February 7, 2023

The 21st Amendment ended Prohibition

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Paul Summers

The 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealed the 18th Amendment, which had installed prohibition. Thus, federal prohibition was repealed in 1933. The states could once again regulate the importation or transportation of alcohol within their states, but federal prohibition was no longer a constitutional mandate. 

For 14 years Americans debated about the effectiveness of the 18th Amendment, and finally in 1933 they had a chance to repeal the constitutional, federal requirement. Americans and their legislatures spoke. They wanted to make prohibition a regulatory issue for the states and not the federal government. They made a change. 

When prohibition was repealed, many people considered lawbreakers became “law-abiding citizens” once again. Law enforcement argued that officers could not concentrate on what they considered “real” crime as opposed to alcohol-related “technical” crime. They wanted a repeal so they could deal with major crimes. 

In the throes of the Great Depression, a financial calamity for so many, the possibility of legalized alcohol taxes and revenues was a selling point for ratification of the repeal on the 18th Amendment through the 21st Amendment. Many citizens and members of Congress who formerly supported prohibition, now supported the repeal of the 18th Amendment. The mood of the American people was to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages and liquor, but the individual states could and would have authority to regulate. 

The repeal of prohibition marked almost the end of an era, including “bootleggers” and “speakeasies.” It truly can be said that the only item in life that is constant is change. 

We shall continue our study in the next article with consideration of the 22nd Amendment. Please continue to read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I promise you that such study is time well spent.

Paul G. Summers is an attorney. He formerly served as an appellate and senior judge, district attorney general, and Attorney General of Tennessee.

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