Why was Prohibition entered as a Constitutional amendment?

I mean, futzing with the Constitution is a serious thing. And of course (not even in 20-20 hindsight, I believe) the Constitution had to be re-amended to deal with that.

Weren’t there other federal ways to enact the original politically arrived-at decision?

I asked this same question a couple of years ago. The consensus was that there were questions at the time about whether the government had the power to ban the consumption of something. Prohibitionists were concerned that a regular law banning alcohol might be overruled as unconstitutional. So they went for the more difficult but more certain route of a constitutional amendment.

Previous thread.
A precis: No one thought they could make a solid case for Uncle Sam restricting alcohol out of the box and rather than waste time with unlikely alternatives, they went with the big guns. Also, no amendment had ever been repealed at the time so there was more of a sense of permanence about it.

Thanks for the thread cite.
Although to my mind this should not necessarily shut down this thread, what with ever-new thoughts appearing and the lack of zombies.

Also interesting in that thread was the entirely plausible suggestions regarding the upcoming election battle.

And the government never did ban the consumption of alcohol. It was the manufacture, selling and transportation of alcohol that was banned.

Or this one or this one or this one or this one or this one. And I didn’t find the one that I started.

They should have just used the Interstate Commerce Clause :stuck_out_tongue:

Yes. This is the reason. This was before the 1930s and the New Deal expansion of the Commerce Clause. Nobody could reasonably read the enumerated powers of Congress to see a power to ban alcohol without a constitutional amendment.

If it would have been thirty years later, a simple federal law, under the guise of regulating commerce in alcohol (or marijuana) would have been fine.

They could have [del]fined[/del] taxed anyone who didn’t buy alcohol! :stuck_out_tongue:

Wouldn’t that have had the opposite effect?

Actually, that is pretty much what happened. They couldn’t ban alcohol previously because so much of the government’s income came from the taxes on alcohol. Once the Income Tax came about, they, like you say, taxed people who didn’t buy alcohol.

As explained in Business Law 101 years ago:

A law cannot invalidate a pre-existing contract. Not even a Federal law. The only way the gov’t can cancel private contracts is by finding something in the Constitution (or ratified Treaty, which trump the Constitution.
There were thousands and thousands of contracts for the manufacture, transpotation and distribution of alcohol.
Since they couldn’t find anything in the Constitution to invoke, they put something in it they could use.

It would have been interesting if someone had made up a contract for the supply of a newly-found drug - marijuana in the 20’s, LSD in the 50’s, I don’t know if the newer recreational drugs are legitimate drugs or require the use of illegal chemistry.

You young-uns be sure to get a contract up before the next fun drug gets outlawed.

I thought they had closed that loophole.

I’m not buying the idea that a ratified treaty trumps the constitution.

Nor the idea that “a law cannot trump a pre-existing contract”. Huh?

I doubt this too. A treaty has the force of law and can contradict or supersede a current law (just as new legislation does) but nothing trumps the constitution.

Not in the least true. A majority of states had made liquor illegal before Prohibition and thousands of individual counties had as well. The federal government could obviously do the same. The real point was that Prohibition had become a moral crusade and politicians got swept up in it, even though most of them personally didn’t want it. The forces that wanted to keep alcohol included many Germans, who dominated the liquor and beer brewing industries, but who found that the animosities of WWI made people pounce on anything they said. Taxes on liquor had been the major source of revenue, but the income tax amendment and the rapid increase in the rate of taxation because of the war made that moot. So everything was primed for a huge dramatic gesture. The Volstead Act would have worked fine by itself, but that’s not what the majority wanted.

There’s no such thing as illegal chemistry. And drugs had been made illegal before Prohibition. Look at the history of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914.

That would be of as much use as crossing your fingers and shouting no touchbacks.

Is this true? I’m not looking at wikipedia right now, but the years don’t line up exactly, do they? I believe income taxes began in 1913.

Prohibition was in 1920, right? It’s close, but one didn’t follow the other. In fact taxes came first, the double dipping bastards.

I’ll go look up the dates to see how off I was. If I was on “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, and the question was the years these two things started, I’ve just put in my final answer. Let’s see if I go home rich or poor.

Yes. It took the Prohibitionists a few years to get the Amendment through. The fact that the government relied so heavily on alcohol taxes had previously been an insurmountable obstacle to their cause.

It’s been a long time since I looked into it so don’t quote me on this, but I think something like 70% of the federal revenues were from alcohol and tobacco taxes.

The argument wasn’t really that a treaty could overrule the Constitution. The argument was that the Constitution’s explicit provision granting the Senate the power to enact treaties could overrule implicit interpretations of other Constitutional provisions.

The usual case cited for this argument is Missouri v. Holland. The United States and the United Kingdom signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which set in place regulations about the hunting of wild birds. The prevailing opinion of the courts at this time was that the Constitution did not give Congress the power to regulate hunting - that was a power reserved to the states.

So some states challenged the hunting regulations on that basis. But the court ruled that while the Constitution didn’t give Congress the power to regulate hunting, it did give Congress the power to make treaties. So while these regulations would have been unconstitutional if they had been enacted through a law passed by Congress, these same regulations were constitutional if they were enacted through a treaty approved by Congress.

The first income taxes were 7% on high income individuals and much lower on the rest, so that almost nobody was even taxed. That changed with the war. Here’s an amazing chart.

Everything was put aside for the war. Once it ended, an avalanche of change happened.