Congress passed the Wilson Act in 1890. Before that, the U.S. Supreme Court had held that a state could only exclude from its borders two forms of articles. One was those that were not legitimate articles of commerce. The other was those “intrinsically not merchantable.” For example, rotten meat or disease-infected products.
However, some states had imposed statewide prohibition against alcohol (“dry” states). To enable dry states to prohibit alcoholic beverages within their borders, Congress passed the Act in 1890.
The law was later upheld by the Supreme Court. It’s in force today. It states that alcohol brought into a state are subject to its laws.1 But later court cases have limited the specifics of the Act.
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There are hundreds of dry counties across the US. About 18,000,000 people live in the 10% the area of the country that is dry
National Prohibition (1920-1933) not only failed. It also caused many serious problems. Yet many people today support neo-prohibition ideas. And they strongly defend the many remains of Prohibition that still exist.
In fact, nearly one in five U.S. adults today supports making it illegal for anyone to drink alcohol. That is, anyone of any age for any purpose. But not even Prohibition outlawed drinking. So many people legally drank. Surprised? Visit What did Prohibition Prohibit? It Wasn’t Drinking Alcohol.
Resources on the Wilson Act
- Bruce, A. The Wilson Act and the Constitution. Green Bag, 1909, 21, 211-223.
- Wilson Act. Applicability to foreign commerce. Harvard Law Rev, 1913, 26(6), 554-555.
- “Wilson Act.” Ex parte Edgerton, 59, Fed. Rep. 115. Yale Law J, 1894, 3(5), 181-182.
- “Police power” under the Wilson Act of 1890. Harvard Law Rev, 1905, 19(1), 53-54.
- Rooney, J. The Panic of 1893; exposes again the fallacy that the Wilson Act occasioned it. New York Times, Oct 19, 1911, p. 6.
1. Willoughby, W. Principles of Constitutional Law. Nabu, 2010.