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Prohibition, the Constitution, and States' Rights$
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Sean Beienburg

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226631943

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226632278.001.0001

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Prohibition and Federalism

Prohibition and Federalism

The Road to the Sheppard Amendment

Chapter:
(p.17) Chapter Three Prohibition and Federalism
Source:
Prohibition, the Constitution, and States' Rights
Author(s):

Sean Beienburg

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226632278.003.0003

This chapter summarizes the understandings of federalism which anchored the American political order since the time of the Founding, discussing its major controversies in early American history such as Andrew Jackson’s tariff battle with John Calhoun. This decentralized federalism linked a federal government limited to constitutionally enumerated powers with states exercising robust police powers on behalf of citizens’ welfare. Even after the Civil War and Reconstruction, both Republicans and Democrats shared and maintained the deep commitment to states’ rights even as they reviled nullification. That devotion to federalism initially led to the Webb-Kenyon Act, which guaranteed federal support of states’ decisions to prohibit alcohol. Aided by a unique policy window, careful efforts to reconcile prohibition to states’ rights, and mastery of single issue pressure politics, the Anti-Saloon League and its leader Wayne Wheeler achieved the Eighteenth Amendment, advanced by progressive Texas Senator Morris Sheppard. Both the amendment and the implementing Volstead Act were attacked, especially by libertarian lawyers like Elihu Root, as hostile to both the spirit and perhaps the text of the Constitution. In a perfunctory opinion that enabled a decade of intense constitutional debate, the Supreme Court endorsed the ASL’s handiwork in the National Prohibition Cases.

Keywords:   Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Reconstruction, states rights, Anti Saloon League, single issue politics, Volstead Act, Elihu Root, National Prohibition Cases, Morris Sheppard

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