Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment: Temperance Reform, Legal Culture, and the Polity, 1880-1920

By Richard F. Hamm | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE POLITY TO REFORMS AND THE LEGACY OF CONCURRENT POWER DURING NATIONAL PROHIBITION

The radical prohibitionist ideology of the 1880s and 1890s generated a Mosaic view of law that did not provide practical solutions for the problems posed by the federal system. But by the advent of national prohibition, drys had changed their approach to legal issues. The legal environment pushed prohibitionists into adopting the idea of joint state and federal action against liquor. From the 1890s temperance advocates struggled to make the federal commerce power aid prohibition states. By 1917 the Reed Amendment to the Postal Appropriations Act had fully mobilized that power for the dry cause. The rise of the Anti-Saloon League, with its more pragmatic view of law as a means to an end, transformed the legal strategy of drys, allowing them to take advantage of the federal system. For example, drys ceased to work for the abolition of the liquor tax and turned it into a valuable law enforcement weapon. But prohibitionists never gave up the idea of law as a moral statement. The drys, through the Eighteenth Amendment's concurrent-powers clause and the Volstead Act's provisions, wrote both conceptions of law into the nation's Constitution and statutes.

The drys sought a tremendous change in many Americans' drinking habits; by relying on their experience with the federal system as a guide, they constructed an enforcement system that contributed to the failure of national prohibition. The failings of enforcement, combined with economic, political, social, and cultural change, led to repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. The past proved a blueprint not for success but for disaster. The debacle of national prohibition and the forty years of dry agitation that preceded it illuminate the rough parameters of polity and reform interaction in the progressive era. Brief surveys of three other contemporaneous reforms--

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