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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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Constitutional Obligations (1923–24)

Constitutional Obligations (1923–24)

(p.135) Chapter Seven Constitutional Obligations (1923–24)
Prohibition, the Constitution, and States' Rights

Sean Beienburg

University of Chicago Press

The formerly wet Warren Harding increasingly felt obligated to shore up prohibition enforcement on grounds of constitutional fidelity. However, his death elevated Calvin Coolidge, a libertarian-leaning states’ rights conservative who, like Harding, nonetheless believed the amendment made an exception to that rule, albeit one whose enforcement he sought to foist on the states or underlings whenever possible. The bitterly fought Democratic primary in the 1924 presidential election became infamous for going to 103 ballots, as anti-prohibition, libertarian leaning Democrats like Oscar Underwood sought to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan. The southern prohibitionist and Anti-Saloon League and Klan-favored William McAdoo fought the anti-prohibitionist and aggressively states’ rights candidates Albert Ritchie and especially Al Smith to a standstill. Deadlocked Democrats thus nominated lawyer John Davis, whose views were quite similar to Coolidge and whose selection illustrates the bipartisan hold of both federalism and constitutional obligation: both were states’ rights politicians who nonetheless defended enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment. Coolidge’s victory over the equally constitutionally conservative Davis brought with it a clear increase in prohibitionist members of Congress.

Keywords:   Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, 1924 presidential election, William McAdoo, Al Smith, Albert Ritchie, John Davis, Anti Saloon League, Ku Klux Klan, Oscar Underwood

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