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Wayne Wheeler and the Volstead Act

Crusader for the 18th Amendment: Wayne B. Wheeler, Temperance and the Volstead Act

1.5 hours CLE credit,
April 3rd., 2013



Wheeler Big

Legal prohibition of alcohol was one of American history’s more far-reaching attempts to use legal coercion to address widespread social behavior, ultimately rendering illegal one of the nation’s major industries. The Eighteenth Amendment, which enshrined it into the U.S. Constitution, remains the only amendment to have been repealed. Wayne Wheeler, an alumnus (1898) of Western Reserve Law School and of Oberlin College, was a key architect of prohibition through his long association with and eventual leadership of the Anti-Saloon League, first in Ohio and then nationally. Through the lens of the temporary successes and eventual failure of prohibition, this program will help Ohio attorneys understand the connections between practical legislative drafting and issue advocacy. Through focusing on Wheeler, Ohio attorneys will be able to explore the interactions of state and federal legislation, and constitutional law, with powerfully-felt political and ideological movements and the roles of lawyers within those movements.

A collection of legal scholars and historians will address the legal and political role of Wheeler and his Anti-Saloon League in charting the strategies that led to prohibition, and the particular confluence of circumstances that made federal, constitutional, prohibition a possibility in 1920. Wheeler was perhaps the most important political architect of the coalitions that passed state-level prohibition in many states prior to 1919, and critical to building the movement that enabled national prohibition. He was also intimately involved in the drafting of the Volstead Act, which crafted the actual legal machinery of prohibition and its enforcement. The experience of Wheeler’s Anti-Saloon League and prohibition has much to teach us regarding the leverage and limitations of potent single-issue political organizations, about law reform, constitutional and legislative drafting, and about the difficulty of using coercive law to address contested social issues.

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