Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

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Ratified on January 16, 1919 and went into effect a year later, the Eighteenth Amendment (Amendment XVIII) of the United States Constitution banned the making, transporting, and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States.[1] The Volstead Act was passed by Congress to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment. It did not prohibit the drinking of alcohol however. It started the period in American history called the Prohibition Era. This was a period of mass civil disobedience to the law. Those who could afford the higher prices of smuggled liquor went to illegal bars called speakeasies.[2] Working class people tended to drink moonshine and so-called bathtub gin at home.[2] The Eighteenth Amendment proved to be a major failure.[3] Americans started drinking more than before and it caused crime to rise significantly. The Eighteenth Amendment was later repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment.[1] It remains the only amendment to be repealed by another amendment to the Constitution.[3]

Text[change | change source]

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.[1]

Clauses[change | change source]

The first clause, section one, says the law was to go into effect one year from its ratification. It was passed by Congress on December 18, 1917.[4] The thirty-sixth state (required number for passage) to ratify the amendment did so 394 days later on January 16, 1919.[4] The forty-seventh state to ratify the amendment was New Jersey on March 9, 1922. Rhode Island was the only state to reject ratification of the 18th Amendment.[4]

The second clause gave the federal and state governments concurrent powers to enforce the amendment.[5] Congress passed the national Prohibition Enforcement Act, also known as the Volstead Act. The act defined any beverage containing more than one-half of one percent an intoxicating beverage.[5] It gave the Internal Revenue Service the power to enforce the law.[5]

The third clause gave seven years as the time period for the states to ratify the amendment. This is the first amendment to have a limit on the time in which it was to be ratified.[6] If it was not ratified by the required number of states in that time period, the amendment would not go into effect.[6] Article Five of the United States Constitution requires an amendment be passed by three-quarters of the states.[7] (36 out of the 48 states at that time.)

Background[change | change source]

During the 1820s intense religious and social movements spread across the country calling alcohol and drunkenness a "national curse."[8] They were called temperance movements. The first state to have a temperance law was Massachusetts[a] who in 1838 enacted a law prohibiting the sale of liquor in less than 15 US gallons (57 l; 12 imp gal) quantities.[8] In 1846, Maine passed the first state prohibition law. It was repealed two years later, still, other states also passed similar laws.[8]

After the American Civil War, immigrants, mainly from Ireland, Germany, Italy and other parts of Europe, crowded major cities by the millions. Many of these men worked hard and drank just as hard. Beer became a favorite drink and many German-Americans who knew how to brew beer began producing it in large quantities. By the 1870s, many wives and mothers who were completely dependant on their men, began to protest having their lives ruined by alcohol. They were joined by a number of clergymen. They organized as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and became a powerful force for change.[10] They were joined by women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. prominent in the suffrage movement (women's right to vote).[10] The temperance movement was able to put political pressure on politicians that many were afraid of. The WCTU began calling for a nation-wide ban on alcoholic drink. At first, most Senators were against the idea.[6] But they also did not want to be seen as voting against it.[6] For this reason they imposed a deadline for ratification of seven years. Many hoped it would not be ratified. But the plan did not work since it was ratified just over a year after its passage.[6]

Results of prohibition[change | change source]

Gustav Boess, Mayor of Berlin visited New York City in late 1929.[9] He asked the Mayor of New York City, Jimmy Walker, when prohibition was supposed to go into effect.[9] At that time, prohibition had already been the law of the land for over nine years.[9] That the German mayor even had to ask shows how well the Eighteenth Amendment had been working.[9] In fact, it was not working very well at all.

Economics[change | change source]

Those who supported prohibition expected the sales of household goods and clothing to go up dramatically. Many expected real estate and rents to rise as bars closed and neighborhoods were cleaned up. Many producers of soft drinks, juices and chewing gum expected sales to go up as Americans had to find new ways of entertaining themselves. None of this happened. Instead, the unintended consequences proved to be a decline in amusement and entertainment industries across the country.[9] Restaurants failed, as they could no longer make a profit without legal liquor sales. Theater revenues declined rather than increase, and few of the other economic benefits that had been predicted came to pass. Prohibition proved to be largely negative for the economy. Jobs in breweries, distilleries and bars were lost by the thousands. Truckers, waiters, barrel makers and many other related workers had large numbers of jobs lost.[9] Perhaps the largest unintended consequence was the loss to the government in tax revenues. The state of New York lost almost 75 percent of its revenue.[9] The federal government lost over $11 million in tax revenues while the cost to enforce it was over $300 million.[9]

Loopholes[change | change source]

The prohibition laws had many loopholes (ways to get around the law) that were quickly taken advantage of. The biggest loophole was that neither the Eighteenth Amendment nor the Volstead Act made it illegal to drink or be drunk in public.[11] Farmers who grew fruit quickly learned to sell their harvests in dehydrated bricks.[11] The warning label included instructions on how to easily turn the bricks into alcoholic drinks.[b] Pharmacists were allowed to prescribe whiskey for any number of ailments from anxiety to the flu.[9] As bootleggers learned of this, the number of pharmacies tripled in places like New York state.[9] Tools and ingredients to make alcohol at home were sold in hardware and grocery stores. Books on how to make liquor were also legal.[11]

Crime[change | change source]

Drinking under prohibition did not stop, it simply went underground.[13] In New York City alone there were thousands of speakeasy clubs. The mob made millions in illegal sales of alcohol on the black market.[13] Most Americans simply ignored the law. The agents who enforced prohibition laws were poorly paid and were easily bribed. Gangsters made money and became powerful under prohibition.[13] They even cooperated with one another in setting prices. Organized crime gained a national foothold due to prohibition.[13] One of the better known gangsters was Al Capone. When Capone arrived in Chicago in 1920 he immediately saw the opportunities that prohibition offered.[14] He organized illegal bootlegging on an international scale.[14] He even controlled the distribution of his alcohol. He hired his own delivery trucks, salespeople, and his own heavily armed guards to protect his investments.[14] Capone was making over $100 million a year. He had no trouble bribing all the politicians and law enforcement members in his district.[14]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. Temperance laws could often be easily worked around. For example, in 1844, a town in Massachusetts banned all sales of alcohol. This led one tavern-owner to charge his customers to see a "striped pig". The admission ticket also entitled the holder to free drinks.[9]
  2. "Instructions came in the form of warnings against dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, adding sugar, shaking daily and decanting after three weeks. Unless the buyer eschewed these processes, 13% wine would be produced."[12]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "The Constitution of the United States: Amendments 11-27". The National Archives. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lisa Andersen. "Prohibition and Its Effects". The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "18th Amendment". Law.com. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 David J. Hanson. "18th Amendment (Eighteenth Amendment): Prohibition". State University of New York. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "18th and 19th amendments". The Social Studies Help Center. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "Understanding the 18th Amendment". Laws.com. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  7. "The Constitutional Amendment Process". The National Archives. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "18th and 21st Amendments". History/A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 "Prohibition: Unintended Consequences". PBS/WETA. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Roots of Prohibition". PBS/WETA. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Vivian Che; Arthur Bale. "Loopholes". The Debate over Prohibition. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  12. "Prohibition: Wine Bricks". Time Magazine. 17 August 1931. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 10 June 2011. "Prohibition: Speakeasies, Loopholes And Politics". NPR. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Taylor Hales; Nikolas Kazmers. "Organized Crime - How it was Changed by Prohibition". University of Michigan. Retrieved 12 March 2016.

Other websites[change | change source]