On this day back in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States constitution, and thus ending the its 13-year experiment with the increasingly unpopular nationwide prohibition of alcohol, a policy rooted in decades of social campaigning.
The Prohibition movement grew out a practice of moderation rooted in Protestant churches across America. By the 1830s, consumption of alcohol, especially hard spirits, was believed to be affecting the morals of the nation. From this came the growth of the Temperance movement. Whilst the earliest of such movements had existed in the North-East since the early nineteenth century, they only gained major traction in this period, and about 6000 local societies state-wide had formed.
Those who supported the Temperance movement saw alcohol as the root of all evil. The movement took hold at a time when women had few rights, and the country’s debate over the ethics of slavery had begun to heat up. The movement shifted the view on alcohol use from moderation to complete eradication.
The following decades would see organizations such as the Prohibition Party, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and Anti-Saloon League formed. By 1838, Tennessee would become the first state to pass legislation prohibiting the sale of alcohol whatsoever. Some newly-formed states would enter the union as dry states. By 1919, the movement reached its peak and the result was the ratification of the 18th Amendment, banning the production, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. However, a key loophole was that the legislation did not prohibit the consumption of such drinks, opening the door to the underground criminal activity that was to follow throughout 1920s America.
The Amendment went into effect in 1920, and numerous businesses closed as a result. Beyond the loss of brewers and bars, governments lost tax revenues as a result of the inability to tax the drink. Additionally, the cost of enforcing prohibition was expensive. Notably, Prohibition created fertile ground for Bootlegging.
The illicit methods of the Bootleggers became the stuff of legend as people found numerous outlandish ways in which to peddle Alcohol to those who had been against Prohibition’s introduction in the first place. Notorious gangster Al Capone rose to prominence in this period and numerous other criminal reached heights of celebrity and wealth unimaginable prior.
Class tensions were also stoked as poor working-class Americans would be outlawed from the product, but rich families were able to stockpile Alcohol within cellars prior to the imposition of the Amendment and be absolutely fine in the eyes of the law.
Whilst alcohol-related illnesses did decrease during the Prohibition era, its support dwindled year-by year and by December 5th 1933 had reached breaking point. So this year, make sure you celebrate National Repeal Day by taking advantage of your legal rights to alcohol!