Study Guide

Andrew Volstead in 18th and 21st Amendments

By United States Congress

Andrew Volstead

Volstead was a career politician who, if not for his association with Prohibition, would be remembered only for the titanic mustache he sported. Seriously. You could crawl in there and wait out a frigid Minnesota winter just fine.

A lifelong teetotaler, he allied himself with Wayne Wheeler and the Anti-Saloon League to sponsor the 18th Amendment. It didn't do much for his political career, as he saw his twenty-year career in Congress come to an end in 1923 when Ole J. Kvale took his seat.

Volstead wasn't exactly the life of the party. One of his acquaintances described him like this:

His serious, almost solemn attitude toward all subjects of discussion, further cast a gray aura about his personality. There is no suggestion of color, of gaiety, or sparkle, or scintillation about him. Only quiet, earnest, serious grayness. (Source)

Born and raised in Minnesota to Norwegian immigrants, Volstead was a career politician. He worked his way up from the board of education in Granite Falls to the city attorney of the same town, then prosecuting attorney, then finally to mayor in 1900. Granite Falls was this guy's oyster. He served for two years, then it was off to Congress, where he stayed for the next twenty years.

It's an open question as to whether Volstead was truly a supporter of Prohibition or simply a useful pawn. He was a teetotaler himself, but he didn't go around giving speeches or condemning people for the occasional drink (source). As the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, it was his job to sponsor the legislation, but most people believe that Wayne Wheeler really wrote the bill.

He was more proud of his work supporting farmers, especially the Capper-Volstead Act, which allowed farmers to form co-ops without worrying about anti-trust laws. He was also one of the few members of the House of Representatives to think there should be some federal laws against lynching. Imagine that.

After getting sent home by the electorate, he returned to his law practice until his death in 1947. He's still pretty popular in Granite Falls, though we're betting you can drink there. His work in Congress got him inducted into the Norwegian-American Hall of Fame, right up there with Knute Rockne.

As they'd say in Minnesota, that's not too bad.

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