Denouncement of Prohibition


Hon. James M. Beck, of New York, the great constitutional lawyer and former attorney general of the United States and the only American lawyer that has been honored by being elected an honorary member of the exclusive Bar Association of London, England, addressed the Union League Club Washington’s birthday banquet.  In this famous speech he referred to the so called prohibition amendment to the constitution. “Whatever our opinions may be with respect to statutory prohibition,” said Mr. Beck, “no fair-minded man can question that in the adoption of the eighteenth amendment, if, indeed, it has been legally adopted, the principle of home rule has suffered a serious, if not fatal impairment. Nowhere in the constitution is the slightest trace of a purpose on the part of the fathers to determine questions of individual morality or personal habit.  In a country of 100,000,000 of people, inhabiting a vast continent, which begins with the edge of the arctic and ends with the edge of the tropics, and which is inhabited by men of many races and varying social standards, it is, in my judgment, a hazardous experiment to impose by a rigid constitutional amendment a doubtful principle of morality, which, in my judgment, justly offends the pride of individual liberty.”

Invades State’s Rights.
“Whatever the merits of prohibition may be as a local measure, its adoption as an unbending national principle destroys the symmetry of the constitution and invades those reserved rights of the states and of the people thereof which the tenth amendment was designed to preserve inviolate. “We have already had one such experience in the ‘fifteenth amendment, which has resulted in its accepted nullification in one section of the country. “If it be desirable that each state should be the judge of the qualifications of its voters, surely it must be true that each state should judge whether the unquestioned liquor evil is of such proportions that, having regard to its own peculiar necessities and conditions it should impose upon its citizens a uniform abstention from a personal habit. “I regard the adoption of the eighteenth amendment as the destruction of the principle of home rule and, as such, the deadliest menace to the perpetuity of the republic that has arisen in the last half century.”

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