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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Prohibition and Temperance

In order to understand Prohibition Era America, you must first understand what was going on in the country that led to this amendment to the Constitution.

During the late 1800's and into the early 1900's, America was going through a progressive growth period and was coming to the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. Women's rights movements and activism was becoming a hot button topic across the country. Many of these women's movements were pushing for improvements of issues that particularly affected women and family life - and temperance and the reduction of alcohol consumption was seen as THE solution to all of the problems that the nation faced.

Many leagues popped up all over the country - the Anti-Saloon League, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and the Prohibition Party were some of the biggest names of them all. There soon became a push for the US Government to make an amendment to the Constitution that would make it very difficult to purchase alcohol.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on January 16, 1919 and took effect on January 17, 1920. The text of the Amendment is as follows:

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.

As you can see, nowhere does the law make it illegal to consume alcohol - just the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol.

After the Amendment took effect, the illegal sale and manufacture of alcohol skyrocketed. Mobs and gangs were heavily invested in these practices and as a result they became more influential in society. Prohibition didn't do much to limit alcohol consumption. Speakeasies sprang up all over the place to administer to people's needs - some estimates are as high as 500,000 speakeasies in the USA. Doctors were still allowed to write prescriptions for whiskey for medical use - although that practice was abused a lot. Hundreds of thousands of illegal manufacturing operations were takend down by the Prohibition agents and tens of thousands of people were arrested in connection with the operations. There was also the unfortunate increase in violence in connection with the enforcement of the law - after only 3 years of the enactment of the law, 30 enforcement agents were killed in the line of duty.

Finally, after years of fighting against the Prohibition laws, on December 5, 1933 the 18th Amendment was repealed (by action of the 21st Amendment).

I referenced the following article in obtaining some of the information in this article:
Commission by Jane Lang McGrew, an attorney from Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. The Great Molasses Flood in Boston occurred the same day as the passing of the 18th Amendment -- it was rum by-product, too!!

  2. Audra - I don't think I have heard of The Great Molasses Flood! I will have to look that up!

  3. Heather -- there is an amazing book by a Boston writer on it -- Dark Tide -- really fascinating. Allegedly in the summer the North End still smells of molasses!


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