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The United States Prohibition of Alcohol - 1920-1933

Why was prohibition repealed?


Recreation of a Newspaper announcing the end of Prohibition.

Recreation of a newspaper announcing the end of Prohibition.

KLH49 / E+ / Getty Images
PBS Prohibition Documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

PBS Prohibition Documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Photo Courtesy: © PriceGrabber.com

The reality, despite the prohibitionist's propaganda, is that prohibition was never really popular with the American public. Americans like to drink and there was even a rise in the number of women who drank during the era, which helped change the general perception of what it meant to be "respectable" (a term prohibitionists often used to refer to non-drinkers). It was also a logistical nightmare in terms of enforcement. There were never enough law enforcement officers to control all of the illegal operations associated with prohibition and many of the officials were themselves corrupt.

It was one of the first acts taken by the Roosevelt administration to encourage changes to (and subsequently repeal) the 18th Amendment. It was a two-step process; the first was the Beer Revenue Act. This legalized beer and wine with alcohol content up to 3.2% alc/vol in April of 1933. The second step was to pass the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. With the words "The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed." Americans could once again drink legally and on December 5, 1933 the nationwide prohibition was over.

The new laws left the matter of prohibition up to state governments. Mississippi was the last state to repeal prohibition in 1966 and all of the states have delegated the decision to prohibit or not to prohibit alcohol sales to local municipalities. Today many counties and towns in the country are still dry. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia have a high concentration of dry counties and in some places it is even illegal to transport alcohol through the jurisdiction.

As a part of the repeal of prohibition the federal government enacted many of the regulatory statutes on the alcohol industry that are still in effect.

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