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V is for Volstead Act (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)


The Eighteenth Amendment was very short, but the law designed to enforce it was over 25 pages long. It was complicated, confusing, difficult to interpret and – although this is sure hard to ascertain – probably one of the most disregarded laws in the history of the United States. So I hear.

The National Prohibition Enforcement Act, better known as the Volstead Act from Andrew Volstead, who presented it to Congress, was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson on October 28, 1919, on the ground of moral and constitutional objections. That veto was overrun by Congress the same day.
Although Volstead denied it on several occasions, it is widely believed that the actual author of the act was Wayne Wheeler – the ‘spirit’ of the act was undoubtedly his.

In none of his six election to Congress which Volstead won did he run on a prohibition platform. Twice, in fact, he opposed prohibitions candidates. It was as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that the final preparation of the Wheeler-drafted act fell on him, and he shouldered the task in the spirit of his Yellow Medicine County prosecutions as a moral obligation to arm the law rather than a personal commitment to Prohibition.

Ardent Spirits by John Kobler
Andrew Volstead

There seem to have been one general misunderstanding about the Volstead Act: the Government seemed to think that people would willingly abide by it for moral reasons. Hence, the money appropriated for the enforcement of this law was always ridiculously small.
Result: people, especially in the big cities, didn’t abide at all and the Volstead Act was broken right and left at any given second. Bootleggers, of course, didn’t abide by it and prohibition agents, even when they happened to be at the right place at the right time (which required remarkable luck considering how much territory every single agent was supposed to patrol) often let bootleggers bribe them because they didn’t have the moral nor the economic drive to oppose (they were poorly paid, and they often didn’t’ believe in Prohibition to be that good an idea).
The same thing seemed to think a whole lot of administration officials. The same thing seems to think all the people who regularly patronised speakeasies. The same thing seemed to think young people who couldn’t care less about Prohibition.



Rustycans – Prohibition
Alcohol. Problems and Solutions – Andrew Volstead
Alcohol. Problems and Solutions – Volstead Act

Behr, Edward, Prohibition. The Thirteen Years That Changed America. Penguin Group & BBC Enterprises, London, 1997
Coffey, Thomas M., The Long Thirst Prohibition in America: 1920-1933. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, 1975
Kobler, John, Ardent Spirits. The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Da Capo Press, New York, 1973
Okrent, Daniel, Last Call. The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Scribner, New York, 2010

ROARING TWENTIES AtoZ - Volstead Act - The 18th Amendment was very short and very vague. The Volstead Act was supposed to detail how Prohibition would actually work


  • Lene Fogelberg
    Posted April 25, 2015 at 02:38

    One thing is for sure – this law has inspired countless of great movies 🙂 I will never forget seeing The Untouchables for the first time…

    • Post Author
      Posted April 26, 2015 at 06:51

      And rightly so. Prohibition seems to be the perfect time to set stories (if you ask me ;-)), I’m surprised there aren’t more out there.

  • Alex Hurst
    Posted April 25, 2015 at 10:03

    Given the game of politics, it seemed like it might have just been a piece of paper to push through legislation to show supporters “See, I made a law. Go us!” rather it proving to be effective in any way. 😛

    • Post Author
      Posted April 26, 2015 at 07:06

      Well, I think lots of people thought Prohibition might be a good idea, but they never actually thought it would happened. So citizens didn’t really bother caring about the law, while the supporters of Prohibitin (and Wayne Wheeler was a particularly fierce one) basically did the job while nobody was paying real attention.

  • Tasha
    Posted April 25, 2015 at 08:12

    Yet more proof that prohibition didn’t seem to be about alcohol at all :). So basically it sounds as if someone was making a political point and then not bothering to enforce it.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    • Post Author
      Posted April 26, 2015 at 06:55

      I think it was more about misunderstanding the social situation and people’s psychology. Supporters of Prohibition were so invested in their believes and thought Prohibition was such a good idea, they thought eveybody would spontaniously act according to the law. Which, as we know, didn’t exactly happen.
      Then, when it became obvious that enforcing the law would be crazily expensive, nobody wanted to spend that money.
      Personal opinion 😉

  • Mimesis Heidi Dahlsveen
    Posted April 25, 2015 at 12:17

    And his “origin” was Norway. I am not sure if I should be proud of that.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 26, 2015 at 07:07

      Well, now. I don’t think the man had any personal fault 😉

  • Fee
    Posted April 25, 2015 at 17:45

    I hadn’t heard of this before so I learned something new today. Also, that is a fantastic moustache! 😀

    Fee | Wee White Hoose
    Scottish Mythology and Folklore A-Z

  • Barbara In Caneyhead
    Posted April 26, 2015 at 05:21

    I don’t know, a woman living with an alcoholic as a husband, maybe? That’d be my best guess.
    Visit me at: Life & Faith in Caneyhead
    I am Ensign B of Tremps’ Troops
    with the A to Z Challenge

    • Post Author
      Posted April 26, 2015 at 07:16

      Well, I suppose that if she lived in a particularly far away area that bootleggers didn’t care to cover, if her husband would be out all day looking for alcohol instead of being in the house, if he didn’t resort to make his own alcohol, and if she lived in a little community with a tight social control on personal behaviour and a strong religious hold on said behaviour (especially if a Protestant community), Prohibition might have had a positive influence on her life.

      But then I’d be forced to wonder how it was that her family, her church and her community (including the community authorities) just waited around for Prohibition to come along and help her.

  • Celine Jeanjean
    Posted April 26, 2015 at 06:47

    This sounds like yet another political game, rather than a law being passed because it will make the country better. I bet if we looked at how many laws out there have been passed for other reasons that to make the country better, the number would be quite high….

  • Sara C. Snider
    Posted April 26, 2015 at 12:13

    I find it all rather amusing–how it was taken for granted that people would just go along with it because “it’s the right thing to do.” Right… As if people haven’t been drinking ever since they first realized that food could be fermented. 😉

    • Post Author
      Posted April 27, 2015 at 13:16

      I suppose it was because there was a general feeling that Prohibition was a good idea. The ideas all sounded good (alcohol made men violent and lazy, taking the alcohol away would have made men better and their families more happy, foodstuff like grain would have been used for food, not alcohol). Many people seemed to think this was a good idea, but they really thought it was not going to happen. So, when it did happen, I think there was a general misunderstanding of what was actually going on.

      This is my personal impression 🙂

  • Melanie Atherton Allen
    Posted April 26, 2015 at 18:09

    I didn’t know that Volstead himself was not actually the moving spirit (ha ha ha – no pun intended) behind the act- thanks for expanding my knowledge on the subject! I find that I learn so much during the April A to Z challenge, and that is one of my favorite things about it! Great post!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 27, 2015 at 13:17

      Thanks Melanie, I’m happy you’re enjoying my challenge. I’m enjoying yours a lot!!! 🙂

  • Stepheny Houghtlin
    Posted April 26, 2015 at 23:55

    Visiting you in these closing days of the #Challenge. Always happy to find another writer. If you have time or energy at this point in April, come and see what I’ve been up to. Love finding good blogs like yours. Thanks. If I can find where to follow, I will. Great job.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 27, 2015 at 05:24

      Hi Stepheney and thanks for stopping by 🙂

      I will certainly visit back, if not now, later on. Are you the one posting about Chicago? I might have visit your blog already.

      Well, thanks, I’d be happy if you follow. I see you’re a fellow WordPress blogger. You should have a ‘follow’ option on the upper navication bar, where you can also ‘like’ posts and ‘reblog’. Or you can subscribe by email, there’s a form on my sidebar.
      I’m following you back 😉

  • Mee Magnum
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 01:34

    Sara, I just posted an article on my blog, The Chinese Quest, referencing Prohibition and the Volstead Act.

    I included a link to this post in my article.


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