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"Protecting the Public Welfare and Morals": Political Institutions, Federalism, and Prohibition, 1834-1934


Roberts, Reginald Eric (2001) "Protecting the Public Welfare and Morals": Political Institutions, Federalism, and Prohibition, 1834-1934. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/5CXH-XN48.


Social Scientists have developed a research agenda that seeks to explain prohibition policy adoption through the theory of collective action or the economic theory of regulation. They have found that the relative strength of interest groups has indeed played a role in the adoption of prohibition policy at the state and national level. I have chosen to take a different approach to the study of the prohibition era. In this thesis, I have chosen to make the state and federal constitutions the primary focus in determining what shaped prohibition policy outcomes at both the state and national levels. I have sought to show three things. First, state institutions played a key role in the spread of prohibition policy. Second, the state's ability to enforce prohibition was compromised by the conflict between state police powers and the federal interstate commerce powers. Third, the ambiguous wording of the Eighteenth Amendment was a major factor in the failure of national prohibition enforcement. In chapter 2, I showed that pro-prohibition forces preferred constitutional amendments to statutory laws. The ability to adopt state constitutional amendments, however, was hampered in some states by high institutional barriers at both the initiation stage and ratification stage. In chapter 3, I showed that prohibition states had limited success in prohibiting alcohol sales because their police powers conflicted with federal interstate commerce powers. In chapter 4, I show that the Supreme Court's interpretation of the ambiguous wording of the Eighteenth Amendment gave states incentives to free ride on the federal enforcement effort. Consequently, the asymmetry in capabilities between the states and federal government was a chief cause in the failure of enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment. I conclude that prohibition policy might shed some light on the current direction of research on how policies, particularly moral policies, diffuse across states. Second, the federalism perspective I have adopted may shed some light on the likely life cycle of moral policies, the "war on drugs," that are tending toward prohibition today.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Social Science
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Social Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Kiewiet, D. Roderick
Thesis Committee:
  • Kiewiet, D. Roderick (chair)
  • Grether, David M.
  • Ordeshook, Peter C.
  • Alvarez, R. Michael
Defense Date:1 January 2001
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-11222005-100511
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:4637
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:22 Nov 2005
Last Modified:29 Nov 2022 21:57

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