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Volstead Act

Andrew J. Volstead, Republican representative from Minnesota, was the driving force behind the National Prohibition Act (popularly the Volstead Act), written to provide for the enforcement of the recently ratified 18th Amendment. It was passed by Congress in October, 1919, but was vetoed by President Wilson on October 27. The House again passed the measure, with enough votes to override Wilson's veto, on the same day and the U.S. Senate did the same on the next day.

  • The manufacture, transport, export, sale or possession of alcoholic beverages was prohibited within the United States
  • Alcoholic beverages were those that contained more than one-half percent of alcohol
  • Federal agents were empowered to investigate and prosecute violators.
The measure retained taxation on alcoholic beverages, despite having made them illegal, and permitted brewers to have products with more than .5% alcohol, provided that the level was reduced to below that mark before being sold to the public. Volstead failed to get reelected in 1922, but some authorities have suggested that low farm prices, rather than prohibition legislation, accounted for his defeat. The public adhered to this law fairly faithfully in its early years, but support declined sharply as crime rates increased. In early 1933, in anticipation of the 18th Amendment's repeal, the Volstead Act was revised, which allowed the manufacture and sale of 3.2 percent beer. The act was voided later that year with the adoption of the 21st Amendment.