The Twenty-First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Repealing Prohibition

The Eighteenth Amendment introducing Prohibition is the only amendment ever to have been repealed. This was done by the Twenty-First Amendment just under 14 years after Prohibition had been introduced.

What happened in that short time to turn opinion so completely around? In fact, local politicians hadn’t really changed their minds because many of them either owed the Prohibition lobby favors or else were afraid of the influence wielded by that lobby in their localities.

But Prohibition had never been that popular among ordinary Americans. After Prohibition ushered in an orgy of crime, Congress was determined to end Prohibition, and it used the nation’s deep-seated dislike of Prohibition to achieve this end.

So, after handily passing the proposed Twenty-First Amendment, Congress stipulated that ratification was to be effected not by the state legislatures but by the alternative method laid down in Article V of the Constitution – by special conventions in the individual states. The Twenty-First Amendment was the only amendment ever ratified this way.

South Carolina rejected the Twenty-First Amendment, and the voters of North Carolina refused even to call a convention to consider it. But all the other states held conventions that duly accepted the amendment.

It’s important to realize, however, that the Twenty-First Amendment doesn’t just repeal the Eighteenth Amendment. It does so in Section 1, but it then goes on to provide that

The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

This section enabled any state that wanted to remain “dry” to do so. Mississippi was the last state to remain dry, which it was until 1966, and Kansas banned public bars until 1987. There are still over 500 dry municipalities in the nation because many states have delegated the power to ban alcohol to local authorities.

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