Prohibition didn’t prohibit consumption of alcohol.

What’s the difference between the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act? I used to think they were the same thing, but the amendment is very short, only 3 sentences. It is the Volstead Act that explained how prohibition was to be enforced and which alcoholic beverages were included. The amendment simply prohibits “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.”

Notice what it doesn’t prohibit–the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Drinking the stuff was not illegal. So private clubs and individuals could–and did–stock up on liquor in the months before Prohibition was to take effect, so they would be assured of having drinks for a long while. Supposedly the Yale Club had stocked enough to last 14 years–a prescient move, if it’s true, since Prohibition lasted 13 years, from 1920 to 1933.  

The Volstead Act defined intoxicating beverages as any beverage that contained more than 1/2 % alcohol. It made exceptions for doctors who could prescribe whiskey, for churches that could continue to use sacramental wine, and for scientists doing research. It also exempted rubbing alcohol, necessary in hospitals. Not surprisingly, these exemptions were abused, as doctors began writing prescriptions for friends, as hospital supply clerks began ordering railroad cars full of alcohol that they used to buy by the case, and bogus churches sprang up to claim the religious exemption. The law could never succeed with such a large portion of the population willing to skirt it. The majority fundamentally believed that the government had no business interfering with an individual’s choice in this matter. 

Published in: on February 5, 2012 at 8:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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