In the following article William E. Johnson, better known to the public as "Pussyfoot" Johnson, explains the real underlying reasons for the provisions of the Volstead prohibition act which restricts the amount of alcohol contained in salable liquors to one-half of one percent. Mr. Johnson has always been one of the foremost advocates of prohibition, and in the past few months has come into international prominence through his campaign to make England dry and through the attack made upon him by a crowd of English students, who caused the loss of one of his eyes. Returned to this country, he is continuing his fight against the brewers and other "wet" agents, both with pen and by speech-making.
The Volstead Act prohibits the manufacture sale and transportation of potable alcoholic liquors containing as much as one-half of one per cent of liquor measured by volume. The reason for this seemingly small limit is not as fully understood as it should be and the reason for the rule is because of the attitude of the brewers themselves. The early state wide prohibition laws quite generally permitted the manufacture and sale of beer containing alcohol up to two per cent. The brewers who, in fact controlled in one way or another a great part of the saloons, were determined that they would obey no prohibition law whatever. Accordingly they followed the policy systematically year after year of trying to override the wishes of the people in the dry towns, cities and states. After a community or state voted dry, the wet interests would systematically seek to defeat the popular decision; they would institute liquor shops which would sell at the beginning beer within the two per cent limit. They would then, as soon as these shops had become established, begin to sell strong beers under two per cent labels. It was notorious that they would even sell whiskey and wine under these two per cent labels. The purpose was to bring into contempt all prohibition legislation and to nullify the wishes of the people concerned.
This sort of warfare reached its culmination in 1906-7. During this period when I was serving as chief officer of the United States Indian Service and seeking to enforce the law prohibiting the sale of liquors in the Indian territory and the introduction of such liquors in the same territory, this contest on the part of the brewers became exceedingly acute. A combination of the brewers in the Central West sought to defeat my efforts. They would ship into Indian Territory all sorts of liquors under these two per cent labels; they would even ship it in, guaranteeing the purchaser against my seizure. If I seized a carload of liquors and destroyed it, the dealers would not have to pay for the same. The brewers stood the loss. The brewing interests also employed most of the more prominent attorneys of Indian Territory, who sought by repeated arrests, by attempted injunctions and by a large number of damage suits to intimidate me and the Federal Officers. For a time the Courts permitted the introduction and sale of liquors up to two per cent, but this systematic warfare of the brewers resulted in a change of attitude of the Courts and decisions were rendered permitting my officers to seize and destroy the two per cent drinks. The attitude of the brewers in this matter forced this attitude upon the Courts. The abolition of the two per cent liquors became absolutely necessary for the enforcement of prohibition laws.
In 1907 the new state of Oklahoma was established and a constitution was adopted prohibiting traffic in intoxicating liquors. The first legislature almost immediately after its opening began to consider the proper legislation to carry out this dry amendment. In collaboration with Honorable W. M. Mellette, the United States District Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, I had devised a definition of intoxicating liquors, which, it was believed, would meet satisfactorily the situation. The definition, which I proposed, is as follows: "An intoxicating liquor within the meaning of this act shall include all liquids or compounds whether medicated or not and which are capable of being used as beverages and which contain as much as one-half of one per cent of alcohol measured by volume." This definition did not include camphor for instance, which contains ninety per cent of alcohol, because camphor is not potable. On the other hand it would cover every form of fake drugs, which were potable, provided they contained as much as one-half of one per cent. Through the efforts of The Oklahoma Anti-Saloon League and through the championship of Honorable Charles N. Haskell, the first Governor of Oklahoma, the substance of this definition was made a part of the enforcement act, although the wording was changed and somewhat elaborated. In actual experience the definition, forced upon the State of Oklahoma by the warfare of the brewers themselves, proved to be exceedingly efficient and the idea has been adopted in nearly every state enforcement act since that time. One after another the state dry laws, permitting the two per cent privilege, were modified to conform to the one-half of one per cent limit. The brewers themselves by their systematic attempt to destroy the prohibition laws only succeeded in destroying their two per cent privilege. Threshed out in actual experience covering a period of nearly twenty years, the two per cent limit was such an apparent failure that any legislation that could be at all effective must entirely eliminate that privilege.
It is not a question as to whether one-half of one per cent is intoxicating or whether even two per cent is intoxicating, it is only a question of the adequate enforcement of any law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. Any restoration of light wines and beer would be merely a restoration of the scandals that accompanied the enforcement of prohibition laws during the last two decades when the people generously sought to extend the brewers a two per cent limit.
Further than this, the Volstead Act contemplates the prohibition of all intoxicating liquors instead of a part of them. There is no merit whatever in any contention that it is wrong to get drunk on whisky and brandy but that it is all right to get drunk on wine and beer. The people by an overwhelming demonstration of their power have decreed that the business of making people dry shall no longer be tolerated in a free country no matter whether they are made drunk by beer and wine or by whisky.