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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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The Dry Tide Recedes (1922–23)

The Dry Tide Recedes (1922–23)

(p.100) Chapter Six The Dry Tide Recedes (1922–23)
Prohibition, the Constitution, and States' Rights

Sean Beienburg

University of Chicago Press

Prohibitionist strength reached its apex in 1922 and 1923, as the Anti-Saloon League and its allies convinced most American politicians that their oaths to the Constitution required state enforcement of prohibition. Even as many criticized the Eighteenth Amendment for undermining states’ rights and local government, government officials, many who shared those views (such as Wisconsin Governor and former prohibitionist John Blaine), defended enforcement of the Sheppard Amendment on grounds of constitutional fidelity. With the exception of the West, where prohibition discussion was more likely to be conducted independently of constitutionalism, state debates offered impressive examples of popular constitutionalism, with public discussions on American federalism. In considering whether to repeal New York’s concurrent enforcement law, the politically progressive but constitutionally conservative Al Smith debated these nuances of federalism with not only other members of New York state government but also Warren Harding, insisting on his obligation to engage in constitutional interpretation rather than simply leave these issues to the courts. Initially hesitant due to the difficulty of ensuring his deep commitment to states’ rights did not cross from the American federalist consensus into discredited nullification or secession, Smith’s stance made him become arguably the leading anti-prohibition politician in the country.

Keywords:   popular constitutionalism, secession, nullification, Warren Harding, Al Smith, John Blaine, Anti Saloon League, prohibition

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