Today, December 5, 2008, marks the 75th anniversary since Prohibition was officially repealed in the United States with the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. On December 5, 1933, Utah adopted the 21st Amendment, putting the Amendment over the 3/4 state majority necessary to become part of the Constitution.

“Prohibition” refers to the illegalization of alcoholic drinks in America with the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919. Prohibition was passed largely through the influence of the the temperance movement, which was linked to the women’s suffrage movement. Organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union were both advocates of women’s rights and anti-alcohol. At the time, Prohibition was a women’s rights issue. Many women activists believed male alcohol abuse led to domestic violence and family poverty. After World War I, both movements were at the height of national popularity. Hence, shortly after the passage of the 18th Amendment, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in federal elections in 1920.

A movement that began with the best of intentions, soon became a horrible nightmare. People drank before Prohibition, and they continued to drink during Prohibition. Gangsters took over the once legal alcohol business and became millionaires. Gang violence broke out to control the smuggling and sale of alcohol, making many cities extremely dangerous. Prohibition declared alcohol illegal, but it did not change the behavior of American citizens. Instead of drinking in bars and restaurants, they drank in speakeasies and at home. The government could not change this essential element of American culture.

Politicians and citizens alike in the 1920’s saw that Prohibition was a disaster from a policy standpoint. No matter what one believed about alcohol from a moral standpoint, from a policy standpoint, attempting to change people’s behavior simply was not working. The movement to repeal Prohibition gained popularity in the early Depression, a time when people really needed to drink, and eventually lead to the passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933.

Prohibition today is a cautionary tale regarding the limits of government intervention in citizen’s lives.

Celebrate Repeal Day with a drink!

See the original newsreel announcing the repeal of Prohibition below:

Prohibition Repealed!