21st Amendment Repealed National Prohibition (1920-1933)

The 21st Amendment confirmed that National Prohibition failed. It marked the sad death of a beautiful dream.

Many people had believed that Prohibition would lead to less crime. To reduced violence. To less poverty. That it would  reduce illness. To fewere premature death. That it would lead to more prosperity. To better better health. To longer life. And that to higher morality. And to more happiness.

Prohibition failed to achieve any of those goals. It actually made problems worse. In addition, it created serious new problems.


I.   Repeal Sentiment

II.  State Ratification Dates

III. State-Wide Prohibition

IV.  D.C. and Rerritories

V.   Stragglers & Resisters

VI. The 21st Amendment

VII. Resources

The 21st Amendment

I. Repeal Sentiment

21st amendment
Sen. John J. Blaine

As time passed, there were increasing calls to modify or even repeal Prohibition. Repeal groups grew in number and strength. Repeal leaders emerged. In response, temperance groups rallied. But the tide of public opinion continued to rise. In the end, 74% of voters called for an end to Prohibition.

On December 6, 1932, Sen. John J. Blaine drafted a 21st Amendment to be submitted to the states for possible ratification. That would repeal the 18th Amendment. That    was Prohibition amendment.

On February 20, 1933, Congress enabled states to ratify the proposed 21st Amendment if they chose. To become an amendment to the Constitution, it needed to be ratified by 36 of the then-existing 48 states. Most states ratified rather quickly, as this list shows.

II. State Ratification Dates

    • April 10, MI
    • April 25, WI
    • May 8, RI
    • May 25, WY
    • June 1, NJ
    • June 24, DE
    • June 26, IN
    • June 26, MA
    • June 27, NY
    • July 10, IL
    • July 10, IA
    • July 11, CT
    • July 11, NH
    • July 24, CA
    • July 25, WV
    • Aug. 1, AR
    • Aug. 7, OR
    • Aug. 8, AL
    • Aug. 11, TN
    • Aug. 29, MO
    • Sept. 5, AZ
    • Sept. 5, NE
    • Sept. 23, VT
    • Sept. 26, CO
    • Oct. 3, WA
    • Oct. 10, MN
    • Oct. 17, ID
    • Oct. 18, MD
    • Oct. 25, VA
    • Nov. 2, NM
    • Nov. 14, FL
    • Nov. 24, TX
    • Nov. 27, KY
    • Dec. 5, OH
    • Dec. 5, PA
    • Dec. 5, UT

Ratification was completed at 4:31 p.m. on December 5, 1933. After 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours and 32.5 minutes, National Prohibition came to an end.

III. State-Wide Prohibition

Yet state-wide prohibition continued in 18 states. About 2/3 of the remaining states chose to permit local option on the matter. Although National Prohibition ended, 38% of Americans still lived under state or local prohibition.

The repeal of the prohibition against selling beer had occurred months earlier. It was on April 7 of that year. The reason is simple. Congress was expected ratification to take years. But there was great demand for the legalization of beer.

The Volstead Act specified exactly what was and wasn’t permitted by the 18th Amendment. So Congress modified it with the Cullen-Harrison Act. This permitted the sale of 3.2% beer. It applied, of course, only to states without their own prohibition laws.2

IV. DC and Territories

The 18the Amendment only established National Prohibition in the states. It did not apply to DC or US territories. That had been done through federal laws. These laws were not repealed quickly. That occurred on the dates indicated.14

    • DC.  Jan 24, 1934
    • Puerto Rico.  March 2, 1934
    • Virgin Islands.  March 2, 1934
    • Hawaii.  March 26, 1934
    • Panama Canal Zone.  June 19, 1934

V. Stragglers and Resisters

The 21st Amendment was ratified after it went into effect by ME, on December 6 (only one day “late”). MT didn’t ratify until August 8, 1934.

Some states never ratified the 21st Amendment. They didn’t need to because it was already part of the Constitution. But NC voted over two-to-one not to call a convention to consider the matter. SC specifically rejected the Amendment. That action had no legal effect. But it clearly reflected the strong sentiment against Repeal that was widespread.

MS maintained its state prohibition until 1966. Even today, millions of people live in dry counties or towns under local option.  And almost one in five American adults favors making it illegal to drink alcohol. Many more support neo-prohibition ideas.

VI. The 21st Amendment

Amendment XXI

Section 1.

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2.

The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.

VII. Resources on the 21st Amendment