What is the Prohibition Party?

Paul Woods

The Prohibition Party is a conservative political party in the United States. Known best for its historic opposition to the manufacture and sale of alcohol, this party has traditionally supported a variety of conservative-leaning policies as well, including opposition to the sale of tobacco, distribution of pornography and legalization of gambling. It is generally credited as being a major force behind the 1919 Prohibition Act in the U.S., which banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol and which was repealed in 1933.

The Prohibition Party opposed the legalization of gambling.
The Prohibition Party opposed the legalization of gambling.

Founded in 1869, the Prohibition Party enjoyed significant influence and growth in its first half century of existence. The party’s presidential nominees won more than 100,000 votes in each U.S. national election between 1884 and 1920. This is generally considered to be the high point of the party’s influence, which most consider to have peaked with the 1919 passage of the Prohibition Act.

The Prohibition Party opposed the use of tobacco.
The Prohibition Party opposed the use of tobacco.

The U.S. political scene has largely been a contest between two major political parties. Many third parties have had an impact, and the Prohibition Party is considered by many to be the first of the significant third party movements. In the early and mid-20th century, the Prohibition candidate won the governorship of the state of Florida and a congressional seat from California. A Prohibition senatorial candidate from California lost the 1932 election but earned more than 500,000 votes.

Following the 1933 repeal of the Prohibition Act, the party’s membership and influence began to decline. The party continues to hold national party conventions on odd-numbered years and continues to nominate candidates for office, but voting success has been nominal at best with candidates getting a few thousand votes rather than the half million during and pre prohibition.

The Prohibition Party suffered a split in 2003. The National Prohibition Party was formed by a former Prohibition Party candidate and subsequently ran its own candidate for president. In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, the candidates for both parties won fewer than a combined 2,000 votes.

In terms of the party’s political platform beyond the socially conservative issues such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography and gambling, the party also has taken traditional stands on economic and foreign policy. Typically, the foreign policy stand of the Prohibition Party has focused on free trade, non-involvement in other countries except for humanitarian emergencies and support of worldwide human rights. On economic policy, the party traditionally has supported a balanced budget, limited taxation and an end to inheritance taxes.

The Prohibition Party is best known for its opposition to the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol.
The Prohibition Party is best known for its opposition to the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol.

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Discussion Comments


@JimmyT - I understand where you are going and that getting an amendment passed based on your party's platform is a phenomenal achievement, but nothing comes close to having one of your own elected President.

Prohibition was the main part of the Prohibition Party's platform, but there were other policies that they wanted to institute as the policies of the United States. Had they had one of their own elected, they would in essence have been in charge of one branch of government, the Executive Branch.

Since the President can appoint people to federal jobs, the Prohibition Party President could have appointed so many Prohibition Party members to various government jobs, putting the party's stamp on various institutions, especially the Judicial Branch and federally elected judges.

One cannot take for granted the power that the President has and this is the ultimate goal of any party due to the power the President has and the impact that their appointments could have for decades to come.


Although I can see both sides of the issue usually what defines a party in the short run is how they are doing in the present and what candidate they have to relay their party's message to the people. This could be the reason for the success of many third parties of the past, but the Prohibition Party is a particularly interesting case as they never had a really strong candidate that they could use to run for President, but they were successful.

It could be that the Prohibition Party had such a popular message and such a narrow message that people could support and understand that brought it so much success. My personal opinion would be that they had a lot more success than most third parties simply because they were able to get the 18th amendment passed and got alcohol banned in the United States. This had to be the ultimate achievement for them as a party and at the time had to be a greater achievement than having one of their own elected President.


@TreeMan - I agree partially with your assessment but many of the Third Party's of the past simply had a very strong candidate that could not obtain their party's nomination so they went to another party. This is usually when most of the third parties succeed and it is not necessarily their platform that gives them success at the national level.

Take for example the 1912 election and the Bull Moose Party. Theodore Roosevelt had a falling out with Republican sitting President William Howard Taft and did not like his policies. Since Roosevelt could not run on the Republican ticket for president he ran as a Third Party candidate and sought to either win or make sure Taft did not get re-elected.

Who remembers exactly what the Bull Moose Party stood for or their history after 1912? Their history was defined by a famous man defecting over from another party so he could run for President. Most third parties of the past are like this and what makes the Prohibition Party so different is that they never had a particularly strong candidate and it was just their message and party platform that brought them their success.


Although the Prohibition Party may have had influence as a Third Party there have been several other Third Party's before and since that have had major influence and been successful in elections. The Bull Moose party ultimately decided the 1912 Presidential election and finished second to Woodrow Wilson in electoral votes, having far more than the Republican sitting President.

There have also been various other parties in the past that have received electoral votes such as the Constitutional Union Party in the 1860 election as well as the Know Nothing Party back in the 1840's.

In the 1824 election there were four major legitimate candidates from four different parties which ultimately caused a split in the electoral votes and Congress to have to pick the President. Although the Prohibition Party had success in getting Congress to pass an amendment that directly related to their party's platform, there have been numerous other third parties throughout history that have and a significant impact like the Prohibition Party and have had a lot more success at the national level.

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