Happy Repeal Day!
Today is a great day for freedom. On this day in 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified, thus repealing Prohibition. My former colleague Brandon Arnold wrote about it a few years ago:
Prohibition isn’t a subject that should be studied by historians alone, as this failed experiment continues to have a significant impact on our nation.
Groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a key force in the passage of Prohibition, survive to this day and continue to insist that Prohibition was a success and advocate for dry laws.
Prohibition-era state laws, many of which are still on the books today, created government-protected monopolies for alcohol distributors. These laws have survived for three-quarters of a century because of powerful, rent-seeking interest groups, despite the fact that they significantly raise costs and limit consumer options. And because of these distribution laws, it is illegal for millions of Americans to have wine shipped directly to their door.
To learn more about the history and legacy of Prohibition, check out my podcast and watch the live webcast of Cato’s policy forum, “Free to Booze: the 75th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition.”
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition. It is the only Amendment thus far ratified by state conventions specially selected for the purpose, whereas all other amendments have been ratified by state legislatures. It is also the only amendment that was passed for the explicit and nearly sole purpose of repealing an earlier amendment to the Constitution.
The 18th Amendment, ratified in 1919, established prohibition of alcohol in the United States. (The amendment itself did not ban the actual consumption of alcohol, but made obtaining it legally difficult.) However, the ban on manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol merely served to stimulate the ingenuity of entrepreneurs, who knew a lucrative market when they saw one. Liquor dealers abroad provided a ready and unimpeded source of alcoholic beverages, and there were many who were prepared to risk arrest to take advantage of the opportunities afforded. “Bootleggers” and “speakeasies” multiplied like bar flies. Enforcement became increasingly difficult and, much to the disgust of Prohibition’s adherents, unenthusiastic.
By 1932 the change in public opinion led to a platform in the Democratic Party to repeal the 18th Amendment. The strength of the Democratic showing in 1932 and the outpouring of public sentiment in favor of repeal was enough to cause Congress to pass a resolution calling for the adoption of the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing the Eighteenth. The Twenty-first Amendment was put to the states for ratification, and on December 5, 1933, it was ratified by the required number of states, becoming law.