Wickersham Commission Report



Excerpts from Original Electronic Text at the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy.

President Hoover appointed the Wickersham Commission to study enforcement of the Prohibition (in effect since 1920) and to make recommendations about it. The Commission was divided on what to recommend. A majority opposed repealing it, but the Commission’s final report made it clear that enforcement was not working. - smv


{1} There is a mass of information before us as to a general prevalence of drinking in homes, in clubs, and in hotels; of drinking parties given and attended by persons of high standing and respectability; of drinking by tourists at winter and summer resorts; and of drinking in connection with public dinners and at conventions. In the nature of the case it is not easy to get at the exact facts in such a connection, and conditions differ somewhat in different parts of the country and even to some extent from year to year. This is true likewise with respect to drinking by women and drinking by youth, as to which also there is a great mass of evidence. In weighing this evidence much allowance must be made for the effect of new standards of independence and individual self-assertion, changed ideas as to conduct generally, and the greater emphasis on freedom and the quest for excitement since the war. As to drinking among youth, the evidence is conflicting. Votes in colleges show an attitude of hostility to or contempt for the law on the part of those who are not unlikely to be leaders in the next generation. It is safe to say that a significant change has taken place in the social attitude toward drinking. This may be seen in the views and conduct of social leaders, business and professional men in the average community. It may be seen in the tolerance of conduct at social gatherings which would not have been possible a generation ago. It is reflected in a different way of regarding drunken youth, in a change in the class of excessive drinkers, and in the increased use of distilled liquor in places and connections where formerly it was banned. It is evident that, taking the country as a whole, people of wealth, businessmen and professional men, and their families, and, perhaps, the higher paid workingmen and their families, are drinking in large numbers in quite frank disregard of the declared policy of the National Prohibition Act.

{2} There has been much discussion as to how the consumption of liquor today compares with that before prohibition. . . . The Census Bureau figures for the year 1929 indicate a decline in the rate of deaths from alcoholism, and the figures on all the points referred to are still substantially below the pre-prohibition figures. Upon the whole, however, they indicate that after a brief period in the first years of the amendment there has been a steady increase in drinking.

{3} To the serious effects of this attitude of disregard of the declared policy of the National Prohibition Act must be added the bad effect on children and employees of what they see constantly in the conduct of otherwise law abiding persons. Such things and the effect on youth of the making of liquor in homes, in disregard of the policy, if not of the express provisions of the law, the effect on the families of workers of selling in homes, which obtains in many localities, and the effect on working people of the conspicuous newly acquired wealth of their neighbors who have engaged in bootlegging, are disquieting. This widespread and scarcely or not at all concealed contempt for the policy of the National Prohibition Act, and the effects of that contempt, must be weighed against the advantage of diminution (apparently lessening) of the amount in circulation.

{4} These observations are not directed to a comparison between conditions before the Eighteenth Amendment and since, but only to changes taking place during the years since the adoption of the Amendment. The disquieting features above referred to should, of course, be weighed against the recognized fact that very large numbers of people have consistently observed the law.


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