18th 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 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.

Nebraska became the 36th state to ratify it January 16,1919. The amendment became law January 17,1920. Sixty-five percent of the country had already a self imposed prohibition.

This amendment turned out to be an oops! It would be annulled in thirteen years.

The 18th was bolstered by the Volstead Act. The law was named after Congressman Andrew J. Volstead who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and whose job it was to sponsor the legislation. However, its author was largely Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon league.

The Act was  was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson on both constitutional and ethical grounds but overridden by Congress on the same day, October 28, 1919.

The Volstead Act’s purpose was as a  mechanism for enforcement of the 18th.

The name Volstead was known by all, hated  by many and others with hard line beliefs against the demon alcohol had no problem with the Act.

According to 20th Century History there were “several loopholes for people to legally drink during Prohibition. For instance, the 18th Amendment did not mention the actual drinking of liquor. Since Prohibition went into effect a full year after the 18th Amendment’s ratification, many people bought cases of the  then-legal alcohol and stored them for personal use. The Volstead Act allowed alcohol consumption if it was prescribed by a doctor. Needless to say, large numbers of new prescriptions were written for alcohol.”

It has been hypothesized that alcohol in no small measure helped to build America. The Puritans who made their voyage to the new world in the 1600’s carried with them more booze than water. The Puritans thought drinking of beer and wine not a sin, after all wine was acceptable to Jesus.

Alcohol was used as a bartering tool. Its value was more stable than the money printed in the different colonies. Paying the doctor with a container of alcohol was preferable to say eggs. The doctor was happier.

From the time of the settlement of Jamestown and the landing at Plymouth Rock methods to distill spirits was on.

From the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. history archive they wrote “ Captain James Thorpe, a missionary in Virginia at that time, wrote to friends in London that he had learned to make a drink from Indian corn that was so good, he sometimes chose it over English beer. Was Thorpe actually distilling corn whiskey at the time? Though that possibility is not unthinkable, it’s more probable that he was making corn beer. Whatever his product actually was, however, was strong enough to get a whole bunch of native Americans so drunk that they scalped and killed him in 1622.”

In the mid 1700’s Germans began to arrive in America and they brought with them their unique art of brewing.

The first President of the United States had his own stills producing initially rum and later production of rye whiskey. Washington’s enterprise in the spirits manufacturing was profitable. The Spirits Council wrote that “In 1777, the newly formed United States of America adopted the Stars and Stripes as the Continental Congress flag, and George Washington was concerned that his troops didn’t have enough liquor. The father of our country really knew how to look after his children; he actually suggested that public distilleries be constructed throughout the states citing that, “The benefits arising from the moderate use of strong liquor have been experienced in all armies and are not to be disputed.”

The Scotch-Irish arrived in the new world in the late 1700’s and the Council of Spirits wrote “Their arrival in America came at a time when the country was struggling to become self-sufficient. There was plenty of farmland, a demand for liquor, and the strong backs, tenacious characters, and intimate knowledge of the still, made the Scots-Irish perfect people to help carve out a new nation–and lay the foundations for the whiskey industry.”

From an article on Colonial Rum Production they wrote “As strange as it sounds, colonial America, particularly the New England colonies (later to become states) of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, were known for their production of high quality rum.  From the seventeenth century through the mid-eighteenth century, Massachusetts and Rhode Island rum was know as one of the best produced rums in the world.

In the mid-1760’s, Massachusetts had over 63 separate rum distilleries, while Rhode Island, obviously a much smaller state, had 22 distilleries of it’s own.  Most of the distilleries in Massachusetts were found in either the town of Salem or in and just outside the city of Boston.

Rum production in colonial New England was a key factor in the economy.  As a matter of fact, it is even conceivable to say that rum was the basis for New England’s entry into the textile industry.  Without the money generated by New England’s part in the triangular Atlantic slave trade, many of the early textile mills would not have been financed.  This is also due to the fact that there were very few slaves to be found in New England and without the slave labor industrialization would have been very difficult without the money generated from the trade of rum.”

Alexander Hamilton after the Revolutionary War pushed to tax whiskey. The tax was called the The Distilled Spirits Tax of 1791.  The tax was on the distillers which pretty much covered many individuals in addition to the big distillers. This caused the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791. This rebellion prompted George Washington, prodded along by Hamilton, to call out some 13,000 troops. Hamilton got his tax and as well the message that the United States had a powerful central government. Thomas Jefferson already having reservations about Hamilton this cemented his dislike of the heavy handed approach of Hamilton and his propensity to use the power of the central government against citizens.

In Federalist 12 Hamilton wrote “The single article of ardent spirits, under Federal regulation, might be made to furnish a considerable revenue. Upon a ratio to the importation into this State [i.e., New York], the whole quantity imported into the United States may be estimated at four millions of Gallons; which at a shilling per gallon would produce two hundred thousand pounds. That article would well bear this rate of duty; and if it should tend to diminish the consumption of it, such an effect would be equally favorable to the agriculture, to the economy, to the morals and to the health of the society. There is perhaps nothing so much a subject of national extravagance, as these spirits.”

Recall that Hamilton shared his views again in Federalist 21 written in 1787 saying “It is a signal advantage of taxes on articles of consumption, that they contain in their own nature a security against excess. . . . If duties are too high they lessen the consumption—the collection is eluded; and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens, by taxes of this class, and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them.”

Hamilton perhaps would have been an ardent supporter of the temperance  crusades. Then again he would have had to weigh this against lost revenue to the central government.

The Erie Canal was built between 1817 and 1825. Some 363 miles long for the most part built with pick and shovel, back breaking labor use of mules and whiskey. Canal workers by and large Irish immigrants were paid .80 cents a day plus room and board and a “daily ration of whiskey”.

I’ve got a mule, and her name is Sal,

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal,

She’s a good old worker and a good old pal,

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.

There are many stories from the times about the distillation of alcohol by rural farmers and the big distillers in the growing cities  helped to fuel the early American economy. Alcohol consumption there is no doubt was a scourge on society behavior in America. Life was difficult and alcohol consumption by mostly males seemed to sooth their blight. While it soothed men’s it had a huge negative impact on their families.

We must as well acknowledge that alcohol did have medicinal purposes.

The “drys” felt the consumption of alcohol went way too far and the well being of society was being compromised.

Joy, temperance, and repose, slam the door on the doctor’s nose.Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

PBS wrote “ By 1830, the average American over 15 years old consumed nearly seven gallons of pure alcohol a year – three times as much as we drink today – and alcohol abuse (primarily by men) was wreaking havoc on the lives of many, particularly in an age when women had few legal rights and were utterly dependent on their husbands for sustenance and support.”

18th_amendment_7Movements against alcohol begin before the Civil War. The Women’s Temperance Christian Union was founded in 1874. The WTCU were not all women men of christian faith joined their efforts. They largely were calling for abstinence in the beginning but advanced quickly for calls on zero tolerance. The WTCU was also joined by many suffragist and as well abolitionist of both genders.

The Anti Saloon League Museum in Westerville, Ohio wrote “From 1893 to 1933, 18th_amendment_3the Anti-Saloon League was a major force in American politics. Influencing the United States through the printed word and lobbying, it turned a moral crusade into a Constitutional amendment.”

18th_amendment_4Carey Nation, the hatchet wielding saloon destroyer  perhaps deserves the honor of the most notable Anti-Saloon’er. Nation described herself as ” a bulldog running along the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.” Nation believed that  “she had conversations with Jesus and that He had directed her to destroy saloons”.

The Anti Saloon League joined forces with the WTCU. The WTCU spread to Europe as well.

Temperance may be defined as: moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful.

After the Civil War, according to an online article from Potsdam State University, NY “Following the War, the movement for prohibition reemerged and began growing. A growing women’s movement focusing on protection of the family, along with the strong support of many Protestant churches, propelled the movement forward beginning in the 1880s. After that time a number of states adopted state-wide prohibition within their borders. However, it was World War I that made possible the passage of national Prohibition. The strong anti-German prejudice made brewers (who were generally of German origin) popular targets of hostility, the argument that alcohol beverage production diverted grain needed for the war effort, the lack of organization on the part of those who didn‘t support prohibition (the “wets“), the effective organization of prohibitionists (the drys), the strong support of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), political intimidation, and the effects of decades of temperance propaganda made possible the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment establishing national Prohibition”.

Rhode Island specifically rejected ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment. Rhode Island’s population was comprised of a high percentage of Irish and Italian at the time and viewed the 18th as a WASP initiative to impose their values. Connecticut first being against eventually ratified.

Digital History wrote  “Led by the Anti-Saloon League and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the dry forces had triumphed by linking Prohibition to a variety of Progressive era social causes. Proponents of Prohibition included many women reformers, who were concerned about alcohol’s link to wife beating and child abuse, and industrialists, such as Henry Ford, who were concerned about the impact of drinking on labor productivity. Advocates of Prohibition argued that outlawing drinking would eliminate corruption, put an end to machine politics, and help Americanize immigrants.” They went on to note “Even before the 18th Amendment was ratified, about 65 percent of the country had already banned alcohol. In 1916, seven states adopted anti-liquor laws, bringing the number of states to 19 that prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.”

From the Alcohol Problems and Solutions website they wrote “Upon establishment of the Noble Experiment in 1920, Evangelist Billy Sunday staged a mock funeral for alcoholic beverages and then extolled on the benefits of prohibition. “The reign of tears is over,” he asserted. “The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corn cribs.” Since alcohol was to be banned and since it was seen as the cause of most, if not all, crime, some communities sold their jails. They went on to say “the leading prohibitionist in Congress confidently asserted that “There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.”

Prohibition enforcement centered around the most populated areas. The more rural areas suffered little interruptions to their consumption.

The journalist H. L. Mencken wrote in 1925 that “Five years of prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”

Prohibition did not come without a huge cost. Gangsters used the 18th’s passing to18th_amendment_1 rake in millions. Al Capone of Chicago the U.S. Treasury estimated was worth 60 million dollars which produced no taxes for the government. To place some perspective on Capone’s wealth one million dollars around 1900 would be worth about $24,613,670.55 in today’s dollars. The bootleggers and gangsters built empires. It is reported that federal and state governments lost billions in tax revenues. Add in costs to attempt to control the gangster empires from the federal, state and local levels of government the costs grew.

The 18th amendment brought to America organized crime, the Mafia. This period also brought America more illicit drugs, prostitution, trafficking of women and girls and pornography activity. The gangster empires diversified big time.

Pauline Sabin once a supported of prohibition founded in 1929 the Women’s’ Legion for True Temperance, soon renamed the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR). She had decided a year earlier to establish a women’s repeal organization after the president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) asserted to Congress that “I represent the women of the United States!”

In 1926 Montana became the first state to repeal its own enforcement of Prohibition.

The repeal of the 18th fervor grew. In 1932 the Democratic Party platform included an anti-prohibition plank. Franklin Roosevelt ran on the promise to repeal.

The 18th amendment no matter conceived in righteous and the best of intentions turned out to be an abject failure. The 18th is a good example that merely passing prohibition did not alter the minds of men.

The 21st amendment repealed  the 18th with its passages in 1933.