Wayne Wheeler (President of the Anti-Saloon League), so powerful and influential for so long, was finally on the defensive. He had supported the use of methanol for "denaturing" alcohol, and he had actively and aggressively lobbied against mandatory poison labels (pictured: a local warning label from a pharmacy). Wheeler actually denied responsibility in any way over the deaths from "denatured" alcohol; he stated that those that died from drinking that type of alcohol deserved it, since they were breaking the law . . . at long last, Wheeler's enemies
(the "Wets") sensed that his "Prohibition Power" was starting to ebb away.
As the Anti-Saloon League was losing it influence with Congress, Wheeler's health was slipping. He had made many enemies in America, but also in the Anti-Saloon League. But Wheeler's downfall actually started in 1925 when President Coolidge replaced the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury with someone that wasn't loyal or beholden to Wheeler. This new Ass't SecTreas made sure that the Commissioner in the Prohibition Bureau was no longer a lackey for Wheeler (pictured). At the first sign of weakness, some members of Congress pounced on Wheeler, and long-dormant anti-Prohibition groups started to regain political traction.
On 23 April, 1927, Wheeler (who was very ill with heart and kidney problems) debated Clarence Darrow, one of the most famous and influential "Drys", at Carnegie Hall. Wheeler didn't acquit himself well, in part because of his health, but also because Darrow was a far superior opponent. After the debate, Coolidge kept replacing more top-level administration officials that were anti-Wheeler, and in essence the "wheels came off" for Wheeler, in that no one in the federal government was afraid of him any longer. Wheeler died only five months after his debate with Darrow, in September, 1927; he had been in the process of making plans to try and influence the outcomes of
both political conventions.
The Great Depression didn't initiate the repeal for Prohibition, but it did markedly accelerate the ratification of the 21st Amendment. Many wealthy "Drys" wanted liquor to be once again legal so it could be taxed, hoping that the resulting revenues would lower their income tax. Many "Dry" farmers also changed their tune so they could sell more grain at a better price.
Democratic nomination for President in 1928, after Wheeler thwarted his bid four years earlier . . . the "Wets" finally had some momentum. However, Prohibition and his Catholicism dogged Smith during the General Campaign against the Republican candidate Herbert Hoover. In the Election of 1928, the "Drys" won their last victory, electing Hoover to the White House in a landslide (pictured below), while also sending the highest percentage of "Drys" to Congress during Prohibition.
President Hoover stated that he opposed any effort to repeal the 18th Amendment, but the political mood would drastically change in the next four years, due to the Great Depression. Also, the new leader of the Anti-Saloon League, Bishop James Cannon, proved to be brazenly bigoted and hypocritical. The "Wet" media confirmed that he was a black-marketer during the Great War, and was guilty of multiple counts of "moral turpitude".
The least-learned lesson of Prohibition is that legislation alone is no cure for our nation's problems. America's social conservatives were proven wrong in at least their politics and predictions concerning Prohibition. Repression is like morphine, in that it masks the pain, but it doesn't cure the sickness . . . and Prohibition was a dose of national morphine that lasted 13 years, 5 months, and 9 days, and left an indelible mark, both positive and negative, on America.