Among the darker episodes in American history is Prohibition, which made it illegal to “manufacture, sell, or transport intoxicating liquors,” as spelled out in the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This national attitude was not especially original. Prohibition has been in force in the Islamic world for more than 1,200 years. It had been tried in Scandinavia during the 19th century but those savvy seafaring peoples soon learned it had a deleterious effect on international commerce and gave it up, though to this day maintaining somewhat restrictive control over the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages.
The drive toward Prohibition in America got its impetus in the late nineteenth century by such organized groups as the Womens Christian Temperance Society and the Anti Saloon League. There was even a Prohibition Political Party. These groups won considerable support from Protestant churches, largely in the South and Midwest, and by the time the 18th Amendment passed, thirty-three states were totally “dry.”
Undoubtedly the 18th Amendment, passed on January 17, 1920, did much to decrease the consumption of alcoholic beverages, but it also created a lot of crime. The years between 1920 and Repeal in 1933, were a period of unequalled illegal “drinking,” often of dangerous home creations, commonly referred to as Bathtub Gin. Bootlegging, a peculiar American form of smuggling, was rampant and led to the creation of gang cartel warfare in major urban areas and “rotgut” whisky distilling in rural areas.
Because the 18th Amendment made allowances for the use of wine in religious services or for medicinal purposes, the number of religious converts and ailing patients increased dramatically. Some of today’s wineries survived because they produced grapes for home use, always cautioning buyers that if they weren’t careful, “the grapes might start fermenting and turn to wine.” Most wineries of the day, however, did not survive.
“Wets,” the moniker hung on people working to halt the forces of Prohibition tried many different tactics to amend the Amendment. They tried to legislate a new definition of intoxication or to relegate authority to each state for the handling of such commodities. No such effort succeeded. They decided eventually, as they watched the evolution of the movement from Temperance to all-out Prohibition, to go all out and seek repeal of the Amendment.
The Democratic Party made Repeal a plank in their 1932 election campaign, and on December 5, 1933, the Congress ratified and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th. All of which brings me to Another Holiday to Celebrate, and you have almost a week to plan your party. On December 5, raise your glass high in honor of those who brought about Repeal.