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Remembering the ‘Father of Prohibition’: The lasting power of reputation

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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“Who, in God’s name, would waste a perfectly good bullet, a knife thrust or even a cup of ‘hemlock’ on such an infinitely despicable specimen of the genus vermin as Andrew J. Volstead?”

That’s just one example of the hate mail received by the man known as the “Father of Prohibition.”

Andrew Volstead was a Republican congressman from Minnesota who wrote the law that confiscated beer, wine, and liquor in America.

Known as the Volstead Law, the act went into effect one hundred years ago this week. It was enacted to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment, which was ratified a year earlier. The lawmaker spent the rest of his life trying to shed the reputation his act conferred upon him.

Volstead wanted to be remembered for accomplishments like a landmark farm co-op bill which allowed associations of farmers to collectively market their products. But, as the Washington Post notes, “‘Father of Prohibition’ had a better ring to it than father of the Co-Operative Marketing Associations Act of 1922.”

The lawmaker did not volunteer his services to produce the act that became associated with him. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, it was his job to write it.

The hate mail soon began arriving in droves. As did the death threats.

The congressman was defeated in the 1922 election, just two years after his Act took effect. A 1971 profile of him said he “lived as a self-sacrifice to Prohibition” and died in 1947 “embittered” about his legacy as a “caricature of the Dry movement.”

The lasting power of reputation

As Andrew J. Volstead reminds us, we cannot write our own legacy. No matter what we believe we have achieved in this life, we cannot control what people say about us when we are gone.

However, we can write our legacy in eternity.

When we are faithful to serve Jesus with the resources he has entrusted to us, we will hear him say one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

What if it were today?

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