Eighteenth Amendment

views updated May 23 2018

Eighteenth Amendment

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 powers 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.

Ratification Facts


Submitted by Congress to the states on December 18, 1917.


Ratified by the required three-fourths of states (thirty–six of forty–eight) on January 16, 1919, and by nine more states on March 9, 1922. Declared to be part of the Constitution on January 29, 1919.

Ratifying States:

Mississippi, January 8, 1918; Virginia, January 11, 1918; Kentucky, January 14, 1918; North Dakota, January 25, 1918; South Carolina, January 29, 1918; Maryland, February 13, 1918; Montana, February 19, 1918; Texas, March 4, 1918; Delaware, March 18, 1918; South Dakota, March 20, 1918; Massachusetts, April 2, 1918; Arizona, May 24, 1918; Georgia, June 26, 1918; Louisiana, August 3, 1918; Florida, December 3, 1918; Michigan, January 2, 1919; Ohio, January 7, 1919; Oklahoma, January 7, 1919; Idaho, January 8, 1919; Maine, January 8, 1919; West Virginia, January 9, 1919; California, January 13, 1919; Tennessee, January 13, 1919; Washington, January 13, 1919; Arkansas, January 14, 1919; Kansas, January 14, 1919; Alabama, January 15, 1919; Colorado, January 15, 1919; Iowa, January 15, 1919; New Hampshire, January 15, 1919; Oregon, January 15, 1919; Nebraska, January 16, 1919; North Carolina, January 16, 1919; Utah, January 16, 1919; Missouri, January 16, 1919; Wyoming, January 16, 1919.

The Eighteenth Amendment was one of the most controversial amendments ever added to the U.S. Constitution. Created by temperance advocates who had fought for years to limit Americans’ consumption of alcohol, the amendment outlawed the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages anywhere within the United States. The amendment began the period known as Prohibition, a thirteen-year span during which federal and state governments created numerous laws, hired many new law enforcement agents, and overloaded the court systems in an often futile effort at keeping Americans from consuming alcohol.

This “noble experiment,” as it was called by President Herbert Hoover, turned out to be a dismal failure. Huge numbers of Americans found ways to make or purchase alcohol, and law enforcement agencies were overwhelmed with the difficulty of enforcing unpopular laws. In 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment became the first amendment to be repealed. It was revoked by the Twenty–first Amendment. In the end, the rise and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment was a dramatic story that pitted those who wanted to dictate a national morality against those who wanted to guarantee personal liberty. It was also a real test of how well the Constitution responded to the demands of the people.

Alcohol and Temperance: Two American Traditions

From the very founding of the United States, Americans have had a love-hate relationship with alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic beverages—beer, wine, and so-called hard liquors (with higher alcohol content) such as whiskey and rum were popular with the very first colonists who came to North America. In colonial days, workers often drank beer on the job and sometimes even drank at church. Brewing beer and distilling liquor were some of the most successful of early industries in the British colonies, and they brought much-needed tax revenues to the colonies. Alehouses, taverns, and inns often served as the social focal point of small communities, providing gathering places where people could catch up on news and gossip while having a drink. Finally, up until the mid-eighteenth century people believed that consuming moderate amounts of alcohol was good for one’s health. Alcohol was sometimes even given to sick children.

As much as early Americans enjoyed alcohol, most of them also believed that it should be enjoyed in moderation. Leading members of the Revolutionary generation (the generation of thinkers who led the American Revolution) believed that the members of a republic must guard the public virtue and urged the American people to renounce a range of self-indulgent behaviors, including drunkenness, in order to ensure a better society. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, many people began to make a distinction between drinking beer and wine and drinking hard liquor, such as whiskey and rum. (Hard liquor has a higher alcohol content and thus leads more quickly to drunkenness.)

On February 27, 1777, the Continental Congress passed a resolution urging state legislatures “to pass laws putting an immediate stop to the practice of distilling grain (the process used to make hard liquor), by which the most extensive evils are likely to be derived, if not quickly prevented,” according to Paul Sann in The Lawless Decade. Ten years later, in 1788, the American Museum magazine commended those who celebrated the adoption of the Constitution by drinking beer and hard cider and instructed its reader to “despise SPIRITOUS LIQUORS, as Anti–federal, and to consider them as the companions of all those vices, that are calculated to dishonour and enslave our country.” Such articles urged people to be temperate—to enjoy weak alcoholic beverages in moderation.

The Temperance Tradition

Although Americans continued to be rather heavy drinkers into the nineteenth century, the members of a growing temperance movement began to offer more determined criticisms of this American tradition. The temperance movement was greatly aided in the early years of the century by the growth of evangelical Christian groups involved in the Second Great Awakening (a period roughly between 1820 and 1850 when religious enthusiasm swept the country). Methodists, Baptists, and Mormons all encouraged sobriety and virtue, but temperance was also backed by major politicians. Every American president from James Madison (in office from 1809–1817) to Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865) endorsed a pledge that declared that “ardent spirit, as a drink, is not only needless, but hurtful; and that the entire disuse of it would tend to promote the health, the virtue, and the happiness of the community.”

Temperance clubs began to form in the early 1800s. According to Eileen Lucas, author of The Eighteenth and Twenty–first Amendments: Alcohol—Prohibition and Repeal, “Individuals and small groups of people began to profess that they would consume no more distilled spirits.” Such groups soon began to try to persuade others about the evils of strong drink. Some societies asked their members to sign a pledge of total abstinence by placing a “T” after their name; they were soon called “teetotalers,” a term that in the early 2000s means someone who abstains from drinking any alcohol. In the 1820s and 1830s Connecticut preacher Lyman Beecher, father of writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, preached widely about the evils of drink and attempted to form the first national temperance society.

The War Against Drink

By the mid-nineteenth century, the temperance campaign had become much more serious. Temperance leaders soon changed their tactics; instead of trying to persuade drinkers to quit, they tried to pass laws barring the sale of alcohol. Maine politician Neal Dow was among the first to succeed at passing such laws. Transformed by his experience trying to rescue a relative from his drinking habit, Dow vowed to shut down the saloons in his state. In 1851 he pushed through a law in Maine called “An Act for the Suppression of Drinking Houses and Tippling Shops,” the strongest prohibition law ever passed in the United States. Twelve other states followed suit, though several of these measures were ruled unconstitutional.

Temporary setback.

The legal war against drink was temporarily stalled during and just after the Civil War, for the federal government discovered that the taxation of alcohol provided a reliable source of revenue. Lincoln’s Internal Revenue Act of 1862 charged a fee to any establishment that served alcohol and a tax on the manufacture of liquor or beer. Such taxes remained an important source of income for the government until the early 1900s. Temperance advocates complained that the tax granted drinking establishments the respectability of government approval.

National Prohibition Party and Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Temperance leaders reorganized themselves in 1869 into the National Prohibition Party. The party called for the vote for women and for the direct election of senators, two measures it thought would help ensure more support for temperance efforts (both measures would later become constitutional amendments). The party also proposed, as part of its platform for the presidential election of 1872, that the Constitution be amended to establish prohibition—the complete ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol. The platform and the presidential candidate, James Black, a Philadelphia lawyer, did not succeed, but they planted a seed that grew until the passage of such an amendment fifty years later.

An even more powerful force in the ongoing battle against alcohol was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Founded in 1874, the WCTU became the largest women’s organization of the late nineteenth century, with over 175,000 members. Promoting prohibition as a benefit to the family, its members tried to influence local politicians to support their policies (which grew to include women’s suffrage, or voting, and reforms in divorce laws, property rights, and education). But they also created a dramatic public presence by invading bars and saloons, singing and praying, and either blocking access to or actually smashing bottles of alcohol. WCTU member Carry Nation attracted national attention with her dramatic and violent attacks on saloons.

Members of groups such as the National Prohibition Party, the WCTU, and the Anti-Saloon League argued for prohibition on similar grounds. Alcohol, they believed, posed real dangers to the social institutions—family, church, work—on which the nation was based. Alcohol stole men from their families and encouraged men to skip work and frequent prostitutes. Saloons, said critics, were dens of sin, evil places that tempted men away from their responsibilities. The United States would be a better place, they reasoned, if people simply had no access to alcohol.

Carry Nation

Carry Nation was among the most determined and colorful of the prohibition crusaders. She became famous for carrying a hatchet into saloons to attack bottles and kegs of offending alcohol, and she lectured nationally on the evils of drink.

Born Carry Amelia Moore on November 25, 1846, Carry endured a difficult childhood. Her family moved frequently, and her mother suffered from delusions that she was Queen Victoria of England (she was later placed in a hospital for the insane). Carry was forced to work from an early age to support her poor family, but she was often unable to work because of a series of vague illnesses. When she met and became engaged to a young doctor named Charles Gloyd she must have thought her troubles had come to an end, but she soon discovered that Gloyd was a hopeless alcoholic who spent most of his time drinking at a local fraternal lodge (Gloyd had hidden his drinking before their marriage in 1867). Carry and her infant daughter left Gloyd within a year to move back with her parents. Gloyd died of alcoholism six months later.

Carry’s second marriage in 1877, to an older lawyer, minister, and editor named David Nation, was little happier. The couple argued constantly, and David was scornful of her religious extremism. By 1889 the Nations had moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where Carry helped start a local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1892. Her extreme views and intolerance alienated many, including her husband, who finally divorced her in 1901. By then, however, Carry had become wed to her anti–alcohol crusade.

Nation began her crusade in her home town of Medicine Lodge by marching into the local saloon and telling the bartender that he would go to hell unless he shut down. Within a few months he was out of business, and Nation exerted similar pressure on the town’s other drinking establishments. In 1900, obeying what she called a command from the Lord, she traveled to the nearby town of Kiowa, strode into a saloon, and bellowed to the men drinking there, according to Carleton Beals in Cyclone Carry, “Men! I have come to save you from a drunkard’s fate.” She proceeded to smash every bottle she could find and then to stand in the street challenging the mayor and the police to arrest her. They did not, though the police in other towns would not prove so lenient. Nation was later jailed for similar attacks, though her jailing did not stop her crusade. (However, the WCTU thought her attacks were too extreme and did not give her open support.)

Nation became ever more bold in her attacks in the first decade of the twentieth century. Carrying her trademark hatchet, she and her female followers would sing songs and pray in front of saloons before venturing inside to berate the drinkers and smash the drink. Nation published several newsletters, including The Hatchet and The Smasher’s Mail, and in 1904 she published her autobiography, The Use and the Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. In declining health for years, Nation collapsed after giving a speech in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, in 1911. She spent the remaining months of her life in mental confusion and died on June 2, 1911.

Prohibition and the Progressive Era

By the 1890s times were changing in the United States. Great numbers of immigrants were pouring into American cities, where huge factories and industries sprang up. Political bosses increasingly ran such cities, often by “buying” the votes of the newly arrived immigrants. At the same time, new western states were being admitted to the Union. The citizens of these predominantly rural new states were critical of the excessive influence that large industries and industrial leaders exerted on American politics. These major social conflicts gave rise to what is known as the Progressive Era, a period from roughly 1900 to 1920 in which many Americans organized to reform political and social institutions. During this time middle-class, Protestant Americans joined together to promote their social agenda—an important part of which was prohibition.

Kansas became the first state to make prohibition part of its state constitution in 1881; other states followed. By 1918 there were twenty–six states with some laws regulating the liquor trade. In many cases, these laws were passed by middle-class, Protestant majorities who did not like the lawlessness of the cities or the influence of immigrants, many of whom were Catholic and came from countries where drinking was a popular activity. In 1913 prohibitionists secured the passage of the Webb-Kenyon Bill, a federal law that gave dry, or non-drinking, states the right to stop liquor shipments at their borders. The Supreme Court ruled that the law was constitutional, giving cheer to the prohibitionists, who felt that the time was right to make prohibition the law of the land.

Prohibition Made Law

By 1919 prohibitionists felt that the time had come to pass a constitutional amendment. The entrance of the United States into World War I gave them added fuel for their arguments: they claimed that grain was needed to support the war effort, not for making beer and liquor, and they stirred up hostility against American beer brewers, most of whom were of German ancestry. At the same time, Congress was growing increasingly friendly toward the idea of passing an amendment. From 1913 to 1919 the U.S. Congress had considered thirty–nine proposed amendments abolishing the liquor trade in the United States. But now, with the country at war, senators who had once resisted were willing to go along, on one condition. They insisted that the amendment had to be ratified by the states within seven years. Anti-prohibition forces felt that the prohibitionists could not convince enough states to pass the amendment within this time frame and felt sure that the amendment would fail. They were wrong.

The Eighteenth Amendment was put before the Senate for a vote on August 1, 1917, and passed easily by a margin of sixty–five to twenty. On December 18, 1917, the amendment passed in the House of Representatives by a margin of 282 to 128. Mississippi became the first state to ratify the amendment on January 8, 1918. To the surprise of the wets (those opposed to Prohibition), it took just over a year for thirty–five more states to ratify the amendment. On January 16, 1919, Nebraska became the thirty–sixth state, thus ensuring that the Eighteenth Amendment would go into effect.

Widespread support.

Critics of Prohibition had claimed that Americans would never support such a determined suspension of their individual rights, but the support for the amendment among state lawmakers was far more widespread than they had expected. Counting all state legislatures together, those in favor of the amendment outvoted their opposition 5,084 to 1,265. Fully eighty percent of the representatives most responsive to the will of the people approved of prohibition.

Amendment backers were jubilant. On January 17, 1920—the day the amendment took effect—ten thousand prohibitionists celebrated with a mock funeral of John Barleycorn, an imaginary figure who symbolized the ill effects of alcohol. The funeral service was led by Reverend Billy Sunday, a charismatic preacher and tireless backer of Prohibition who had once been a professional baseball player. According to biographer Theodore Thomas Frankenberg, Sunday told his audience: “The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.” Americans all over the country joined in anticipating a future free of the ill effects of alcohol.

Prohibition in Action

The next step for prohibitionists was to turn the amendment into law. Wayne Wheeler, a lawyer and prominent leader for the Anti-Saloon League, drafted a law called the National Prohibition Act. The law was introduced in the House by Andrew J. Volstead and thus became known as the Volstead Act. According to Lucas, “One of the most controversial aspects of the Volstead Act was its definition of intoxicating beverages as any liquid containing more than half of one percent of alcohol. This came as a surprise to some who had supported prohibition, thinking it would be directly mainly at distilled liquors. They thought beer and wine would still be legal.” Congress passed the law—over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto—on October 27, 1919, and it went into effect at midnight on January 17, 1920, a year to the day after the passage of the amendment.

Prohibition backers boasted that within a year there would simply be no more alcohol in the nation. And for a brief time it seemed that Prohibition would work. One observer in New York, quoted in Eileen Lucas’s The Eighteenth and Twenty–First Amendments, observed that “for a year or two [prohibition] was pretty generally observed and observed curiously enough because it did not occur to most people that it was possible to do anything else.” Journalist Ida Tarbell traveled widely across the nation and claimed that “One sees liquor so rarely that you forget there is such a thing.” But alcohol would not disappear so easily after all.

Enforcement and Resistance

The first signs of resistance to the Eighteenth Amendment came before and just after its passage, when a coalition of alcohol manufacturers, “personal liberty leagues,” and lawyers protested that the amendment was unconstitutional. Eventually, the Supreme Court and lower courts heard seven cases that were presented together to the Supreme Court as the National Prohibition Cases. These cases claimed that the amendment was invalid, and they tried to stop enforcement of the Volstead Act. But the Supreme Court ruled that both the amendment and the Volstead Act were constitutional.

Federal enforcement of the Volstead Act was shared by the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Prohibition Unit, and by state and local agencies. At first these forces merely had to make sure that saloons served no alcohol, not even watered down beer. But enforcement soon became more difficult in the face of widespread resistance and lawbreaking.

Ways to drink despite the law.

As soon as it became clear that Prohibition really would shut down American drinking establishments, Americans began devising ingenious ways to get their beloved drink. Some went to their doctors to get a prescription for alcohol; doctors gave out such prescriptions by the thousands. Others took to making alcohol at home, using home breweries to make beer or home stills to make hard liquor. One grape juice manufacturer provided instructions on the side of the bottle that instructed consumers not to let the juice sit in a cupboard for twenty–one days or it would turn into wine; people were all too ready to ignore this helpful warning.

Smuggling and speakeasies.

Law enforcement officials were unprepared for the amount of smuggling and illegal drinking that began to occur. Smugglers soon began to bring liquor across the border from Mexico, Canada, and the Bahamas. According to Lucas, “‘Rum runners’ brought liquor in boats from the British-controlled Bahama Islands to various places off the Atlantic coast. Bootleggers sailed out from the mainland to meet them. An especially notorious area for this exchange was along the Long Island, New York, and New Jersey shores. On some dark nights, there were as many as one hundred boats waiting for the illegal cargo.” Law enforcement officials fought increasingly violent battles with these smugglers, and the newspapers loved to publish pictures of Prohibition agents smashing bottles of confiscated liquor. But the truth was that far more alcohol made it across the borders than was ever stopped.

Much of the smuggled and home-made alcohol made its way into the thousands of “speakeasies” that sprang up across the country, especially in big cities. A speakeasy was any place where illegal alcohol was served, and during Prohibition speakeasies took the place of saloons and bars. The jazz-influenced youth culture for which the 1920s is known flourished in the speakeasies: girls wore short dresses and short hair, couples danced the Charleston and the lindy, and booze flowed freely. Some of the alcohol served in speakeasies was “good”—made by reputable distillers—but much of it was “bad”—brewed by amateurs, doctored with flavors, and sometimes downright poisonous. The downside of the speakeasies was that people sometimes died from drinking “bad” liquor. This danger may have added to the thrill of the speakeasy.

The Failure of Prohibition

By the mid-1920s one thing was clear: the Eighteenth Amendment and the laws designed to enforce it had not rid the nation of alcohol. Even worse, the amendment made criminals of all of those Americans who were unwilling to give up drinking. The profits to be made from the sale of alcohol soon encouraged the formation of an organized criminal element intent on controlling its distribution and sales. Moreover, the profitability of bootlegging (the illegal manufacture, transportation, or sale of alcohol) contributed to rampant bribery and corruption within law enforcement agencies. It seemed to many that the Eighteenth Amendment had created the very thing it had aimed to stop—damage to the social fabric of the nation.

By the late 1920s enough people had become alarmed at the difficulties of enforcing the unpopular Prohibition laws that they began to propose that the Eighteenth Amendment be repealed. With the coming of the Great Depression (a severe economic downturn that began with the stock market crash of 1929) and the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, anti-Prohibitionists had gained enough support to win repeal through the passage of the Twenty–first Amendment on December 5, 1933.

The “noble experiment” that was the Eighteenth Amendment ended in failure. An attempt to enforce a code of moral conduct through the law had collided with Americans’ desire to exercise their individual choice about personal behavior—and lost. Though Prohibition caused much social distress, it did reveal some real strengths in the Constitution, for it proved once again that the law of the land was able to be adapted to fit the changing needs of its people and that mistakes, once made, could in fact be corrected.

Songs of Salvation

Temperance crusaders, including members of such groups as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, often marched together singing songs designed to give them courage before they entered saloons and bars and preached their message. This song, “The Temperance Army,” was written by J. M. Kieffer in 1874:

1. Now the temp’rance army’s marching,
With the Christian’s armor on;
Love our motto, Christian Captain,
Prohibition is our song!
Yes, the temp’rance army’s marching,
And will march forevermore,
And our triumph shall be sounded,
Round the world from shore to shore,
Marching on, marching on forevermore,
And our triumph shall be sounded,
Round the world from shore to shore.
2. Now the temp’rance army’s marching,
Firm and steady in our tread;
See! the mothers they are leading,
Marching boldly at the head.
3. Now the temp’rance army’s marching,
Wives and Sisters in the throng;
Shouting, “Total Prohibition,”
As we bravely march along.

This song is part of the “Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870–1885” collection at the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project, (accessed September 5, 2007).



Barry, James P. The Noble Experiment, 1919–1933: The Eighteenth Amendment Prohibits Liquor in America. New York: Franklin Watts, 1972.

Beals, Carleton. Cyclone Carry: The Story of Carry Nation. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton, 1962.

Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1996.

Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition and New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Lucas, Eileen. The Eighteenth and Twenty–First Amendments: Alcohol—Prohibition and Repeal. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1998.

Miron, Jeffrey A. Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition. Oakland, CA: Independent Institute, 2004.

Rebman, Renee C. Prohibition. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 1998.

Symanski, Ann-Marie. Pathways to Prohibition: Radical, Moderate, and Social Movement Outcomes. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

Web Sites

“Carry Amelia Moore Nation.” (accessed August 22, 2007) .

Kyvig, David. “Repealing National Prohibition.” (accessed August 22, 2007) .

McWilliams, Peter. “Prohibition: A Lesson in the Futility (and Danger) of Prohibiting.” (accessed August 22, 2007) .

Eighteenth Amendment

views updated May 29 2018


The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1790) forbade in all territories within its jurisdiction making, selling, or transporting "intoxicating liquors" in the United States. This controversial amendment was proposed in Congress on December 18, 1917, and ratified on January 16, 1919. Though Congress provided states with a period of seven years in which to ratify the amendment, approval took just over a year, such was the prevailing spirit among lawmakers. In the early decades of the twentieth century the Temperance Movement (which advocated abstinence from alcohol) was steadily growing: Thirteen of 31 states had outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol by 1855.

During the 1870s temperance also became one of the cornerstones of the growing women's movement. As the nation's women, joined by other activists, mobilized to gain suffrage (the right to vote), they also espoused sweeping cultural changes. Outlawing the manufacture and consumption of alcoholic beverages, which were viewed by many women to be a corrupt influence on American family life, was one such initiative. In 1874 a group of women established the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU); in 1895 the Anti-Saloon League was formed. Such societies found increasing support and eventually influenced legislators to take action, many of whom were "dry" (anti-alcohol) candidates that the societies had backed. Even President Woodrow Wilson (18561924) supported Prohibition, as one of the domestic policies of his New Freedom program.

After the amendment was passed, Congress passed the Volstead Act to enforce the law. But enforcement proved difficult for the government. There was a proliferation of bootleggers (who made their own moonshineillegal spirits, often distilled at night), rum runners (who imported liquor, principally from neighboring Canada and Mexico), and speakeasies (underground establishments that sold liquor to their clientele). More, organized crime soon controlled distribution of liquor in the country. Citizens had not lost their taste for alcoholic beverages.

The government now found itself with a bigger problem than prohibition of alcoholic beverages. As the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and police worked to control and end mob (organized crime) violence, and as the country suffered through the early years of the Great Depression, lawmakers in Washington reconsidered the amendment. On February 20, 1933, the U.S. Congress proposed that the Eighteenth Amendment be repealed. Approved by the states in December of that year, the Twenty-First Amendment declared the Eighteenth Amendment null. The manufacture, transportation, and consumption of alcoholic beverages was again legal in the United States; thus ended the 13-year period of Prohibition. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (193345), president at the time of repeal, called Prohibition a "noble experiment."

See also: Black Market, Prohibition, Twenty-first Amendment

Eighteenth Amendment

views updated May 18 2018


The Eighteenth Amendment was framed and adopted to give a peacetime constitutional basis to the national prohibition of alcoholic beverages, originally imposed as a war measure. Congress proposed the amendment in December 1917, and ratification was completed thirteen months later. Congress adopted the National Prohibition Act (volstead act) to provide a mechanism for enforcement and penalties for violation of the prohibition.

The prohibition amendment provided the occasion for several controversies about the character and extent of the amending power. In Ohio, for example, the voters, by referendum, attempted to rescind their legislature's ratification of the amendment; but the Supreme Court held that procedure unconstitutional in Hawke v. Smith (1920). The Court, in the National Prohibition Cases (1920), rejected a number of arguments that the amendment was itself unconstitutional because of purported inherent limitations on the amending power, including the contention that ordinary legislation cannot be made part of the Constitution and the assertion that the Constitution cannot be amended so as to diminish the residual sovereignty of the states. In the same case the Court held that the requirement of a two-thirds vote in each house to propose amendments was met by the vote of two-thirds of the members present and voting and that amendments automatically become part of the Constitution when ratified by three-fourths of the states, whether or not promulgated by Congress or the secretary of state. In United States v. Sprague (1931) the Court rejected the argument that the amendment should have been ratified by state conventions rather than by state legislatures, holding that the mode of ratification of constitutional amendments was a matter of congressional discretion.

Prohibition, a product of the reforming impulse that characterized progressive constitutional thought, proved very difficult to enforce; and the widespread disregard of federal law scarcely tended toward that moral improvement that the authors intended. In 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment became the only constitutional amendment ever to be wholly rescinded when it was repealed by passage of the twenty-first amendment.

Dennis J. Mahoney

Eighteenth Amendment

views updated May 23 2018

Eighteenth Amendment

The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbade in all U.S. territories the making, selling, or transporting of “intoxicating liquors.” It was passed on January 16, 1919.

The temperance movement, which promoted abstinence from alcohol, had become one of the cornerstones of the growing women's movement in the last half of the nineteenth century. Alcohol and liquor were perceived by many to be the root of many domestic and social evils and in direct conflict with healthy, happy families.

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in 1874. In 1895, the Anti-Saloon League formed, and it was soon joined by countless other organizations. Together they had great influence on legislators, many of whom were opposed to alcohol themselves.

The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment ushered in the era known as Prohibition . Suddenly there was a proliferation of bootleggers (makers of moonshine, or alcoholic drinks), rumrunners (those who imported liquor, usually from Mexico and Canada), and speakeasies (es-tablishments that sold liquor, often disguised as some other sort of business). Organized crime soon took control of the illegal distribution of liquor, and the government soon had a problem much more serious than the outlawing of alcoholic drinks.

In December 1933, Congress passed the Twenty-first Amendment , which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment. It had become clear that America was not about to give up its consumption of alcohol regardless of the law. Furthermore, enforcing the law prohibiting alcohol had proved a costly thirteen-year battle that could not be won.

Eighteenth Amendment

views updated May 29 2018


The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

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.

The Eighteenth Amendment was passed in 1919 and subsequently repealed in 1933.

The volstead act (41 Stat. 305 [1919]) was enacted pursuant to the Eighteenth Amendment to provide for enforcement of its prohibition. The 1933 ratification of the twenty-first

amendment in 1933 resulted in the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act.



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