corruption in five cities. They were Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo, and Philadelphia.
- The Cost of Prohibition and Your Income Tax. Estimated the loss of federal and state revenue because of National Prohibition.
- Canadian Liquor Crossing the Border. Reported that only five to ten percent of the over 1,000,000 gallons of liquor illegally crossing the northern border was stopped.
- Reforming America with a Shotgun: A Study of Prohibition Killings. Reported on the number of killings that had been occurring in efforts to enforce Prohibition.
- Measuring the Liquor Trade. Showed that alcoholism and alcohol-related deaths had increased as a result of Prohibition.
- Prohibition Enforcement: Its Effects on Courts and Prisons. Showed great increases in federal court loads. This led to plea bargaining and lighter sentences. That was necessary to ease overcrowding in court dockets, jails, and prisons.
By 1930 the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment was asking voters to “vote as you drink.” The American people cast their ballots three-to-one against Prohibition. That is, in favor of Repeal.
Incredibly, some people and groups today support neo-prohibition ideas and strongly defend the remainders of Prohibition that remain. Indeed, almost one in five U.S. adults favors making drinking alcohol illegal for everyone. However, not even Prohibition did that.
Resources on the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment
- Cashman, S. Prohibition: The Lie of the Land. NY: Free Press, 1981.
- Engleman, L. Intemperance: The Lost War Against Liquor. NY: Free Press, 1979.
- Kerwin, P. and Apodaca, L. (comp.) Association Against the Prohibition Amendment Records. A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 2005.
- Kyvig, D. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: U Chicago Press, 1979.
- Maurice, A. (Ed.) How They Draw Prohibition. NY: Association Against the Prohibition Movement, 1930.
- Root, G. Women and Repeal: The Story of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform. NY: Harper, 1934.
- Wood, C. (Ed.) A Criticism of National Prohibition. Washington: Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, 1926.
Magazine & Newspaper Articles
- Field, C. Captain Bill Stayton – Guiding spirit of the “Little Group of Millionaires.” Life, July 24, 1931, pp. 14-15.
- New York Times. TO BACK SMITH AT POLLS.; Association Against Prohibition Amendment Will Vote Ticket, Sept 24, 1924, p. 2.
- ______. SEEK RIGHT TO CITE WASHINGTON ON BEER; Wets Ask Attorney General if They Can Read the First President’s Recipe.
- ______,.The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment submitted to Attorney General Sargent the question, Does it constitute a violation of the Volstead law to publish or circulate George Washington’s recipe for making beer, even when in a photographic copy of his handwriting? Feb 20, 1926, p. 5. (Washington was his new country’s first large distiller. See George Washington.)
- ______. The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment reported it would remain neutral between the major parties in the Fall., July 22, 1932.
- Stayton, W. Have We Prohibition or only Prohibition laws? North American Review, June, 1925, 221, 591-59.
- ______. The official view of the Anti-Prohibition Association, Current History, April, 1928, 4-9. Stayton was referring to the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment
- ______. A Message for Opponents of Prohibition. (pamphlet) Washington: Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, 1925.
- Time. National Affairs: Wet [pro-Prohibitionist] Plans. Time, December 12,1927. Reports the activities and plans of 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 for the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment