The Volstead Act was a piece of legislation passed in 1919. It enabled the United States government to enforce the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and is formally known as the National Prohibition Act. In combination with the 18th Amendment and other supporting legislature, it is included under the blanket term “Prohibition.” In 1933, this act and other Prohibition-related laws were repealed in response to popular outcry.
The 18th Amendment was introduced into the Senate in 1917, and it was successfully ratified by 1919, when the need for the Volstead Act to enable its enforcement became clear. Under the 18th Amendment, “intoxicating liquor” was essentially prohibited within the United States. The law was passed in response to the temperance movement, which had gathered large numbers of followers. Adherents to the movement believed that the consumption of alcohol was harmful, and that society in general would benefit if alcohol was banned.
The wording of the act specifically defined “intoxicating liquor,” stating that any beverage that contained 0.5% alcohol by volume or higher would be covered. It also clarified that transport, sale, barter, trade, manufacture, delivery, processing, and possessing alcohol would all be considered illegal. Criminal penalties for lawbreaking were additionally defined under the Volstead Act, which was authored by Wayne Wheeler and sponsored by Andrew Volstead.
Although the temperance movement lobbied to ban alcohol because they thought society would improve as a result, the consequences of the 18th Amendment proved to be opposite of what had been expected. Crime and lawlessness rose in the United States in response, as gangs rose up to provide alcohol to the masses clamoring for it. Much of the success of underground economies, and the mafia that facilitated them, is a direct result of prohibition. Bootleggers sold alcohol of varying strengths and qualities, and citizens flocked to underground speakeasies where they could obtain alcohol, listen to jazz, and dance the night away. Much of the culture of the 1920s in America was linked to Prohibition, but the nation certainly did not become more staid or temperate as a result of the passage of the law.
President Woodrow Wilson actually attempted to veto the act, but the Senate overrode the veto. As the 1920s progressed, it became readily apparent that Prohibition was not working out as planned. In response, the motions to dismantle it were begun in 1933, and the 18th Amendment was officially repealed on 5 December by the 21st Amendment. The Volstead Act was rendered obsolete when the amendment was repealed.