Smithsonian Magazine takes a fascinating look at how an astonishingly powerful ale-hating teetotaler by the name of Wayne B. Wheeler leveraged a multitude of early-20th-century political interests from womens’ suffrage to federal income taxation to good-ol’-racism to effectuate the passage of the 18th Amendment, and, with it, a dark (yet not necessarily dry… kudos, Yale Club) chapter in American history. Read it and rejoice your birth into 21st Amendment America.
Wayne B. Wheeler: The Man Who Turned Off the Taps by Daniel Okrent – Smithsonian magazine, May 2010
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Wayne Wheeler insisted on strict and vigorous enforcement of National Prohibition. He was a proponent of force and “he desired the most severe penalties, the most aggressive policies even to calling out the Army and navy, the most relentless prosecution.”
The Prohibition Bureau added poisons to industrial alcohol to prevent its consumption as a beverage. Wheeler opposed the use of nonpoisonous denaturants such as soap or other noxious but harmless substances, arguing that “the government is under no obligation to furnish people with alcohol that is drinkable when the Constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this industrial alcohol…is a deliberate suicide.”
Wheeler often bragged about the many deceptions he used in promoting Prohibition, saying that they would fill a big book. Increasingly, League members openly criticized Wheeler’s alignment with avowed racial and religious bigots and groups, his advocacy of illegal actions in enforcing prohibition, his deceptive practice of writing self-aggrandizing articles that he asked others to publish as their own, and is caustic, alienating personality.
By 1926, he was being criticized by members of Congress who were questioning the League’s spending in some congressional races. He retired from the League shortly thereafter.