The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution was the “National Prohibition amendment.” It banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the US. Contrary to common belief, it did not prohibit the purchase or consumption of alcohol.
Congress proposed the Amendment on December 18, 1917. The Senate passed it on that day. The day earlier the House had passed it. The necessary number of states ratified it on January 16, 1919. It went into effect one year later, January 16, 1920. The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th on December 5, 1933.
In the nearly 250 years of the Constitution, the 18th is the only Amendment ever repealed.
II. The Amendment
III. Volstead Act
I. Ratification of 18th Amendment
A. Ratification by Date
Jan 8, MS
” 11, VA
” 14, KY
” 28, ND*
” 29, SC
Feb 13, MD
” 19, MT
March 4, TX
” 18, DE
” 20, SD
April 2, MA
May 24, AZ
June 26, GA
Aug 9, LA*
Novr 27, FL
Jan 2, MI
” 7, OH
” 7, OK
” 8, ID
” 8, ME
” 9, WV
” 13, CA
” “, TN
” “, WA
” 4, AR
” “, K
” “, IL
” “, IN
” 15, AL
” “, CO
” “, IA
” “, NH
” “, OR
” 16, NE
” “, NC
” 16, UT
” “, MO
” “, WY
” 17, MN
” “, WI
” 20, NM
” 21, NV
” 29, NY
” 29, VT
Feb 25, PA
May 6, CT1
March 9, 1922, NJ
*Date approved by governor.
B. Ratification of 18th Amendment by State
- AZ, May 24, 1918.
- AL, Jan 15, 1919.
- AR, Jan 14, 1919.
- CA, Jan 13, 1919.
- CO, Jan 15, 1919.
- CT, May 6, 1919.
- DE, March 18, 1918.
- FL, Nov 27, 1918.
- GA, June 26, 1918
- ID, Jan 8, 1919.
- IL, Jan 14, 1919.
- IN, Jan 14, 1919.
- IA, Jan 15, 1919.
- KS, Jan 14, 1919.
- K, Jan 14, 1918.
- LA, Aug 9, 1918.*
- ME, Jan 8, 1919.
- Maryland, Feb 13, 1918.
- MA, April 2, 1918.
- MI, Jan 2, 1919.
- MN, Jan 17, 1919.
- MS, Jan 8, 1918.
- MO, Jan 16, 1919.
- MT, Feb 19, 1918.
- NE, Jan 16, 1919.
- NV, Jan 21, 1919.
- NH, Jan 15, 1919.
- NJ, March 9, 1922.
- NM, Jan 20, 1919.
- NY, Jan 29, 1919.
- NC, Jan 16, 1919.
- ND, Jan 28, 1918.*
- OH, Jan 7, 1919.
- OK, Jan 7, 1919.
- OR, Jan 15, 1919.
- PA, Feb 25, 1919.
- SC, Jan 29, 1918.
- SD, March 20, 1918.
- TN, Jan 13, 1919.
- TX, March 4, 1918.
- UT, Jan 16, 1919.
- VT, Jan 29, 1919.
- VA, Jan 11, 1918.
- WA, Jan 13, 1919.
- WV, Jan 9, 1919.
- WI, Jan 17, 1919.
- WY, Jan 16, 1919.
Rhode Island rejected ratification of the 18th Amendment.
*Date approved by governor.
Ratification of the 18th Amendment took 394 days. And it occurred on January 16, 1919. The needed 36th state ratified it that day. On January 29, the acting Secretary of State formally certified the ratification which had occurred ten days earlier.
Section three of the 18th Amendment placed a deadline on its ratification. Thus, if only 35 states had ratified it within seven years it would not have gone into effect.
This was the first time a time a proposed Constitutional amendment had a time limit. Opponents challenged the validity of the Amendment on that basis. But the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it on May 16, 1921. Of course, that was well after it went into effect.
II. The 18th Amendment
The 18th Amendment contains only 111 words. After it was ratified only the first two sections were still relevant.
Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
However, those few words did not provide the specificity needed for its enforcement. For example, what was an “intoxicating liquor?” What was the penalty for making it? Could it be produced for medicinal and health purposes? What about religious purposes? Was the punishment related to the amount of illegal alcohol sold? And so on.
III. Volstead Act
The National Prohibition Act of 1919 (the Volstead Act) was to answer all such questions. Congressman Andrew J. Volstead chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and sponsored the legislation. Wayne Wheeler was the de facto head of the Anti-Saloon League. He said that he largely wrote the Act. But Volstead said Wheeler didn’t.
President Wilson vetoed the bill on October 28, 1919. He cited both moral and constitutional objections. Yet Congress overrode his veto the same day.
The 18th Amendment had three major purposes. First, to “prohibit intoxicating beverages.” Second, to “regulate the manufacture, production, use and sale of high proof spirits for other than beverage purposes.” Third, to “insure an ample supply of alcohol” for scientific research and legal industrial needs.
The 18th Amendment is very short. Yet the law to implement it was over 25 pages long.
It was complex, confusing and difficult to interpret. But exactly what was illegal didn’t concern the tens of millions of people who chose to violate the law.
After Prohibition went into effect it became illegal to produce, distribute or sell alcoholic beverages. There were a few exceptions, such as alcohol for religious or medicinal use.
As a result, illegal businesses that paid no taxes replaced legitimate ones that did.
Illegal alcohol production and sale was often a cottage industry. Entire families would sometimes be producing and selling it.
Mother’s in the kitchen
Washing out the jugs.
Sister’s in the pantry
Bottling the suds.
Father’s in the cellar
Mixing up the hops.
Johnny’s on the front porch
Watching for the cops.2
Mother makes brandy from cherries.
Pop distills whisky and gin.
Sister sells wine from the grapes on our vine-
Good grief, how the money rolls in!3
But small-time operators were soon facing competition from organized crime. Criminal gangs fought each other for market control with violence and murder.
Bootleggers made their products alcohol carelessly. It often contained lead toxins. Customers sometimes had blindness or died. And the US government poisoned industrial alcohol. It was to keep people from drinking it. But many did. Perhaps 10,000 people died as a result. Many more were injured.
This led many drinkers to switch to opium, cocaine, hair tonic, sterno, and and other dangerous things. Prohibition led to this.
Moonshiners and bootleggers found it necessary to payoff police and Prohibition Bureau agents. This was a business cost. In many towns and cities, corruption reached mayors, police chiefs, and prosecutors. Even judges, city commissioners, city council members, and others. In some cases, entire administrations were corrupted.
The widespread corruption of officials created disrespect for law in general. And for Prohibition in particular. Sometimes bribes didn’t work or became too expensive. Of course. there was always intimidation, violence ,and murder.
Prohibition also promoted a bad drinking pattern. It was of infrequent but very heavy drinking. People went to speakeasies to get drunk.
Also, Prohibition deprived the state of needed revenue. This was at the same time it was causing increased crime. In turn, that caused much greater costs for criminal justice. A governmental study found that two-thirds of all federal costs on law enforcement were for Prohibition.
Within five years of its start, there was widespread disillusionment with Prohibition. Journalist H. L. Mencken gave his verdict in 1925. “There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. Not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”4
More and more people came to agree with Mencken. Certainly as the end of the 1920’s approached.
V. Repeal of the 18th Amendment
The leading prohibitionist in Congress had had made a bold assertion. “There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.”5
But the problems caused by Prohibition continued to mount. They threatened the health, safety, morality, and economy of the country. Opposition grew as the problems caused byProhibition grew.
Calls for Repeal
Finally, prominent Prohibition supporters began to call for Repeal. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., had given a fortune to the Anti-Saloon League. But he announced his support for Repeal. He explained his change of belief in a letter in the New York Times.
When the Eighteenth Amendment was passed I earnestly hoped…that it would be generally supported by public opinion. Thus the day be hastened when…men free from the… effects of alcohol would be realized.
That this has not been the result, but rather that drinking has generally increased. That the speakeasy has replaced the saloon, not only unit for unit, but probably two-fold if not three-fold. That a vast array of lawbreakers has been recruited and financed on a colossal scale. That many of our best citizens, piqued at what they regarded as an infringement of their private rights, have openly and unabashedly disregarded the Eighteenth Amendment. That as an inevitable result respect for all law has been greatly lessened. That crime has increased to an unprecedented degree – I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe.6
Women, led by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), had been pivotal in bringing about National Prohibition. Their interest had been a moral one. To protect the family, women and children from the effects of alcohol abuse.
With the passage of time it was women who were pivotal in repealing Prohibition. Their interest was again a moral one. Prohibition was undermining the family and corrupting the morals of women and children. Indeed, it was corrupting the country.
As opposition spread the number of Repeal groups and their membership grew. The demand for Repeal became louder and louder. Such groups included these.
- The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment.
- The Crusaders.
- Labor’s National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act.
- Moderation League of New York
- Molly Pitcher Club.
- Republican Citizen’s Committee Against National Prohibition.
- United Repeal Council.
- The Women’s Moderation Union.
- Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform. (WONPR)
- Voluntary Committee of Lawyers.
Defense of Prohibition Groups
However, dry forces fought the rising tide of opposition. They did so by using their own existing groups. And they included these.
However, drys also formed new groups. There was the powerful Board of Temperance Strategy. Also the mighty. the National Conference of Organizations Supporting the 18th Amendment. There were many local groups that sprang up.
The Democratic Party platform in the 1932 election included an anti-Prohibition plank. Franklin Roosevelt ran for the presidency promising Repeal. The popular vote for repeal of Prohibition was 74 percent in favor and 26 percent in opposition.7 So by a three to one vote, people rejected Prohibition. Only one state opposed Repeal.
The Twenty-First Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment. Congress specifically repealed titles one and two of the Volstead Act on August 27, 1935. It separately repealed federal prohibition laws in DC and territories.
- DC – April 5, 1933 and January 24, 1934.
- Puerto Rico – March 2, 1934.
- Virgin Islands – March 2, 1934.
- Hawaii – March 26, 1934.
- Panama Canal Zone – June 19, 1934.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Volstead Act had become null and unenforceable upon Repeal. So prosecutions that had not led to conviction before the date of Repeal were thrown out.
The mockingbird had made it to Mars. But temperance activists vowed to continue the fight.8
The temperance movement never really died. It was relatively dormant for several decades after World War II.
But it re-emerged with a new identity and modified ideology. It has been described as neo-prohibition.9 As new temperance.10 New Sobriety.11 As new Victorianism.12 And as new paternalism.13
The consumption of beer, wine, and spirits (liquor) has declined over the previous quarter century. But lower is never low enough for some neo-prohibitionists.
As a critic of neo-drys wrote this. “The slogan for the new temperance is, regarding alcohol, ‘less is better.'”14
In contemporary America, both the tactics and the tone of temperance sentiment have changed appreciably from the 1800s. Inebriety, licentiousness, moral depravity and sin have all but vanished form the extant vocabulary. The new contender for the status of moral purity would seem to be health.15
State and Local Prohibition
Some states chose to maintain state-wide prohibition. Some did so for up to a third of a century after Repeal. And hundreds of dry counties covering nearly one-tenth the area of the country exist today. They also have about 16,000,000 residents.
The renewed movement assumes that individuals can’t make good lifestyle choices. Therefore, “to protect people from themselves or to protect society, the state should pass legislation that enforces restrictions likely to promote health by taking away the individual’s personal freedom.”16
Their tactic is to establish cultural rather than strictly legal prohibition. This, by making alcohol beverages less socially acceptable. And by marginalizing those who drink, no matter how moderately.
To learn more, visit neo-prohibition.
VII. Resources: 18th Amendment
- Burns, K., et al. Prohibition. PBS.
- Shay, G., et al. Amendment 18, Prohibition. Amendment 21, Repeal of Prohibition. Cambridge Ed.
- Behr, E. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY: Arcade, 1996.
- Dunn, J. Prohibition. Detroit: Lucent (Juv).
- Engdahl, S. Amendments XVIII and XXI: Prohibition and Repeal. Detroit: Green.
- Merz, C. The Dry Decade. NY: Andesite.
- Nishi, D. Prohibition. San Diego: Greenhaven.
- Hintz, M. Farewell, John Barleycorn.
Minneapolis: Lerner (juv).
- Kyvig, D. Repealing National Prohibition. Kent, OH: Kent State U. Press.
- Lerner, M. Dry Manhattan. Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Press.
- Okrent, D. Last Call. The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: Scribner
- Orr, T. Prohibition. San Diego: Blackbirch (El and jr high). Bio sketches of major figures.
- Peck, G. The Prohibition Hangover. Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet. New Brunswick: Rutgers U Press.
- Sinclair, A. Prohibition. London: Four Square.
- Anti-Saloon League. Fundamental Facts for Patriots. The Eighteenth Amendment Now Adopted. Am Issue, 1920.
- Anti-Saloon League. The 18th Amendment Outlawed Saloons. The League, 1930.
- Bureau of Prohibition. How Shall We Teach the Eighteenth Amendment? Wash: The Bureau, 1929.
- Butler, N. Repeal the 18th Amendment. NY: 1932.
- Christianson, T. Must the States Aid Enforcement of the 18th Amendment? NY: Cit Comm of One Thousand, 1930.
- Conan, M. Staggering Feet, or This Drunken America. Facts and Figures Regarding the Result of Repeal of the 18th Amendment. LA, CA: Federal, 1941.
- Darrow, C. and Wilson, W. Should We Repeal the 18th Amendment? Haldemen Julius, 1931.
- Dunford, E. The Supreme Court and the Eighteenth Amendment. Am Issue, 1927.
- Gordon, E. The Wrecking of the Eighteenth Amendment. Frances, NH: Alcohol Info, 1943.
- Hamm, R. Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment. U. NC Press.
- Helms, E. The Eighteenth Amendment. U. IL Press, 1928.
- Horner, W. The Eighteenth Amendment. Seattle, WA: Pioneer, 1927.
- Jones, R. The Eighteenth Amendment and Our Foreign Relations. NY: Crowell, 1933.
- McMasters, W. The Eighteenth Amendment. Am Issue, 1919.
- Millin, J. How to Enforce the 18th Amendment. Boston: Alpine, 1929.
- Moore, H. 18 Reasons why I Think That the 18th Amendment was a Mistake. Morristown, NJ: WONPR, 1929.
- Murphy, D. The Eighteenth Amendment. NY: Mulligan, 1923.
- National Committee for the Repeal of the 18th Amendment. Vital Statistics Show that Prohibition has Failed. NY: The Comm, 1928.
- Penney, J. Is the Eighteenth Amendment an Economic Success? NY: Cit Comm of One Thousand, 1930.
- Petersen, H. In Defense of Justness. An Argument on the Merits of the 18th Amendment. Chicago: McKillop, 1924.
- Phillips, T. The Eighteenth Amendment. Washington: GPO, 1927.
- Schatz, O. Manual for the Dispensing of Wines, Liquors and Beer in the Advent of the Repeal of the 18th Amendment. NY Barrett, 1933.
- Steele, T. What has the 18th Amendment Done? Greensboro, NC: United Dry Forces, 1933.
- Stoddard, C. The Eighteenth Amendment Speaks. Scien Temp Fed, (Learn the SECRET), 1927.
- Taft, W. The 18th Amendment. Joy, 1930.
- Thorp, W. The 18th Amendment. A Reply to Nicholas Murray Butler. Am Issue, 1928.
- Wheeler, W. The Eighteenth Amendment. Nat Conf Soc Work, 1919.
1. There is great confusion about the date of Connecticut’s ratification of the 18th Amendment.
2. Mendelson, J. and Mello, N. (Eds.) The Diagnosis and Treatment of Alcoholism. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1985, p. 86.
3. Sinclair, A. Prohibition. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962, p. 209.
4. Kyvig, D. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 1979.
5. Merz, C. The Dry Decade. Seattle: U. Wash Press, 1969, p. ix.
6. Kyvig, id., p. 152. Also see Roizen, R. Redefining alcohol in post-repeal America, Contemp Drug Prob, 1991, 75, 237-272. (pp. 245-246)
7. Childs, R. Making Repeal Work. Philadelphia: Penn Alc Bev Study, Inc., 1947, pp. 260-261.
8. Hanson, D. Alcohol Education. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996, p. 28.
9. Pittman, D. Primary Prevention of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. St. Louis: Wash U., Soc Sci Inst, 1980.
10. Beauchamp, D. Alcohol-Abuse Prevention. In: Holder, H. (ed.) Advances in Substance Abuse, Supp 1. Greenwich, CT: JAI, 1987. Pp. 53-63. Also Heath, D. The new temperance movement. Drugs and Soc, 1989, 3, 143-168. And Blocker, J. American Temperance Movements. Boston: Twayne, 1989, p. 158.
11. Page, C. The new sobriety’s thirst for virtue. Wash Times, Jan 9, 1991.
12. Heath, ibid.
13 Gusfield, J. Alcohol Problems. In: von Wartburg, J.-P., et al. (eds.) Currents in Alcohol Research. Berne: Hans Huber, 1985. Pp. 71-81, p. 76.
14. Beauchamp, ibid., p 62.
15. Mendelson and Mello, ibid.
16. Engs, R. Resurgence of a new “clean living” movement. J Sch Health, 1991, 61(4), p. 156.
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