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The Interesting History of Prohibition

The 18th Amendment – what we refer to as Prohibition – banned the manufacture, transport and sale of liquor from 1920-1933. Basically, it was created to diminish alcoholism, family violence and saloon-based political corruption. “Whaaaat?” you say. Oh yes, and this is how it all went down…

In the Colonial period, the sale of liquor to Indians was illegal and drunkenness was condemned and punished. Shortly after the United States gained its independence, tax on alcohol – called the “sin tax” was imposed to help pay down the newly formed national debt. This tax was then repealed when Jefferson took office.

Temperance groups, which advocated the moderation of alcohol, grew in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The Prohibition movement, which was known as the “dry crusade,” continued through the 1840s and spearheaded by devout Protestants and Methodists. The movement lost strength during the Civil War, but regained its footing when Temperance Groups advocated abstinence instead of just moderation and the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement (WCTM) advocated the prohibition of alcohol to protect women from abusive alcoholic husbands. WCTM also used it as a forum to gain access into the political arena – a place which women were previously denied. Leading into the 1920s, hostility toward saloons and what was believed to be their political influence grew, and the Anti-Saloon League joined the WCTM in its plight. Then, in 1920, as we say, the proverbial fat lady sang.

One of the creators of the 18th Amendment, Senator Morris Sheppard, was actually quoted as saying, “There is as much chance of repealing this amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.” Hmmmmm.

Then, when laws were widely disregarded, tax revenue that was so desperately needed during the Great Depression was lost; doctors wrote highly controversial “whiskey prescriptions, and organized crime shocked the nation, the 18th Amendment was repealed.

After the repeal, thousands of workers found jobs in the industry again; the government benefitted from tax dollars generated from alcohol sales; and many bootleggers simply moved into the legitimate liquor business. I have also to say that it’s also very wonderful thing that we can enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner, a cold beer on a hot summer day and drinks with friends on a fun night out. Can we have a big “Cheers!” to that?