THIS DAY IN HISTORY

Prohibition is ratified by the states

 

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” is ratified by the requisite number of states on January 16, 1919.

The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early 19th century when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of drinking began forming temperance societies.

By the late 19th century, these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and calling for total national abstinence.

In December 1917, the 18th Amendment, also known as the Prohibition Amendment, was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.

Nine months after Prohibition‘s ratification, Congress passed the Volstead Act, or National Prohibition Act, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto.

The Volstead Act provided for the enforcement of prohibition, including the creation of a special unit of the Treasury Department.

One year and a day after its ratification, prohibition went into effect—on January 17, 1920—and the nation became officially dry.

Despite a vigorous effort by law-enforcement agencies, the Volstead Act failed to prevent the large-scale distribution of alcoholic beverages, and organized crime flourished in America.

By the 1930s, it was clear that Prohibition had become a public policy failure.

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had done little to curb the sale, production, and consumption of intoxicating liquors. And while organized crime flourished, tax revenues withered.

With the United States stuck in the throes of the Great Depression, money trumped morals, and the federal government turned to alcohol to quench its thirst for desperately needed tax money and put an estimated half-million Americans back to work.

In February 1933, Congress easily passed a proposed 21st Amendment that would repeal the 18th Amendment, which legalized national Prohibition.

Even 17 of the 22 senators who voted for Prohibition 16 years earlier now approved its repeal.

State conventions quickly ratified the proposed amendment, and by December 5, 1933, only three more states were needed to garner the requisite three-quarters approval to make it law.

The end of Prohibition resulted in a financial windfall for the federal government, which collected more than $258 million in alcohol taxes in the first year after repeal.

Those millions, which accounted for nearly 9 percent of the government’s tax revenue, helped to finance Roosevelt’s New Deal programs in the ensuing years.

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