MN Historical Society digitizes 100-year-old letters of MN Congressman who wrote Prohibition bill

Rep. Andrew Volstead's collection of letters sheds light on how divided the Prohibition era was and how he was at the center of it. (Minnesota Historical Society / FOX 9)

The Minnesota Historical Society has digitized the letters of Minnesota Congressman Andrew Volstead, which gives Minnesotans a unique look into how prohibition divided the country 100 years ago.

The letters show a lot of parallels between then and now.

Volstead was the Minnesota Congressman who wrote the legislation that enforced the 18th Amendment banning alcohol.

Prohibition was a time that busted barrels and spilled raw emotion. Volstead was a frequent target of said raw emotion.

The struggles over prohibition pour from the letters he sent and received.

“So, he wrote what was the National Prohibition Act, but everyone calls it the Volstead Act because he wrote it because he was the head of the Judiciary Committee at the time and that was his job,” said Lori Williamson, of the Minnesota Society Acquisitions Outreach Coordinator.

His role in writing that act made him a target for non-believers.

Congressman Volstead, of Minnesota, wrote the Prohibition bill. (Minnesota Historical Society / FOX 9)

“Enclosed, please find the beautiful and plentiful results of your prohibition laws,” read Williamson of another letter to him. “Moonshiners, robbers and murders in its trail.”

There are letters of support, but also death threats.

“If you don’t repeal your prohibition law you made, in 30 days, you are dead, man,” she read again. “You are going to be blowed to pieces.”

One person sent string, writing, “This is the rope we use in Indiana.”

Volstead kept it.

“First of all, it tells us about Volstead himself,” Williamson said of the letters. “He was a very thoughtful man and really cared about what people thought he was doing. He kept all of this stuff and I think it’s because it really meant something to him.”

All of the letters are newly digitized for anyone to research online.

“It’s just a great collection in that it shows both his dedication, but also shows the public engagement and interest in this issue and I just love that,” she said.

Congressman Volstead lost reelection in 1922 and returned to Granite Falls to practice law. He still supported prohibition causes.

His documents give the public some new insights into the divisions of the country and the passions on both sides. You can find the collection here.