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The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed

Had Samizdata or the internet existed on this day in 1933, Presidential Proclamation 2065 would undoubtedly have been Quote of the Day, and probably Quote of the Year as well.

Prohibition of alcohol in the US only lasted thirteen years. Of course that was time enough to give the Mafia their start, corrupt thousands of policemen and judges, and turn millions of previously law-abiding Americans into criminals, but in retrospect I stand in awe at how quickly the America of eighty-five years ago acknowledged and corrected its mistake.

Pity the same was not true of the ongoing and equally disastrous prohibition of drugs.

25 comments to The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed

  • Fraser Orr

    Of course the irony is that the prohibition of alcohol required an amendment in the first place. Apparently no such amendment was required to prohibit other intoxicating substances.

    As I am sure we all know that had nothing to do with the fact that alcohol was the preferred drug of the white man, and opium the preferred drug on the yellow devil (or in their turn cocaine the drug of the insane black man, rapin’ and murderin’ out white wimn’ folks or marijuana the drug of the lazy Mexican sloths.) Nope, I am sure the two are entirely disconnected.

    FWIW, we still have amazingly strict regulation of alcohol here in the USA. You will regularly see signage in stores saying “If you look under 40 we will card you for alcohol.” What I find particularly curious is comparing my experience growing up in Scotland and the experience here. When I was in college people didn’t really drink to get utterly wasted, I mean it happened but it wasn’t the goal. They did if for fun and for the intoxicating effects. Here getting blasted is the goal. And what do you expect when college kids can’t even buy a beer legally? I might add that on the flip side, in Europe there is an intense social pressure against drinking and driving. But here there really isn’t. It is common and accepted. Which is all part of the general irresponsibility with regards to alcohol that has been built into American culture in part because the the nanny state making all your choices for you.

    I love to tell the story that I learned from someone who sold those plastic rings for holding bottles and cans together. For a long time Texas was the only place you could buy a two-pack of beer. Why? Because apparently two beers is all you can drink before you have to pull your car over and use the bathroom.

  • Patrick Crozier

    My understanding is that prior to the Treaty of Versailles the drug market was not quite as free in Britain as we sometimes think. My understanding (again) is that before the First World War opium and cocaine were only available through pharmacists, the customer had to be known to the pharmacist and the purchase had to written in a ledger. Cannabis was pretty much unknown. In the War all sorts of restrictions were introduced to prevent drugs getting into the hands of soldiers. Why? one wonders.

    I wrote about this once.

  • Laird

    Yes. 98 years ago (actually, we’re just one month short of 99 years) our ancestors had the wit to understand that nationwide prohibition of alcohol required a constitutional amendment. A generation or two later we forgot that, and we’re still suffering the consequences.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, by “a generation or two later” the Const. was already in the process of being well-shredded.

    After all the Constitution was by then already a century-and-a-half old. A dead letter. What we needed was a Const. pertinent to today’s values and circumstances.

    A Living Constitution.

    Where we don’ need no stinkin’ Amendments.

  • Eric

    Fraser Orr, I suspect the reason they got so much pushback on booze and not on drugs is drugs were not widely used at the time of prohibition. It’s always easier to make someone else’s vice illegal in a democracy.

  • Sam Duncan

    “What I find particularly curious is comparing my experience growing up in Scotland and the experience here”

    You’d find the old place very different now. I can’t be bothered uploading the photo and linking it, but here’s the notice – I’d guess it’s about 7″x9″ – stuck to every checkout in my local supermarket:

    WE’RE NOT ALLOWED TO

    ·Sell cigarettes & tobacco products to persons under the age of 18
    ·Sell beers, wines & spirits to persons under the age of 18
    ·Sell butane products or products which contain butane to persons under the age of 18
    ·Sell solvents to persons under the age of 18, should the operator have cause to believe the substance may be abused
    ·Sell Lottery & Instant tickets to persons under the age of 16
    ·Sell DVDs, Blu-ray discs or computer games (Cert 18) to persons under the age of 18
    ·Sell DVDs, Blu-ray discs or computer games (Cert 15) to persons under the age of 15
    ·Sell DVDs, Blu-ray discs or computer games (Cert 12) to persons under the age of 12
    ·Sell knives to persons under the age of 18
    ·Sell fireworks to persons under the age of 18

    In practice, this means anyone who appears under the age of 25 will be carded for all but the 15- and 12-Certificate media. There are even other notices (as far as I understand it, Holyrood-issued, since I’ve seen identical ones elsewhere) to that effect.

    And, of course, nowadays kids here do drink to get wasted. Funny how that happened.

    (Also stabbings have spread like wildfire, and your hear more fireworks being let off at random times of the year than ever before.)

  • Of course the irony is that the prohibition of alcohol required an amendment in the first place. Apparently no such amendment was required to prohibit other intoxicating substances.

    For that you can thank Wayne Bidwell Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League. It was his bright idea to do it as an amendment to the constitution rather than plain legislation because they were losing momentum and they needed a ban on alcohol that couldn’t be repealed.

    The 21st Amendment proved him wrong, but fortunately for him he didn’t live long enough to see all of his work undone, dying of kidney failure in 1927, 5 years before prohibition ended.

  • Julie near Chicago

    JG, Really! That’s interesting. I never knew that. Thanks.

    ETA: About the movement losing steam as the motivation — I’d like to read more. Do you have a link?

  • bobby b

    Julie near Chicago
    December 6, 2018 at 3:27 am

    “About the movement losing steam as the motivation — I’d like to read more.”

    From what I understand, the movement never really recovered from this photo-op:

    https://i.redd.it/uq2hcaozpxcx.jpg

  • Bruce

    The other interesting thing that happened is that with the booze prohibition ended, over half the “revenoors” were technically out of a job. No more smashing stills, raiding speak-easies and ambushing booze shipments from Canada, etc.

    So, they decided to “regulate” firearms sales,specifically interstate transfers and the possession of certain classes, particularly “machine-guns” and “short-barreled” rifles and shotguns. Thus the Treasury Department’s own private army, the BAT became the BATFF, the worlds most heavily armed tax collectors. Now the BATFE, having decided that micro-managing the sale and possession of explosives was too much for any other agency to handle.

  • Mr Ed

    Bruce

    the BATFF, the worlds most heavily armed tax collectors

    I suspect that Italy’s Guardia di Finanza would outgun the c.5,000-strong (?)ATF, they are some 68,000 strong, almost as large as the current British Army.

    Woe betide the Italian merchant who does not give you a receipt.

  • Julie near Chicago

    thanks, bobby.

  • staghounds

    What finally sold repeal was the Depression and the need for alcohol tax revenue.

  • bob sykes

    The American prohibitionists are still active and still aggressively insane. In the last few weeks, the public health officials in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, have been pushing for a law that would prohibit the sale and possession of vaping for adults 18 to 21 years old. This is a national movement supported by the FDA and EPA.

    Ironically, under the proposed law, 18 to 21 year olds would still be able to buy tobacco products.

  • One of the many mind-extending things I learned from reading old books as a child was in the Sherlock Holmes stories. When not sufficiently occupied tracking down vile criminals and bringing them to justice, Sherlock would occasionally shoot up a 7% solution of cocaine. Dr Watson repeatedly advised Holmes against this: the books well communicated to me the idea that it was wise not to imitate the great detective in this particular vice. But the idea that it was then a vice – not a crime – was also communicated. Today, can we cease to call it a crime, yet be free to call it a vice?

    Dr Watson also dug out his trusty old service revolver whenever “the game was afoot” – without having to fill in any pesky forms or own any licenses, nor did he need to hide it before asking some bumbling Scotland Yard detectives to come and clean up the aftermath once Holmes had solved the mystery.

  • pete

    Most other countries, if not all, have their own versions of the mafia, and corrupt police and judges.

    Lots of them are have more crime-ridden and corrupt societies than the USA.

    And they didn’t have alcohol prohibition at that time.

  • Most other countries … have their own versions of the mafia … they didn’t have alcohol prohibition at that time. (pete, December 6, 2018 at 2:17 pm)

    True, but not relevant to Natalie’s point. When a society is the position – the rare and enviable position, as your comment indicates – of having avoided or got rid of its mafia (at least to the degree that gangs in e.g. New York, though very much there, were noticeably less dominant), then it is wise not to give the mafia perfect conditions for rapid growth. Historically, Natalie is right to point to those 13 years in the USA, just as a student of the mafia’s original creation is right to point to the period after the Sicilian Vespers in 1283.

    That said, it is interesting to speculate how the war on drugs would have gone if prohibition had never been. We’re far from drug-free in the UK, and we were not drug-free in the 1930s when cocaine was already illegal and the police active and yet the ‘bright young things’ could often get hold of it, despite our never having prohibition. I do have the impression of far less police and administrative corruption back then, relative to the USA, but I have somewhat the same impression of the period before prohibition. So perhaps we are only talking about a difference of scale – if indeed there is one.

  • Dr Evil

    You could buy drugs kits to send to soldiers at the front in WWI. It was a lot more relaxed back then. I think heroin was outlawed during the 1950s. It was mostly doctors in the UK who were addicted. Prohibiting anything involving having a good time of whatever kind never works.

  • ETA: About the movement losing steam as the motivation — I’d like to read more. Do you have a link?

    The loss of momentum was mostly caused by the change of the United States from a primarily rural population to a primarily urban population with the change in balance expected to be reflected in the census of 1920. The urban populations (especially the relatively recent Irish, Italian and German immigrants) were more supportive of alcohol and therefore opposed prohibition.

    It is part of the thread of Ken Burn’s Prohibition series.

    PBS Prohibition 1 of 3 A Nation of Drunkards
    PBS Prohibition 2 of 3 A Nation of Scofflaws

    Can’t find the third one (A Nation of Hypocrites) which was about repeal.

  • Nico

    The current war on drugs would have been over had Scalia had the fortitude to press the Court’s federalism revolution to its logical conclusion. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it, so in the end the Court did not have the votes to limit federal authority over drugs, and the federalism revolution died on the vine.

  • bobby b

    “But he couldn’t bring himself to do it, so in the end the Court did not have the votes to limit federal authority over drugs . . . “

    I don’t understand how Scalia’s “lack of fortitude” caused this lack of votes. He had one vote. He was unable to convince his colleagues to vote with him on this issue. How does this translate to a lack of fortitude?

  • Bilwick

    This brings to mind something I once heard the “libertarian monarchist” (that’s the best way I know to describe him) Erik von Kuehnnelt Leddhin say defending monarchy against democracy. “At the height of his power,” he said, “Louis XIV could not have conscripted a single Frenchman into his army, levied an income tax, or banned the sale of alcoholic beverages. But modern democratic politician have done all that and more.”

  • Bobby B:

    Scalia wrote a concurrence in Gonzalez v. Raich, but even if he had dissented it still would have been a 5-4 decision.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks for the links, JG.

  • Paul Marks

    The idea that Prohibition was a movement of rural hicks is false – Prohibition, like the bans on drugs, was part of the PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT which was controlled by “educated” “intellectuals”. Yes the movement had rural supporters – but it was controlled by the “educated” Progressive elite.

    Nor did the end of Prohibition have anything to do with President Roosevelt (although he took the credit) – it was repealed by the same process it was enacted, a Constitutional Amendment.

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