On December 5, 1933, three states voted to repeal Prohibition, putting the ratification of the 21st Amendment into place.
But did Prohibition really end on that fateful day? Kind of, but like the 18th Amendment’s path in 1919, the end of federal laws to bar the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquors took some time to wind down.
Congress first proposed the 21st Amendment in February 1933, and it took the unusual method of calling for state conventions to vote on the amendment, instead of submitting it to state legislatures.
Conventions in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Utah approved the amendment on that fateful December day, making it 36 states who wanted Prohibition to end—the three-quarters majority required by the Constitution.
But the 21st Amendment returned the control of liquor laws back to the states, who could legally bar alcohol sales across an entire state, or let towns and counties decide to stay “wet” or “dry.”
Here are five interesting facts about the slow demise of Prohibition:
1. Two states rejected the 21st amendment. North Carolina and South Carolina rejected the amendment before December 5. So the vote was far from unanimous.
2. Another eight states didn’t meet before December 5 and didn’t even act to vote on the 21st Amendment: Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota
3. One state didn’t end its version of Prohibition until 1966. Mississippi decided the keep its Prohibition laws for another three decades. As of 2004, half of Mississippi’s counties were dry. Currently, 17 states don’t allow any of their counties to be dry.
4. It was never illegal to drink during Prohibition. The 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, the legal measure that included the instructions for enforcing Prohibition, never barred the consumption of alcohol–just making it, selling it, and shipping it for mass production (and consumption).
5. The Cullen-Harrison Act, signed about 10 months before the 21st Amendment was ratified, allowed people to drink low-alcohol content beer and wine. Incoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt had the Volstead Act amended in April 1933 to allow people to have a beer, or two, while they waited for the 21st Amendment to be ratified. The first team of Budweiser Clydesdales was sent to the White House to give President Roosevelt a ceremonial case of beer.
If you want to learn more about Prohibition, don’t miss the National Constitution Center’s world premiere exhibition American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.
About American Spirits
Admission to American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition is $17.50 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, and $11 for children ages 4 – 12. Group rates also are available.
Admission to the Center’s main exhibition, The Story of We the People, including the award-winning theatrical production Freedom Rising, is included. For ticket information, call 215.409.6700 or visit constitutioncenter.org.
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