The Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Outlawing Liquor - dummies

The Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Outlawing Liquor

By Michael Arnheim

The Eighteenth Amendment, ratified in 1919, banned the manufacture, sale, transportation, import, or export of all “intoxicating liquors,” which were defined by a companion act of Congress as any beverage containing over 0.5 percent alcohol. The Eighteenth Amendment is also referred to as prohibition.

The evils of alcohol had been preached since early colonial days, and Massachusetts banned the sale of “strong liquor” in 1657. However, the temperance movement really came into its own after the Civil War. The Prohibition Party was founded in 1869, and in 1873 the influential Women’s Christian Temperance Union came into existence.

Although only one congressman and one governor were ever elected on the Prohibition Party ticket, the party managed to get liquor banned in many cities and a number of states. During World War I, the pressure on lawmakers by the prohibition lobby was so great that Congress proposed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1917, and it was ratified in 1919. Two states, Connecticut and Rhode Island, rejected the amendment and never ratified it.

The Eighteenth Amendment is an excellent example of just how impossible it is to change human nature by legislation — and how disastrous it is even to try. As a direct result of prohibition, illegal, or bootleg, liquor became available in speakeasies: illicit, disguised bars. Prohibition was the best thing that ever happened to the mafia, which took full advantage of it.