Neither nullification nor nationalism: The battle for the states’ rights middle ground during prohibition

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8 Scopus citations


During and after passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, American governing officials struggled to balance the competing demands of state sovereignty and constitutional obligation. This article examines debates in Congress and three contested states (New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts) to show that participants worked to situate themselves as faithful guarantors of both enumerated powers and constitutional obligations. Those who defended national prohibition and state cooperation constantly defended this as the consequence of a specific textual amendment. By contrast, those who wanted the states to refrain from enforcement repeatedly denied that states were required to be administrative agents of a different sovereign. In short, prohibitionists denied that they were nationalists while alleging that wets were nullifiers, with antiprohibition forces reversing the claims—but nearly all progressives, conservatives, Republicans, and Democrats were trying to claim the same Jacksonian middle ground of a centrist federalism and a robust states’ rights consensus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-303
Number of pages33
JournalAmerican Political Thought
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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