By ANDREW GLASS
10/28/15 12:01 AM EDT
On this day in 1919, Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson’s veto of the Volstead Act, formally known as the National Prohibition Act. The legislation, which barred the nationwide sale of alcoholic beverages, was named for Rep. Andrew Volstead (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Dubbed at the time as “The Noble Experiment,” it outlawed any beverage containing more than 0.5 percent alcohol.
As World War I drew to a close In November 1918, Congress had enacted a ban on liquor sales, which the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently upheld. The Volstead Act served as enabling legislation for the recently ratified 18th Amendment. Prohibition ended in 1933 when it was repealed under the 21st Amendment.
Volstead introduced the Prohibition measure on May 28, 1919. Democrats countered with the “wet law,” which would have repealed the ban enacted in 1918. The battle between the “wets” and the “bone-dry’s,” as the anti-liquor forces were known, raged all summer in Congress. During one debate, Volstead, in defending the proposed act, declared, “The American people have said that they do not want any liquor sold, and they have said it emphatically by passing almost unanimously the constitutional amendment.” The bill cleared the chamber, 225-59, behind a solid Republican majority.
While Volstead led the fight in Congress for the enabling legislation, it was conceived and drafted by Wayne Wheeler of the National Anti-Saloon League. The group organized itself at the grass-roots level, often working with churches. It supported or opposed political candidates based solely on its position on Prohibition. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union, founded by Frances Willard in 1883, had also mobilized tens of thousands of women who lobbied for the ban.
Volstead, who had served 10 terms in Congress, lost his seat in 1922, falling victim to low farm prices rather than to his sponsorship of Prohibition.