Stopping the Wind that Blows and the Rivers that Run: Connecticut and Rhode Island Reject the Prohibition Amendment
47 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2009
Date Written: June 11, 2009
On January 17, 1919, the New York Times reported that "[t]he American nation was voted dry today [January 16, 1919] by Constitutional Amendment when the Legislature of Nebraska, the home of William Jennings Bryan, one of the foremost champions of prohibition, ratified the proposal." This development was a triumph for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and even more so for the political lobbying group, the Anti-Saloon League. These groups had successfully guided the constitutional amendment through thirty-six states after the House of Representatives voted on December 17, 1917 by 282 to 128, and the Senate voted on December 18, 1917 by 47 to 8, to adopt a national prohibition amendment. The Acting Secretary of State Frank Polk declared that the amendment had been ratified by the requisite number of states on January 29, 1919. It was to take effect under its terms one year following the adoption. But the dry forces were not done with the ratification. There were two other states beside Nebraska that also ratified on January 16, 1919 - Wyoming and Missouri. In public statements, the proponents of the amendment confidently claimed that the number of states ratifying would rise to forty by January 17, 1919, and the remainder would follow quickly thereafter. Actually, the Drys were only partially correct: it took until 1922 for the forty-sixth state, New Jersey, to ratify, and Connecticut and Rhode Island would never do so.
This Article presents the record of rejection by the two hold-out states - Connecticut and Rhode Island. It discusses the pressures on the legislators of the two states to ratify or reject the constitutional amendment as well as the outcome of the debate. The Article relates interesting political developments in each state. Connecticut's two legislative bodies split over the issue of ratification and never chose to pursue it further. Rhode Island decided to argue its position in the United States Supreme Court. In an ironic twist, discussed in this article, Connecticut's leading stand against the amendment was almost lost to history. In the end, Connecticut and Rhode Island, though initially in the minority, emerged victorious as the "noble experiment" ended with the repeal of prohibition in 1933.
Keywords: legal history
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation