80 years ago today, the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment and bringing an end to the era of national prohibition of alcohol in America.
The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early 19th century, when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of drinking began forming temperance societies. By the late 19th century, these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and calling for national liquor abstinence. Several states outlawed the manufacture or sale of alcohol within their own borders. In December 1917, the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification which occurred on January 29, 1919. Prohibition essentially began in June of that year despite the amendment not officially taking effect until January 29, 1920.
On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, which provided an enforcement mechanism for Prohibition. This act included the creation of a special Prohibition unit of the Treasury Department. While the unit destroyed thousands of illicit stills, the federal agents and police did little more than slow the flow of booze. Large-scale bootleggers like Al Capone built criminal empires out of illegal distribution efforts, and federal and state governments lost billions in tax revenue. Despite the law, the individual consumption of alcohol in urban areas was largely tolerated and drinkers gathered at “speakeasies,”
Support for Prohibition diminished among voters and politicians alike. John D. Rockefeller Jr., a lifelong nondrinker who had contributed between $350,000 and $700,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, announced his support for repeal and the du Pont brothers founded the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. The repeal movement also attracted a substantial portion of women, defying the assumption that recently enfranchised female voters would automatically vote as a bloc on this issue. Activist Pauline Sabin, originally a supporter of the Eighteenth Amendment, founded the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR), as she believed that the repeal of Prohibition would protect families from the corruption, violent crime, and underground drinking that had resulted. The WONPR supported repeal on a platform of “true” temperance, claiming that “a trend toward moderation and restraint in the use of intoxicating beverages [was] reversed by prohibition.” They canvassed door-to-door, encouraged politicians on all levels to incorporate repeal into their party platform, created petitions, gave speeches and radio interviews, dispersed persuasive literature, and held chapter meetings.
In 1932 the AAPA, Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, The Crusaders, the American Hotel Organization, and the WONPR formed the United Repeal Council. The United Repeal Council lobbied at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 1932 to integrate repeal into their respective presidential election campaigns. In 1932 the Democratic Party’s platform included a plank for the repeal of Prohibition, and Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president of the United States promising repeal of federal Prohibition laws.
After his election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed The Cullen-Harrison Act, authorized the sale of 3.2 percent beer (thought to be too low an alcohol concentration to be intoxicating) and wine, which allowed the first legal beer sales since the beginning of Prohibition thirteen years earlier. In 1933 state conventions began to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment repealing the Eighteenth Amendment and Prohibition. The Amendment was fully ratified on December 5, 1933 at 5:32 p.m. EST, when Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment achieving the requisite three-fourths majority of states’ approval (Pennsylvania and Ohio had ratified it earlier in the day.)
In Honor of today, I give you Deputy Dave’s Drink of the Day: The Prohibition Cocktail:
2 oz Gin
2 oz Lillet Blanc Wine
1/2 tsp Apricot Brandy
1 tsp orange juice
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Squeeze in a twist of lemon.
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