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Jeers to the Eighteenth; Cheers to the Twenty-First

Raising a glass to the 75th anniversary of the passing of the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

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I propose a toast. A toast to the 21st Amendment.

75 years ago today, on December 5th, 1933, the state legislature of Utah ratified the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, the 36th state to do so, and that passed the 21st Amendment into national law.

The Twenty-First Amendment did two things, and it is for that first one that I propose we raise a glass for. The Twenty-First Amendment repealed the Eighteen Amendment.

The Eighteen Amendment had been passed in 1919, and it expressly prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, into or out of the United States, and ushered in the period of time known as Prohibition. The ban on alcohol went into effect on January 16, 1920.

The Drunkard's Progress, a lithograph by Nathaniel Currier supporting the temperance movement, from Wikimedia Commons

For the next 23 years, it was illegal to sell alcohol in the USA. Despite this, alcohol flowed into the USA from breweries, wineries and distilleries in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean thanks to rum-runners and bootleggers and booze was available in speak-easies. While organized crime, including mobster Al Capone, became very rich, the U.S. government lost money both in the high cost of enforcement and the loss of tax revenue on alcohol sales.

The rise in crime and loss of respect for the law eventually led the tide to turn against prohibition, and by 1933 the American public was fully in favour of repealing the ban on alcohol.

On April 7 of that year, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Cullen-Harrison Act, making it legal to sell beer with an alcohol content not exceeding 3.2%. Upon signing the bill, President Roosevelt said, "I think this would be a good time for a beer."


That wasn’t enough, though, and later that year after a three-quarters of the states had ratified it, the Twenty-First Amendment was passed, declaring:

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

The second thing the 21st did was pass control of alcohol laws back to the individual states, and introduced what is now a dizzying array of regional alcohol laws in the USA.

So, even though the current number of laws mean that there are dry counties in Kentucky (including Moore country, home to Jack Daniels), only 3.2% beer for sale in grocery stores in Colorado and no booze available in Sunday in Mississippi, at least you can still get and enjoy a drink in most places across the USA, and for that, I raise a glass.

Jeers to the Eighteenth, dead 75 years today.

Cheers to the Twenty-first, alive, kicking and drinking for the past 75. Long live the Twenty-First Amendment.


Posted by GregW 22:00 Archived in USA Tagged events

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