Congress Passes The Volstead Act

On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act providing for enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified nine months earlier.

Known as the Prohibition Amendment, it prohibited the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors" in the United States.

The movement to prohibit alcohol began in the early years of the nineteenth century when individuals concerned about the adverse effects of drink began forming local societies to promote temperance in consumption of alcohol. The first temperance societies were organized in New York (1808) and Massachusetts (1813). Members, many of whom belonged to Protestant evangelical denominations, frequently met in local churches. As time passed, most temperance societies began to call for complete abstinence from all alcoholic beverages.

The Anti-Saloon League, founded in Ohio in 1893 and organized as a national society in 1895, helped pave the way for passage of the Eighteenth Amendment with an effective campaign calling for prohibition at the state level. By January 1920, thirty-three states had already enacted laws prohibiting alcohol. Between 1920 and 1933, the Anti-Saloon League lobbied for strict federal enforcement of the Volstead Act.

The Volstead Act, which reinforced the prohibition of alcohol in the United States of America, was named for Andrew Volstead, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversaw its passage. However, Volstead served as the legislation's sponsor and facilitator rather than its author. It was the Anti-Saloon League's Wayne Wheeler who conceived and drafted the bill.

The bill was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson (largely on technical grounds, because it also covered wartime prohibition) but overridden by Congress on the same day, October 28, 1919. The Act specified 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. The act defined intoxicating liquor as any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol and superseded all existing prohibition laws in effect in states that had such legislation. The combination of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the laws passed under its authority became known simply as "Prohibition" and enormously affected United States society in the 1920s (popularly known as the Roaring Twenties).

We have only to look about us in this great city, to observe the traces of the deadly influence of intemperance. Everywhere, we face crime, disease and death, all testify to the necessity
of the prosecution of the cause, of steadfast and unwavering effort and prompt action
to lead to complete success.”

— Charles C. Burleigh, Address to the Whole World's Temperance Convention