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Passage of Prohibition

Intro  |  "The Noble Experiment"

"For If Kisses Are Intoxicating As They Say Prohibition You Have Lost Your Sting" sheet music, 1919
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection

Arguments leading up to the passage of the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1920 had been going on for decades. The dry movement was led by organizations such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Prohibition Party, and the Anti-Saloon Leagues. These organizations, along with many others, advocated that liquor caused poverty, abuse, and ill health. By the late 1880s, the prohibition legislation that had passed in various states was considered less than ideal by temperance advocates. Only six states had emerged with state-wide prohibition mandated by statute or constitutional amendments. Several other states had enacted local options, which allowed towns to choose whether or not they wished to be dry.

In Tennessee, two pieces of prohibition-related legislation were passed in 1909. The first, Senate Bill No. 1, made it illegal to sell or consume alcoholic beverages within a four-mile radius of any public or private school (whether it was in session or not). While this bill did not explicitly ban the sale or consumption of alcohol across the state as a whole, the practical effect of the four-mile exclusion was to do just that. The second piece of legislation, Senate Bill No. 11, banned the manufacturing of any alcoholic beverages within the state. Governor Malcolm R. Patterson vetoed both bills, but the General Assembly promptly overrode his vetoes.

"Too Much Whiskey Made, Patterson Is Converted," New Republic, Westerville, Ohio, October 24, 1913
Malcolm R. Patterson Papers

At the federal level, using the Commerce Clause of the U. S. Constitution, Congress passed the Wilson Act (or Original Packages Act) in 1890 and the Webb-Kenyon Act, which banned the importation of alcoholic beverages into states that had passed prohibition, in 1913, thus protecting "dry" states from their "wet" neighbors. And when the 65th Congress convened in January 1917, the "dries" outnumbered the "wets" in both parties.


"The Noble Experiment"

Senate Joint Resolution No. 1, Nashville, Tennessee, January 8, 1919
RG 60, General Assembly Original Bills, etc.

The entry of the United States into World War I in 1917 also gave the temperance movement a much-needed boost. Temperance forces argued that wartime prohibition was needed to stop the waste of materials like grain and molasses, and they were able to pass the Wartime Prohibition Act (although it didn't pass until November 18, 1918 — and the Armistice had gone into effect on November 11). The U. S. Senate also proposed a Constitutional Amendment to accomplish nationwide Prohibition in December 1917.

In early January 1919, the Tennessee General Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution No. 1, which ratified the 18th Amendment. On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment had been ratified in thirty-six of the forty-eight states (the constitutional three-fourths threshold necessary for ratifying an amendment), and on October 28, 1919, it was implemented by the Volstead Act.

Prohibition went into effect on January 16, 1920. The constitutionality of the ratification process for the 18th Amendment was challenged in the U. S. Supreme Court, but the amendment's constitutionality was upheld by the court. Prohibition would be the law of the land for the next thirteen years.



Senate Bill No. 1, Nashville, Tennessee, January 12, 1909
RG 60, General Assembly Original Bills

Newspaper clippings related to the Prohibition Law of 1909
Malcom R. Patterson Papers

"Nashville Police Force Pronounced Inadequate," Nashville, Tennessee, December 6, 1926
GP 40, Governor Austin Peay Papers