21st Amendment Repealed National Prohibition (1920-1933) in U.S.

The 21st Amendment was a confirmation that National Prohibition had failed. It marked the sad death of a beautiful dream. Many people had believed that Prohibition would lead to less crime, violence, poverty, illness, and premature death. That it would lead to prosperity, better health, longer life, higher morality, and greater happiness.  

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

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.

21st amendment Senator John J. Blaine

Sen. John J. Blaine

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 (the “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.

  • April 10, Michigan.
  • April 25, Wisconsin.
  • May 8, Rhode Island.
  • May 25, Wyoming.
  • June 1, New Jersey.
  • June 24, Delaware.
  • June 26, Indiana.
  • June 26, Massachusetts.
  • June 27, New York.
  • July 10, Illinois.
  • July 10, Iowa.
  • July 11, Connecticut.
  • July 11, New Hampshire.
  • July 24, California.
  • July 25, West Virginia.
  • August 1, Arkansas.
  • August 7, Oregon.
  • August 8, Alabama.
  • August 11, Tennessee.
  • August 29, Missouri.
  • September 5, Arizona.
  • September 5, Nevada.
  • September 23, Vermont.
  • September 26, Colorado.
  • October 3, Washington.
  • October 10, Minnesota.
  • October 17, Idaho.
  • October 18, Maryland.
  • October 25, Virginia.
  • November 2, New Mexico.
  • November 14, Florida.
  • November 24, Texas.
  • November 27, Kentucky.
  • December 5, Ohio.
  • December 5, Pennsylvania.
  • December 5, Utah.

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.


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

District of Columbia and Territories

The 18the Amendment only established National Prohibition in the states. It did not apply to the District of Columbia or U.S. Territories. That had been done through federal laws. These laws were not repealed immediately. That occurred on the dates indicated.14

  • District of Columbia ‘“ January 24, 1934
  • Puerto Rico ‘“ March 2, 1934
  • Virgin Islands ‘“ March 2, 1934
  • Hawaii ‘“ March 26, 1934
  • Panama Canal Zone ‘“ June 19, 1934

Stragglers and Resisters

The 21st Amendment was ratified after it went into effect by Maine, on December 6 (only one day “late”). Montana 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 North Carolina voted over two-to-one not to call a convention to consider the matter. South Carolina specifically rejected the Amendment. That action had no legal effect. But it clearly reflected the strong sentiment against Repeal that was widespread.

Mississippi 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.

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.

Resources on the 21st Amendment

Engdahl, S. (Ed.) Amendments XVIII and XXI: Prohibition and Repeal. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven, 2009.

Jurkiewicz, C. and Painter, M. Social and Economic Control of Alcohol: the 21st Amendment in the 21st Century.  Boca Raton: CRC, 2008.

Lucas, E. The Eighteenth and Twenty-First Amendments: Alcohol, Prohibition, and Repeal. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1998.

Munger, M., and Schaller, T.. The Prohibition-Repeal amendments. Pub. Choice, 1997, 90(1-4), 139-163.

National Archives. Prohibition: the 18th Amendment, the Volstead Act, the 21st Amendment.  Washington, DC: National Archives, 1986.

Schrad, M.L. Constitutional Blemishes: American Alcohol Prohibition and Repeal as Policy Punctuation. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

Shay, G., et al. Amendment 18, Prohibition; Amendment 21, Repeal of Prohibition. DVD video. Lawrenceville, NJ: Cambridge Educational, 2004.