Repeal of Prohibition

Repeal of Prohibition

The Repeal of Prohibition in the United States was accomplished with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 5, 1933.



In 1919, the requisite number of legislatures of the States ratified the 18th Amendment to the Federal Constitution, enabling national prohibition one year later. Many women, notably members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, were pivotal in bringing about national Prohibition in the United States of America, believing it would protect families, women and children from the effects of abuse of alcohol.

Impact of prohibition

The proponents of prohibition had believed that banning alcoholic beverages would reduce or even eliminate many social problems, particularly drunkenness, crime, mental illness, and poverty. In 1925, journalist H.L. Mencken believed the opposite to be true:[1]

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.

Some supporters of Prohibition, such as Rev. Charles Stelzle in his 1918 book Why Prohibition!, also believed that prohibition would eventually lead to reductions in taxes, since drinking "produced half the business" for institutions supported by tax dollars such as courts, jails, hospitals, almshouses, and insane asylums.[2] In fact alcohol consumption and the incidence of alcohol-related domestic violence were decreasing before the 18th Amendment was adopted. Following the imposition of prohibition, reformers "were dismayed to find that child neglect and violence against children actually increased during the Prohibition era."[3]

During Prohibition, people continued to produce and drink alcohol, and bootlegging helped foster a massive industry completely under the control of organized crime. Drinking in speakeasies became increasingly fashionable, and many mothers worried about the allure that alcohol and other illegal activities associated with bootlegging would have over their children.[4]

Prohibitionists argued that Prohibition would be more effective if enforcement were increased. However, increased efforts to enforce Prohibition simply resulted in the government spending more money, rather than less. The economic cost of Prohibition became especially pronounced during the Great Depression. According to Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA) and Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR) literature, an estimated $861,000,000 was lost in federal tax revenue from untaxed liquor; $40 million dollars was spent annually on Prohibition enforcement.[5] The AAPA also released a pamphlet claiming that $11,000,000,000 was lost in federal liquor-tax revenue and $310,000,000 was spent on Prohibition enforcement from 1920 to 1931.[6] This lack of potential funding during a period of economic strife became a crucial part of the campaign for repeal.

Organized opposition

During this period, support for Prohibition diminished among voters and politicians. John D. Rockefeller Jr., a lifelong nondrinker who had contributed much money to the Prohibitionist Anti-Saloon League, eventually announced his support for repeal because of the widespread problems he believed Prohibition had caused. Influential leaders, such as the du Pont brothers, led the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, whose name clearly asserted its intentions.

The repeal movement also attracted a substantial portion of women, defying the assumption that recently-enfranchised female voters would automatically vote as a bloc on this issue.[7] They became pivotal in the effort to repeal, as many "had come to the painful conclusion that the destructiveness of alcohol was now embodied in Prohibition itself."[8] By then, women had become even more politically powerful due to ratification of the Constitutional amendment for women's suffrage. Activist Pauline Sabin argued that repeal would protect families from the corruption, violent crime, and underground drinking that resulted from Prohibition. On May 28, 1929, Sabin founded the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR), which attracted many former Prohibitionists to its ranks.[9] Its membership was estimated at 1.5 million by the time repeal was finally passed in 1933. Originally, Sabin was among the many women who supported the 18th Amendment. Now, however, she viewed Prohibition as both hypocritical and dangerous. She recognized "the apparent decline of temperate drinking" and feared the rise of organized crime that developed around bootlegging.[10] Additionally, she worried that America's children, witnessing a blatant disregard for dry laws, would cease to recognize the sanctity of the law itself. Finally, Sabin and the WONPR took a libertarian stance that disapproved of federal involvement in a personal matter like drinking. Over time, however, the WONPR modified its argument, playing up the "moral wrongs that threatened the American home" as a result of the corruption of the Prohibition era.[11] As a women's organization during the early twentieth century, adopting a political stance that centered around maternalism and home protection appealed to the widest audience and was favored over personal liberty arguments, which ultimately received little attention.

The WONPR was initially composed mainly of upper-class women. However, by the time the 21st Amendment was passed, their membership included the middle and working classes. After a short start-up period, donations from members alone were enough to financially sustain the organization. By 1931, more women belonged to the WONPR than the WCTU; by 1932, the WONPR had branches in forty-one states.[12]

The WONPR supported repeal on a platform of "true" temperance, claiming that "a trend toward moderation and restraint in the use of intoxicating beverages [was] reversed by prohibition."[13] Though their causes were in direct opposition, the WONPR mirrored the advocacy techniques of the WCTU. They canvassed door-to-door, encouraged politicians on all levels to incorporate repeal into their party platform, created petitions, gave speeches and radio interviews, dispersed persuasive literature, and held chapter meetings. At times, the WONPR also worked in cooperation with other anti-prohibition groups. In 1932, the AAPA, Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, The Crusaders, the American Hotel Organization, and the WONPR formed the United Repeal Council. The United Repeal Council lobbied at both the 1932 Republican and Democratic conventions to integrate repeal into their respective presidential election campaigns. Ultimately, the Republicans continued to defend Prohibition. So the WONPR, which initially began as a nonpartisan organization, joined with the Democratic campaign and supported FDR.[14]

The number of repeal organizations and demand for repeal both increased.

Organizations supporting repeal

Organization leaders

Repeal as a political party issue

In 1932, the Democratic Party's platform included a plank for the repeal of Prohibition, and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt ran for President of the United States promising repeal of federal Prohibition laws.


1933 newsreel

The Cullen-Harrison Act, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on March 22, 1933, authorized the sale of 3.2% beer (thought to be too low an alcohol concentration to be intoxicating) and wine, with the first legal beer sales since the beginning of Prohibition on January 16, 1920.[15] In 1933, the state conventions ratified the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment. The amendment was fully ratified on December 5, 1933. Federal laws enforcing Prohibition were then repealed. Some states, however, continued Prohibition within their jurisdictions. Almost two-thirds of all states adopted some form of local option which enabled residents in political subdivisions to vote for or against local Prohibition. For a time, 38% of Americans lived in areas with Prohibition. By 1966, however, all states had repealed their state-wide Prohibition laws, with Mississippi the last state to do so.[16]


  1. ^ Sylvia Engdahl, Amendments XVIII and XXI: Prohibition and Repeal (Greenhaven, 2009), ??
  2. ^ Kyvig, David E. (1979). Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 9. ISBN 0226466418. 
  3. ^ Rose, Kenneth D. (1996). American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. New York: New York University Press. pp. 43. ISBN 0814774644. 
  4. ^ Rose, Kenneth D. (1996). American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. New York: New York University Press. pp. 2. ISBN 0814774644. 
  5. ^ Kyvig, David E. (Autumn 1976). "Women against Prohibition". American Quarterly 28 (4): 473. 
  6. ^ Kyvig, David E. (1979). Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 132. ISBN 0226466418. 
  7. ^ Kyvig, David E. (1979). Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 118. ISBN 0226466418. 
  8. ^ Rose, Kenneth D. (1996). American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. New York: New York University Press. pp. 10. ISBN 0814774644. 
  9. ^ Kobler, John (1973). Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: De Capo Press. pp. 342. ISBN 9780306805127. 
  10. ^ Kyvig, David E. (Autumn 1976). "Women against Prohibition". American Quarterly 28 (4): 468. 
  11. ^ Rose, Kenneth D. (1996). American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. New York: New York University Press. pp. 2. ISBN 0814774644. 
  12. ^ Kyvig, David E. (Autumn 1976). "Women against Prohibition". American Quarterly 28 (4): 474. 
  13. ^ Kyvig, David E. (Autumn 1976). "Women against Prohibition". American Quarterly 28 (4): 472. 
  14. ^ Kyvig, David E. (1979). Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 156–157. ISBN 0226466418. 
  15. ^ Pittsburgh Press: Wilson, Lyle C., "Bill is signed by Roosevelt," March 22, 1933, accessed February 3, 2010
  16. ^ Mississippi State History


  • Cai Cowlyn, Jr., Jack S. Retreat from Reform. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976
  • Kyvig, David E. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979
  • Pollard, Joseph P. The Road to Repeal: Submission to Conventions. New York: Brentano's , 1932
  • Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. New York University Press, 1997
  • Tietsort, Francis J., (ed.) Temperance—or Prohibition. NY: American, 1929
  • Willebrandt, Mabel W. The Inside of Prohibition. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1929

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Prohibition Party — Chairman Toby Davis Founded 1869 (1869) Ideology Temperance Website …   Wikipedia

  • repeal — re·peal /ri pēl/ vt [Anglo French repeler, from Old French, from re back + apeler to appeal, call, from Latin appellare to address, entreat, call by name]: to rescind or annul by authoritative act; esp: to revoke or abrogate by legislative… …   Law dictionary

  • Prohibition in the United States — Detroit police inspecting equipment found in a clandestine underground brewery during the Prohibition era Prohibition in the United States (sometimes referred to as the Noble Experiment)[1] was a national ban on the sale, manufacture, and… …   Wikipedia

  • Prohibition — For prohibition of certain other drugs, see Prohibition (drugs). For the general concept of legal prohibition, see Prohibitionism. For other uses, see Prohibition (disambiguation). A raid in 1925, in Elk Lake, Ontario Prohibition of alcohol,… …   Wikipedia

  • prohibition — n. 1) to repeal (a) prohibition 2) a prohibition against * * * [ˌprəʊhɪ bɪʃ(ə)n] a prohibition against to repeal (a) prohibition …   Combinatory dictionary

  • Repeal — A repeal is the removal or reversal of a law. This is generally done when a law is no longer effective, or it is shown that a law is having far more negative consequences than were originally envisioned. Major repeals in history include: *The… …   Wikipedia

  • prohibition — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ absolute, blanket, total ▪ strict ▪ general ▪ constitutional (esp. AmE), federal (AmE) …   Collocations dictionary

  • repeal — [[t]rɪpi͟ːl[/t]] repeals, repealing, repealed VERB If the government repeals a law, it officially ends it, so that it is no longer valid. [V n] The government has just repealed the law segregating public facilities. N UNCOUNT: N of n Repeal is… …   English dictionary

  • Prohibition in Canada — refers to a movement and a succession of actions at the local, county and provincial levels for the prohibition of alcohol, beginning in the late 19th century and continuing well into the 20th century. The temperance movement reached its height… …   Wikipedia

  • prohibition — prohibitionary, adj. /proh euh bish euhn/, n. 1. the act of prohibiting. 2. the legal prohibiting of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic drinks for common consumption. 3. (often cap.) the period (1920 33) when the Eighteenth Amendment was in… …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.