Witness Post: Volstead Act
Roots of Prohibition
According to the History Channel: In the 1820s and ’30s, a wave of religious revivalism swept the United States, leading to increased calls for temperance, as well as other “perfectionist” movements such as the abolition of slavery. In 1838, the state of Massachusetts passed a temperance law banning the sale of spirits in less than 15-gallon quantities; though the law was repealed two years later, it set a precedent for such legislation. Maine passed the first state prohibition law in 1846, and a number of other states had followed suit by the time the Civil War began in 1861.
The Guts of the Volstead Act
While the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited the production, sale and transport of “intoxicating liquors,” it neither defined “intoxicating liquors” nor provide any penalties. It granted both the federal government and the states the power to enforce the ban by “appropriate legislation.” A bill to do so was introduced in Congress in 1919. (The Volstead Act was later voided by the Twenty-first amendment.)
Interestingly the 1919 bill was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson, who claimed the law also covered wartime prohibition, a technical point rather than a fundamental one. His veto, however, was overridden by the House on the same day, October 27, 1919, and by the Senate one day later.
The three distinct purposes of the Volstead Act were:
- To prohibit intoxicating beverages;
- To regulate the manufacture, sale or transport of intoxicating liquor (but not consumption); and
- To ensure an ample supply of alcohol and promote its use in scientific research and in the development of fuel, dye and other lawful industries and practices, such as religious rituals.
The Act further provided that “no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this Act.” It did not specifically prohibit the use of intoxicating liquors. There was a large “carve out” for ceremonial wines, thus the proliferation of Manischewitz and Christian Brothers’ sherries and wines, which flourished in Jewish and Catholic circles.
The act defined intoxicating liquor as any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol by volume and superseded all existing prohibition laws in effect in states that had such legislation.
Andrew Volstead and his mustache
In the 1920’s, after the passage of the Act, the US had a dramatic increase in the illegal production and sale of liquor (known as “bootlegging”). The bootlegging was accompanied with the proliferation of speakeasies (illegal drinking spots) and the rise in gang violence and other crimes. The crime wave led to waning support for Prohibition by the end of the 1920’s. In early 1933, Congress adopted a resolution proposing a 21st Amendment to the Constitution that would repeal the 18th. It was ratified by the end of that year, bringing the Prohibition era to a close.
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Their flavorful, innovative lineup of includes Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey™, Krogstad Festlig Aquavit™, Volstead Vodka™ and an elite line of limited release small-batch products.
Produced in the heart of Portland’s famous Distillery Row, each of the spirits has the richness and craftsmanship to be enjoyed on their own and also lend themselves beautifully to everyone’s best-loved drinks and cocktails.
A 2013 Gold medal winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Volstead Vodka is a refreshingly sober approach to old-world potato vodka. The vodka is filtered for purity and smoothness. At 84 proof, Volstead is naturally gluten free and handcrafted using neutral grain spirits, pure Cascade mountain water and a deep respect for the cocktail making experience. And the alcohol is drily dedicated to Andrew Volstead, the father of Prohibition.