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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
The Wickersham Commission Report on Alcohol Prohibition - 1930


>From the evidence before the Commission I have reached the conclusion that the outstanding achievement of the Eighteenth Amendment has been the abolition of the legalized open saloon in the United States. Social and economic benefits to the people have resulted and it is this proven gain in our social organization that has justified the experiment of national prohibition. I am unable to find that there has been any further general moral improvement shown. It has been so clearly established that contemporaneously with national prohibition there has been developed such a wide-spread spirit of lawlessness, hypocrisy and unprecedented disrespect for authority that in fairness and candor it must be stated that in the final analysis of conditions now, no other national moral improvement can be credited to prohibition. Nevertheless, the gain should not be jeopardized until it has been demonstrated after the fairest possible trial that the experiment is completed and has proven to be a failure.

The evidence has raised the doubt in my mind as to whether the enforceability of this law has been conclusively determined. I am not entirely convinced that complete and irreparable failure has been shown, neither am I satisfied in the light of the evidence before us as to a bad enforcement machinery that the law has had that fair trial that a solemn constitutional provision should be given. Until quite recently the federal enforcement organization, agencies and methods, were very unsatisfactory. They are still inadequate. More improvement is needed before they can be said to be sufficient and before any indubious conclusion can be reached as to whether the Amendment can be nationally enforced.

I believe it is well within the established facts to conclude that fanatical, illegal and corrupt methods of enforcement throughout a long period in the decade of national prohibition, have been proximate causes of an extensive public sentiment against the enforceability of this law that is generally prevalent at this time. It has been proven to my entire satisfaction that there is today neither proper observance nor adequate enforcement of prohibition throughout the country. I am not entirely convinced, however, that the situation is utterly hopeless. I feel that much can be done to mollify and to change public opinion by intelligent, dispassionate and reasonable legislation and administrative effort. If improvements that appear to have been brought about by Civil Service requirements and by the Prohibition Reorganization Act of 1930, did not hold out some degree of hope for the law, I would favor abandonment of the experiment now and the immediate invocation of constitutional processes by state conventions to revise the Amendment in the form suggested in the report of the Commission. This report, however, makes recommendations which, if followed and made effective at once, will, I believe strengthen the law and may operate to reclaim public opinion in many important localities where indifference and even hostility is pronounced. If sincere public sympathy can be nationally developed for this law it can be intelligently enforced as adequately as other police regulations.

It is evident, however, that national prohibition cannot be properly enforced by the federal government alone. State cooperation, supported by wholehearted favorable local public opinion is absolutely necessary. It is not unreasonable from the facts before the Commission to believe that an improved enforcing policy, organization, personnel and equipment can restore to a sufficient degree state cooperation and public favor so as to make national prohibition reasonably and adequately enforceable except in a few metropolitan localities. At least the possibility of bringing this about within a reasonable time is sufficient to warrant further trial of the experiment.

There is another reason that has dissuaded me from the conclusion that the Amendment be modified immediately without further trail. It is my inability to suggest or find any other satisfactory remedial substitute for the existing law. My study of the systems of liquor control in other countries and of plans that have been submitted to the Commission to supplant present conditions in the United States leaves me in doubt as to whether any of them would be adaptable to our diversified, populous and extensive nation or to the heterogeneous aspect of its people. The plan developed by Mr. Anderson and presented in his statement seems to me to be the best, and if after further trial prohibition is not enforceable I should favor serious consideration of this system. I believe that the experience in one of the states of the dispensary system has demonstrated the insufficiency of such a solution as a national institution.

Absolute repeal is unwise. It would in my opinion reopen the saloon. This would be a backward step that I hope will never be taken by the United States. The open saloon is the greatest enemy of temperance and has been a chief cause of much political corruption throughout the country in the past. These conditions should never be revived.

The states favoring prohibition should be protected against wet commonwealths. This right would be defeated by remitting the entire subject of liquor control and regulation to the several states exclusively. Federal power incident to taxation and interstate commerce was insufficient in pre-prohibition days to protect dry states from encroachment from without their boundaries. There should be retained in the Constitution an express grant of federal power to preserve prohibition in those states which locally adopted it.

It is my belief that a solution of this vexatious problem would be accelerated by ascertaining the majority sentiment of our citizenry upon the desirability of prohibition as a national policy. This public attitude has never been directly expressed through legal processes. It could be learned by direct submission of the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment through state conventions and under Article V of the Constitution. I favor and recommend such action. I think it should be undertaken immediately. The submission processes should be arranged and timed so as to avoid confusing the prohibition question with party or other issues or campaigns.

I have signed the report of the Commission. I believe it to be an impartial and dispassionate composite expression from all of the material that has come before the Commission. I concur in the findings of fact stated therein. I do not concur in all of the reasons, observations and statistics stated in the report. I am in accord with all of the Conclusions and Recommendations except that in which a revision of the Eighteenth Amendment is suggested immediately. I am not convinced by the evidence that the experiment has had a fair trial under the most auspicious conditions, and I believe an opportunity should now be given to the Congress and the administrative agencies to immediately give it such trial. If within a reasonable time observance and enforcement conditions are not clearly proven to be nationally better than they are now, then the Amendment should be revised as recommended in the Commission's report. I believe there is credible evidence before us that justifies the opinion that if the Congress enacts the recommended changes at the present session, one year would be a reasonable time to indubitably conclude whether or not the Eighteenth Amendment can be properly enforced as a national mandate.

To hopefully look forward to any satisfactory settlement of this momentous question it is not sufficient that National Prohibition have a fair trial, it is essential that its fair-minded proponents and the general public believe it has had a fair trial.


Washington, D.C., January 7, 1931.


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