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Volstead Act

Woodrow Wilson

Volstead Act: Woodrow Wilson was the 28th American President who served in office from March 4, 1913 to March 4, 1921. One of the important events during his presidency was Prohibition and the Volstead Act.

Definition and Summary of the Volstead Act
Summary and definition:
The Volstead Act, officially known as the National Prohibition Act, was enacted by Congress to enforce the 18th amendment on Prohibition. The Volstead Act became effective on January 29, 1920. The Volstead Act defined "intoxicating liquors" and provided penalties for abuse of the law. Andrew J. Volstead, the Representative from Minnesota, sponsored the bill and lent his name to the act.

The Volstead Act was rendered inoperative by the passage of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition.

Facts about Volstead Act
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Volstead Act.

The law was enacted by Congress to enforce and clarify the 18th Amendment on Prohibition. The 18th Amendment only contained 111 words whereas the Volstead Act contained 1600 words..

The passage of the bill initiated the Prohibition Era which lasted in the United States from 1920 to 1933. It was passed on October 18, 1919 and went into effect January 29, 1920.

The purpose of the law was to prohibit intoxicating beverages, regulate the sale, manufacture, or transport of intoxicating liquor.

The purpose was also to provide exceptions to the Eighteenth Amendment  for the use of alcohol in lawful industries and practices such as religious, scientific and medicinal purposes

No one could manufacture, sell, purchase, transport, or prescribe any liquor without first obtaining a Government permit from the commissioner.

Anti-Saloon League attorney Wayne Wheeler drafted both the 18th amendment on Prohibition and the Volstead Act .

The bill defined "intoxicating liquors" as any beverage over 0.5% alcohol.

The law provided penalties for abuse of the law that included fines of up to $2000 and prison sentences of not less than one month and not more than 5 years..

It made it clear that it was unlawful to advertise, buy or sell formulas or recipes or aids and machines intended for use in the unlawful manufacture of intoxicating liquor

Any premises where intoxicating liquor was manufactured, sold, kept, or bartered in violation of the law would be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction would be fined not more than $1,000 and/or be imprisoned for not more than one year

Drinking liquor was never illegal. People were allowed to drink intoxicating liquor in their own home or in the home of a friend when they were a bona fide guest.

People were not allowed to carry a hip flask or give or receive a bottle of liquor as a gift.

Intoxicating liquor could be obtained via a medical prescription of a doctor

Opponents: The bill was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson on both constitutional and ethical grounds but overridden by Congress.

Opponents: Many American also opposed the law, including strong opposition from the labor Unions.

Loopholes: Despite the length of the bill there were many loopholes in the law:

  • The law did not make it illegal to drink, or to be drunk

  • The law did not make it illegal to make or consume wine or cider in the home

  • Clubs, bars and saloons claimed to sell soft drinks and coffee, but served alcohol behind the scenes

  • Alcohol could be prescribed medicinally by doctors and physicians - the rate of sales for medicinal alcohol went up by 400%

  • Counterfeited prescriptions and liquor licenses were created to gain access to alcohol

  • Bootleggers, such as George Remus, bought distilleries and pharmacies to sell "bonded" liquor to himself under government licenses for medicinal purposes

  • Prohibition Bureau agents, police, judges and politicians, received large bribes to 'look the other way'

Repeal: The reason for the repeal of the law was because Prohibition simply did not work.

  • There were insufficient agents to enforce the law and they were easy to bribe as were other government officials

  • The banning of intoxicating alcohol had led to the rise of organized crime

Repeal: The Volstead Act was rendered inoperative by the passing of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition.

US American History
1913-1928: WW1 & Prohibition

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