The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”
Section 2 of this amendment gave Congress and the States power to enforce this article. Section 3 was a condition under which the amendment would become inoperative: It needed to be ratified within seven years from the date the Congress submitted it to the States for ratification – the first amendment to have a time limit.
W. Cleon Skousen explained, “Notice that this amendment did not give the federal government the authority to merely regulate the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic liquor, but made it an absolute prohibition. (See The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 748.)
Skousen continue by explaining that the prohibition movement started before the Civil War but was actually adopted by only five states by 1900. “Many states compromised by passing local option laws which allowed individual counties to decide whether or not the manufacture and sale of liquor would be permitted.” Women got involved and by 1916 nineteen states were totally dry with other dry under the local option. Congress made prohibition a statute in 1917 as “a war-time food-control measure” and submitted it as the Eighteenth Amendment to the States on December 18, 1917.
“The spirit of reform and crusading engendered by the war psychology resulted in speedy ratification by the states so that Prohibition became part of the constitution on January 29, 1919” (p. 749).
I do not drink alcoholic beverages and never have. I strongly believe that alcohol is bad for the person drinking as well as for society. I will never think otherwise. Yet I wondered who would think prohibiting alcohol for an entire nation was a good idea and why. Skousen gave me some background, but David Wagner of The Heritage Foundation fleshed out the real problem.
Wagner explained, “The Eighteenth Amendment, enacted in 1919, was one of four `Progressive’ Amendments passed and ratified in quick succession. Although the American involvement with alcohol and with temperance movements had been resent from the beginning of the country’s history, Prohibition rode to easy victory in an alliance with other elements of the Progressive Movement in the early twentieth century. The Sixteenth Amendment, permitting the income tax, freed the government from dependence on the tax on liquor. The direct election of Senators, through the Seventeenth Amendment, made the Senate more amenable to electoral pressure for temperance. Although the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920, it reflected a general acceptance of woman suffrage (and temperance support) already present in the states, many of which allowed women to vote even before the Nineteenth Amendment came into effect.
“Businesses supported the amendment to ensure a more reliable workforce, while prejudice against German-Americans and their breweries during World War I helped make Prohibition a patriotic cause….” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 416.)
The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment about fourteen years later in 1933. Being a non-drinker, I do not really care if alcohol is prohibited or not because it does not change my life at all. I am however affected by the destruction of liberty and freedom. Why would anyone think it was a good idea to prohibit alcohol beverages to an entire nation? Now we know it was just another one of the many “great” progressive ideas!
I like the idea that alcohol consumption is controlled by the local governments. There are many villages in the far-flung reaches of Alaska; some of them are “dry” and some of them are “wet” with still others being considered semi-dry. Each of these conditions has its own statutes and procedures.
“When Alaska became a state in 1959, state laws removed control of alcohol regulation from the federal government and Native communities. In 1981, however, the state legislature changed alcohol laws to give residents broad powers to regulate how alcohol comes into their communities via a local option referendum. By mid-1999, 112 small communities had held 197 alcohol control elections under the state law…. Most communities passing local option restrictions chose to ban sale and importation….”
Elections continue to be held in the villages. Some “wet” communities decide to go “dry” while some “dry” villages decide to take a chance on becoming “wet.” Usually, the movement is from “wet” to “dry” because alcohol use causes so much trouble in the villages. At any rate, the decision should and must be made at the local level – and definitely not on a national level!