The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution was the “National Prohibition amendment.” It banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. and its possessions. Contrary to common belief, it did not prohibit the purchase or consumption of alcohol.
II. The Amendment
III. Volstead Act
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 The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th on December 5, 1933.
In the nearly 250 years of the U.S. Constitution, the 18th is the only Amendment ever repealed.
A. Ratification of 18th Amendment by Date
January 8, Mississippi
” 11, Virginia
” 14, Kentucky
” 28, North Dakota*
” 29, Souh Carolina
February 13, Maryland
” 19, Montana
March 4, Texas
” 18, Delaware,
” 20, South Dakota
April 2, Massachusetts
May 24, Arizona
June 26, Georgia
August 9, Louisiana*
November 27, Florida
January 2, Michigan
” 7, Ohio
” 7, Oklahoma
” 8, Idaho
” 8, Maine
” 9, West Virginia
” 13, California
” “, Tennessee
” “, Washington
” 14, Arkansas
” “, Kansas
” “, Illinois
” “, Indiana
” 15, Alabama
” “, Colorado
” “, Iowa
” “, New Hampshire
” “, Oregon
” 16, Nebraska
” “, North Carolina
” 16, Utah
” “, Missouri
” “, Wyoming
” 17, Minnesota
” “, Wisconsin
” 20, New Mexico
” 21, Nevada
” 29, New York
” 29, Vermont
February 25, Pennsylvania
May 6, Connecticut1
March 9, 1922, New Jersey
B. Ratification of 18th Amendment by State
- Arizona, May 24, 1918.
- Alabama, Jan 15, 1919.
- Arkansas, Jan 14, 1919.
- California, Jan 13, 1919.
- Colorado, Jan 15, 1919.
- Connecticut, May 6, 1919.
- Delaware, March 18, 1918.
- Florida, Nov 27, 1918.
- Georgia, June 26, 1918
- Idaho, Jan 8, 1919.
- Illinois, Jan 14, 1919.
- Indiana, Jan 14, 1919.
- Iowa, Jan 15, 1919.
- Kansas, Jan 14, 1919.
- Kentucky, Jan 14, 1918.
- Louisiana, Aug 9, 1918.*
- Maine, Jan 8, 1919.
- Maryland, Feb 13, 1918.
- Massachusetts, April 2, 1918.
- Michigan, Jan 2, 1919.
- Minnesota, Jan 17, 1919.
- Mississippi, Jan 8, 1918.
- Missouri, Jan 16, 1919.
- Montana, Feb 19, 1918.
- Nebraska, Jan 16, 1919.
- Nevada, Jan 21, 1919.
- NH, Jan 15, 1919.
- NJ, March 9, 1922.
- NM, Jan 20, 1919.
- NY, Jan 29, 1919.
- North Carolina, Jan 16, 1919.
- North Dakota, Jan 28, 1918.*
- Ohio, Jan 7, 1919.
- Oklahoma, Jan 7, 1919.
- Oregon, Jan 15, 1919.
- Pennsylvania, Feb 25, 1919.
- South Carolina, Jan 29, 1918.
- South Dakota, March 20, 1918.
- Tennessee, Jan 13, 1919.
- Texas, March 4, 1918.
- Utah, Jan 16, 1919.
- Vermont, Jan 29, 1919.
- Virginia, Jan 11, 1918.
- Washington, Jan 13, 1919.
- West Virginia, Jan 9, 1919.
- Wisconsin, Jan 17, 1919.
- Wyoming, Jan 16, 1919.
Rhode Island specifically rejected ratification of the 18th Amendment.
*Date approved by governor.
Ratification of the 18th Amendment took 394 days. 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 by the required number of states. If an insufficient number of 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. That was well after it went into effect.
II. The 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 manufacturing 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. However, Volstead challenged that assertion.
President Wilson vetoed the bill on October 28, 1919. He cited both moral and constitutional objections. Congress overrode his veto the same day.
The Volstead Act 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 but the law to implement it was over 25 pages long.
It was complex, confusing and difficult to interpret. However, 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
However, 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 creosote, lead toxins and even embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes had paralysis, blindness and even painful death.
This led many drinkers to switch to opium, cocaine, hair tonic, sterno or “liquid heat,” and other dangerous substances. They would have been unlikely to consume these in the absence of Prohibition.
Moonshiners and bootleggers found it necessary to payoff police, sheriffs and Prohibition Bureau agents. This was a business cost. In many towns and cities, corruption reached mayors, police chiefs, prosecutors, magistrates, city commissioners, city council members, and others. In some cases, entire administrations were corrupt.
The widespread corruption of officials created disrespect for law in general and for Prohibition in particular. If bribes didn’t work or became too expensive, there was always violence and murder to employ.
Prohibition also promoted the pattern of infrequent but heavy or abusive drinking. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to savor a drink with dinner. They went to guzzle alcohol while they could.
In addition, Prohibition deprived the state of needed revenue. This was at the same time it was causing increased expenses for the criminal justice system. A governmental study found that two-thirds of all federal expenditures on law enforcement involved Prohibition.
Within five years of its implementation 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 Americans came to agree with Mencken’s assessment 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 increase. They threatened the health, safety, morality, economy and well-being of the country. Opposition grew as the problems caused by
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 published in the New York Times.
When the Eighteenth Amendment was passed I earnestly hoped – with a host of advocates of temperance – that it would be generally supported by public opinion and thus the day be hastened when the value to society of men with minds and bodies free from the undermining effects of alcohol would be generally 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 protecting the family, women and children from the effects of alcohol abuse.
And with the passage of time it became women who proved to be pivotal in repealing Prohibition. Their interest was again a moral one. Prohibition was undermining the family and corrupting the morals of women and children.
As opposition spread the number of Repeal organizations and their membership grew. The demand for Repeal became louder and louder. Such groups included
Defense of Prohibition Organizations
Dry forces fought the rising tide of opposition with their groups.
Drys also formed new groups. They included the Board of Temperance Strategy and the National Conference of Organizations Supporting the 18th Amendment.
The Democratic Party platform in the 1932 election included an anti-Prohibition plank. Franklin Roosevelt ran for the presidency promising Repeal, which occurred on December 5, 1933. The popular vote for repeal of Prohibition was 74 percent in favor and 26 percent in opposition.7 By a three to one vote, the American people rejected Prohibition. Only one state opposed Repeal.
The Twenty-First Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 5, 1933. Congress specifically repealed titles one and two of the Volstead Act on August 27, 1935. It separately repealed federal prohibition laws in the districts and territories.
District of Columbia – 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 of the 18th Amendment. Therefore, prosecutions that had not led to conviction before the date of Repeal could not proceed.
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.
However, it has 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 has declined over the last quarter-century. But lower is never low enough for some neo-prohibitionists.
As a critic of neo-drys wrote, “The slogan for the new temperance is, regarding alcohol, ‘less is better.'”14 It is clear that:
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 for up to a third of a century after Repeal. Surprisingly, hundreds of dry counties covering nearly one-tenth the area of the country exist today. They 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 [in the belief of the reformers] 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 on the 18th Amendment
Behr, E. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY: Arcade, 1996.
Burns, K., et al. Prohibition. DVD. Culver City: PBS, 2011.
Dunn, J. Prohibition. (Juv) Detroit: Lucent, 2010.
Engdahl, S. Amendments XVIII and XXI: Prohibition and Repeal. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2009.
Merz, C. The Dry Decade. NY: Andesite, 2015.
Nishi, D. Prohibition. San Diego: Greenhaven, 2004.
Hintz, M. Farewell, John Barleycorn.
(juv) Minneapolis: Lerner, 1996.
Kyvig, D. Repealing National Prohibition. Kent, OH: Kent State U. Press, 2013.
Lerner, M. Dry Manhattan. Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Press, 2008.
Okrent, D. Last Call. The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: Scribner, 2010.
Orr, T. Prohibition. (Elemen and jr high) San Diego: Blackbirch, 2004. Bio sketches of major figures
Peck, G. The Prohibition Hangover. Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet. New Brunswick: Rutgers U Press, 2009.
Shay, G., et al. Amendment 18, Prohibition. Amendment 21, Repeal of Prohibition. DVD video. Lawrenceville, NJ: Cambridge Educational, 2004.
Sinclair, A. Prohibition. London: Four Square, 1965.
Anti-Saloon League. Fundamental Facts for Patriots. The Eighteenth Amendment Now Adopted. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1920.
Anti-Saloon League of Rhode Island. The 18th Amendment Outlawed Saloons. Providence, RI: The League, 1930.
Bureau of Prohibition. How Shall We Teach the Eighteenth Amendment? Washington, DC: The Bureau, 1929.
Butler, N. Repeal the 18th Amendment. NY: 1932.
Christianson, T. Must the States Aid Enforcement of the 18th Amendment? NY: Citizens Committee of One Thousand, 1930.
Conan, M. Staggering Feet, or This Drunken America. Facts and Figures Regarding the Result of Repeal of the 18th Amendment. Los Angeles: Federal, 1941.
Darrow, C. and Wilson, W. Should We Repeal the 18th Amendment? Girard, KS: Haldemen-Julius, 1931.
Dunford, E. The Supreme Court and the Eighteenth Amendment. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1927.
Gordon, E. The Wrecking of the Eighteenth Amendment. Francestown, NH: Alcohol Info, 1943.
Hamm, R.F. Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment. Chapel Hill: U. North Carolina Press, 1995.
Helms, E. The Eighteenth Amendment. Urbana: U. Illinois, 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. Westerville, OH: 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 Committee, 1928.
Penney, J.C. Is the Eighteenth Amendment an Economic Success? NY: Citizens Committee 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. Boston: Scientific Temperance Federation, 1927.
Taft, W. The 18th Amendment. Detroit: Joy, 1930.
Thorp, W. The 18th Amendment. A Reply to Nicholas Murray Butler. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1928.
Wheeler, W. The Eighteenth Amendment. Chicago:: 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. 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. Heath, D. The new temperance movement. Drugs and Soc, 1989, 3, 143-168. 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 and the Prevention of Alcohol Problems. Berne: Hans Huber, 1985. Pp. 71-81, p. 76.
14. Beauchamp, id., 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.
Filed Under: Prohibition