The Five and Ten Law, March, 1929


Light beer (and even sauerkraut) became a major federal felony 24 hours before Herbert Hoover, a lifelong teetotaler, placed his hand upon a religious tome and became President. 

Chapter 42

The Five and Ten

 Senator Wesley Livsey Jones of Washington—possibly the most fanatical prohibitionist in the upper Chamber—again pressed for his year-old “increased penalties” plan on February 19.[1] “Be it enacted,” he proposed in his bill, “That wherever a penalty or penalties are prescribed in criminal prosecution by the National Prohibition Act, as amended and supplemented, for the illegal manufacture, sale, transportation, importation or exportation of intoxicating liquor, as defined by Section 1, Title II of the National Prohibition Act, the penalty imposed for each such offense shall be a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed five years, or both.”[2] The national media dubbed it the Five & Ten, but the Chicago Tribune preferred to call it the Jones Law.

The gauntlet was thrown. Drys, championed by Senator William A. Borah of Idaho, hailed it as essential to maintaining a constitutional form of government. Wets, led by Senator James A. Reed of Missouri, classed it as improper, unjust and cruel, and on raged the debate. The Tribune compared it to the Fugitive Slave Law, but the Senate passed it anyway, albeit with the added proviso that “it is the intent of Congress that the court, in imposing sentence hereunder, should discriminate between casual or slight violations and habitual sales of intoxicating liquor, or attempts to commercialize violations of the law.”[3]

The House passed it as it stood, and President Calvin Coolidge signed it into law just twenty-four hours before an optimistic Herbert Hoover was to blithely take an oath to enforce it. But Hoover wouldn’t let it go at that. To this lynch mob atmosphere of hysteria he added: “Of the undoubted abuses which have grown up under the 18th amendment, part are due to (…) the failure of some States to accept their share of the responsibility for concurrent enforcement and to the failure of many State and local officials to accept the obligation under their oath of office zealously to enforce the laws. With the failures from these many causes has come a dangerous expansion in the criminal elements who have found enlarged opportunities for dealing in illegal liquor. (…) I have been selected by you to execute and enforce the laws of the country. (…) To those of criminal mind there can be no appeal but vigorous enforcement of the law. Fortunately they are but a small percentage of our people. Their activities must be stopped.”[4]

A delegation from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was photographed on the White House lawn. Herbert Hoover had lunch with Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt, then met with Senator Morris Sheppard of corn-producing Texas, author of the 18th Amendment. Time called Hoover the “Dry Hope,” and those first few days in office seemed to confirm exactly that. Bootleggers took no comfort whatsoever, and some of them began to wonder whether they’d overstayed the market.

An excerpt from Prohibition and the Crash, by JHenryPhillips.com

[1] (NYT 3/24/29 27)

[2] (Time Capsule 3/4/29 66)

[3] (CT 2/19/29 1, 3, 2/21/29 12)

[4] (Hoover 1929 1974 2-10)

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