James W. Wadsworth, Jr.: Major Politician and Repeal Leader

James W. Wadsworth, Jr. (1877-1952) was a leader in the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment.

New York voters elected him to the State Assembly in 1904. He became Speaker of the Assembly in 1905, serving until 1910. Wadsworth briefly managing his family’s ranch in Texas. Then he was head of the New York state delegation to the Republican National Convention in 1912.

The 1914 election was unique. It was the first popular election in New York State for the U.S. Senate. Before then, the New York State Legislature had elected senators. James Wadsworth won that historic election. He became Senate Minority Whip in 1915. Wadsworth ran successfully against Ella Boole of the WCTU for the Republican nomination for the Senate. He was re-elected in 1920 and co-authored the Wadsworth-Garrett amendment in 1921. It would have been the “back-to-the-people amendment.” But Robert F. Wagner defeated him in 1926.

Wadsworth was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1933. There he served continuously until 1951. He did not run for re-election in 1950. Shortly thereafter President Harry Truman appointed him chair of the National Security Training Commission. He served there until his death on June 21, 1952.

Defended Personal Rights

Wadsworth was a firm defender of personal rights. Therefore, he feared federal intervention into the private lives of people. He believed that there were only two purposes of the Constitution. One was to and limit the powers of government. The otherwas 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.

Prohibition indeed led to the problems about which Wadsworth was so concerned. That included the intrusion of government into peoples’ private lives on a massive scale. It is unclear if even Wadsworth realized how serious and numerous the problems caused by Prohibition would be.

The “Noble Experiment” of Prohibition caused a very large growth of organized crime, violence, and gangsterism.  It caused police corruption, political corruption, and needless deaths from tainted moonshine. It also caused unemployment, loss of tax revenue, increased burdens on tax-payers, and many other serious problems. In short, Prohibition was a disaster.

Spoke Out Against Prohibition

By the mid-1920s, Wadsworth was one of a handful of congressmembers who spoke out forcefully and frequently against Prohibition. He was fearful that both federal and state courts could try people for a single Prohibition violation. This seemed to him to constitute double jeopardy. That was inconsistent with the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution.

James W. Wadsworth, Jr.
James W. Wadsworth, Jr.

Wadsworth appeared on the cover of Time magazine on December 28, 1925. In its cover story, the magazine wrote this. “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 wrote 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 (AAPA). Soon he became the chair of its New York State Division. Representing that group, he made 131 speeches across the country between then and Repeal in 1933. His political acumen and contacts proved valuable in overturning Prohibition.

Prohibition was a failed and counter productive social experiment. People knew and experienced its many problems. In short, it was a failure. So by three to one, they voted against Prohibition in favor of Repeal.

Wadsworth had been right.

James W. Wadsworth, Jr.

By Wadsworth

    • The Prohibition Question. Speech of Hon. James W. Wadsworth, Jr. of New York in the Senate of the U.S., Jan 24, 1927. Wash: GPO, 1927.
    • Report by James W. Wadsworth, Jr., Chairman of the New York Division of the AAPA. Albany: AAPA, 1929.
    • The Stability of Agriculture. NY: Assn of Life Insur Pres, 1915.
    • The League of Nations. Speech of Hon. James W. Wadsworth, Jr., of New York in the Senate of the U.S., Sept 19, 1919. Wash: GPO, 1919.
    • Address Given by James W. Wadsworth, Jr., former U.S. Senator, Jan 26, 1930. NY: AAPA, 1930.
    • The American Expeditionary Force. Wash: GPO, 1919.
    • The Navy. NY: Nat Secur League, 1929.
    • Preserving the Heritage. Wash: GWU, 1919.
    • The Wadsworth-Garrett Amendment. NY: Women’s Nat Repub Club, 1925.

About Wadsworth


James W. Wadsworth, Jr. also called himself James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr., but rarely as James Wadsworth, Jr.