Morris Sheppard and Prohibition: “The Driest of the Dry”

John Morris Sheppard and prohibition were very closely linked. Sheppard became an ardent advocate of banning alcohol beverage sales. And he did so fairly early in his political career. He was in Congress from 1901 until his death in 1941. Sheppard served first as a representative and then as a senator.

He was a progressive Democrat from Texas. So loyal was he to President Roosevelt that he supported FDR’s court-packing attempt.

Temperance Efforts

Morris Sheppard and Prohibition
Sen. Morris Sheppard

In 1913 he helped draft the Webb–Kenyon Act. It prohibited interstate “shipment or transportation” of alcohol “in violation of any law of [any] State, Territory, or District of the United States.”

In both 1913 and 1914 he introduced failed amendments to ban the sale of alcohol. In 1917 his Sheppard Bone-dry Act passed. It prohibited making or selling alcohol in the District of Columbia.

On April 4, 1917, Sheppard introduced the proposed 18th Amendment for National Prohibition. The debate continued into the summer, with no end in sight. Finally Sheppard offered to limit the time for ratification. He did that to get a vote on the amendment. And it passed. Surprisingly, the needed states ratified it early in 1919. Prohibition went into effect one year later.

Bold Boast

In 1930, Morris Sheppard made a bold boast. It was this.

There’s as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.1

With the passage of time, the problems caused by Prohibition became harder to ignore. Finally, Sen. John Blaine introduced a resolution for a proposed 21st Amendment. That Amendment would repeal Prohibition. 

In response, Sheppard filibustered it for over eight hours. However, not a single senator helped him. Apparently they knew that Repeal was inevitable. Indeed, the resulting vote was a landslide for Repeal.

Morris Sheppard was wrong about Prohibition. That hummingbird landed on Mars. The date was December 5, 1933.

Wit

In spite of his deep disappointment, Sheppard never lost his wit. The following occurred in 1938, five years after Repeal.

At a party in Washington, D.C., Representative Sol Bloom of New York created an awkward moment when he jokingly handed Sheppard, the father of national Prohibition and a man known as the “driest of the drys,” a cocktail. Not to be outdone, Sheppard smiled and then picked up a ham sandwich and offered it to the Jewish representative.2       

Morris Sheppard and Prohibition

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Footnotes

l. PROHIBITION: Humming Bird to Mars. Time, Sept 4, 1933.

2. Bailey, R., Profiles in Power, p. 28.

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