When Congress ratified the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933, they ended 14 long years of Prohibition, and America as a whole celebrated appropriately. We’re continuing that celebration on the 88th Anniversary of Repeal Day, because without it we wouldn’t be here. As an ode to this historic day, we’re delving deeper into the events leading up to it that make it such a landmark in American history.
Americans first became concerned with the adverse effects of drinking in the early 19th century, earmarking the original movement for Prohibition through the forming of temperance societies. These groups became a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and making waves for a national law requiring liquor abstinence. In December 1917, the 18th Amendment was passed by Congress, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes. By January 1919, the 18th Amendment was ratified by the states and Prohibition went into full effect the following year in January 1920.
Meanwhile, there came the Volstead Act. Passed by Congress on October 28, 1919, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, this act provided for the enforcement of Prohibition as well as the creation of a special Prohibition unit of the Treasury Department. Throughout its first operating six months alone, the Prohibition unit destroyed thousands of illicit stills run by bootleggers around the country. While this may sound like what they were doing was working according to the law; in fact, all it did was slow down the flow of booze, not stop it completely. During this time, organized crime blossomed. Large-scale bootleggers (think Al Capone in Chicago) made it their duty to build empires out of illegal distribution efforts. Let’s just say just because it was Prohibition, doesn’t mean the people didn’t want their booze. The federal and state governments lost billions of dollars in tax revenue. It became such an issue that in most urban areas, the individual consumption of alcohol became tolerated. The infamous speakeasy, a Prohibition-age saloon, was a hotspot for drinkers to gather and imbibe.
Prohibition rapidly lost popular support in the early 1930s due to its failure to fully enforce sobriety as well as how much money it cost the American government. So, in 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and ratified ending national Prohibition. Although, some states continued Prohibition by maintaining statewide temperance laws. Mississippi, in fact, was the last dry state in the Union, fully ending Prohibition in 1966.
So, we can all thank our lucky stars that we landed on this planet at a time where craft distilleries are celebrated and mixologists are lauded as valued contributors to the culinary arts. Raise a glass with us in celebration of the 88th Anniversary of Repeal Day. May we never make that mistake again. Cheers!