Today in History: End of Prohibition
by M.C. Millman
Prohibition, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a recognized public policy failure was repealed on December 5, 1933, bringing the era of Prohibition to an end. This was the first time a U.S. Constitutional Amendment was repealed.
Prohibition was a result of temperance societies, which became a powerful political force insisting on nationwide abstinence from alcohol. The resulting reality was that it did little to limit the sale, production, and consumption of liquor.
Prohibition began in December 1917 with the passage of the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes". It was passed in December 1917 by Congress and sent to the states for ratification, which took place on January 16, 1919. Prohibition went into effect nationwide on January 17, 1920
As a result, bootleggers such as Al Capone built criminal empires by illegally selling alcohol on a wide scale, causing a loss of billions in taxes at illegal speakeasies - Prohibition-era saloons, which allowed drinkers in under the radar.
In the midst of the Great Depression, the federal government finally admitted that making alcohol legal again could provide half a million people with jobs and much-needed tax revenue as well.
In February 1933, Congress proposed a 21st Amendment to the Constitution that would repeal the 18th Amendment of Prohibition. It wasn't until December 1933 that Utah provided the 36th and final necessary vote for ratification hours after Pennsylvania and Ohio did the same thing earlier on the same day. Utah's vote was critical as it provided the necessary 75% of states needed to enact the ratification.
Immediately thereafter, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation where he declared the end of Prohibition with the following statement, "I trust in the good sense of the American people, that they will not bring upon themselves the curse of excessive use of intoxicating liquors, to the detriment of health, morals, and social integrity."
Within minutes of the president's announcement, Repeal Night celebrations began as Americans purchased their first authorized drinks in hotels, nightclubs, saloons, and restaurants.
Despite prohibitionists expecting the worst, newspaper headlines reported that Repeal Night had been no different than any other weekend night during Prohibition.
Though a few states continued to prohibit alcohol after Prohibition's end, all had abandoned the ban by 1966, with Mississippi as the last state to give up on that notion in 1966.