83 Years Ago, Prohibition Finally Ended

Real History |

On December 5th, 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified, hence forth repealing the 18th Amendment which had banned the sale and distribution of alcohol. It's a day that is widely beloved for obvious reasons, and a day that couldn't come a moment too soon.


The 18th Amendment was mandated on January 16, 1919 to outlaw "the transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for deliver or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited."

It was designed to address what Americans perceived to be "evil effects" brought on by alcohol in terms of crime and early death. But the unintended consequences of Prohibition were too much to ignore.

With alcohol being made illegal, it also became a burgeoning underground industry. Chicago's Al Capone was among the leaders of this black market, who was responsible for perpetrating a wave of violence during the time period. In 1932, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. released a statement claiming that Prohibition had gone completely awry, thanks to many of America's "best citizens" who had openly ignored it.

The rise of speakeasies happened as alcohol distributors were looking for an alternative to... you know, the law. Alcohol was acquired by proprietors through bootlegging, which explains the rise of Al Capone and others. One of the ugliest moments of this period took place on Valentine's Day in 1929, with the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. It featured a bloody shootout between arch rival Chicago gangs, one led by Al Capone and the other led by Bugs Moran. Moran ran the North Side gang, who fought tooth and nail for smuggling and trafficking rights in the area. A $50,000 bounty had been placed on Al Capone's head, leading to the final straw for these gangsters. When a delivery of bootleg whiskey was supposed to arrive at Moran's headquarters, and didn't, bullets were sprayed.

Probably the worst consequence of Prohibition was the compromised quality of liquor that did exist. Since speakeasies couldn't get the good brand label stuff, they resorted to using cheap, often homemade stuff. Patrons had to just deal with it, since that was their only option. It was undoubtedly bleak.

Fast forward to December 5, 1933, and the 21st Amendment came just in the nick of time for many people. Within 10 days, most were back to their old fashioned drinking ways and life was good again. 38 states ratified by via conventions, with a small handful holding out completely.

Thankfully, this dark period in American history is forever behind us. It's horrors are surely not worth repeating.

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