Happy Repeal Day!

In 1919, there were more than 130 breweries in Washington. In 1979 there were only two. Maybe three. So what happened over that 60 year span? Prohibition, that’s what. Luckily, we’ve finally started to recover and today there are over 100 breweries in the evergreen state.

Today (December 5th) is Repeal Day. What is Repeal Day, you ask? There is no formal celebration, no costume, and no ritual. It is not an Americanized version of an Irish or Mexican holiday, but a truly American celebration. It’s a nice way to ring in the holiday season with friends.  Repeal Day should be honored with a simple toast that transcends race, religion, politics and class. It is a day when we stand united by the simple fact that we are all Americans. A chance to celebrate one thing that so many of us have in common regardless of any other differences. On December 5, 1933 Congress ratified the 21st Amendment to the Constitution and repealed prohibition.

ProhibitionAt the turn of the twentieth century, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union believed that alcohol was the root of all evil in America. The WCTU was not the only temperance organization in the country, but they were the loudest. Their campaign to outlaw alcohol was relentless. They used slanderous propaganda to spread their message. They vandalized bars and taverns. In the name of temperance, people were killed. The teetotalers were vastly outnumbered, but they were loud. Worst of all, they were motivated by what they believed to be a greater understanding of what was good for America. As history teaches us, that’s a dangerous thing. If you disagreed with them, then you were un-American. You were anti-patrioticafied and an evil-doer. Sound familiar?

In 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act and ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, prohibiting the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol in the United States. Reflect on that for a moment. They amended the Constitution of the United States, not to give women and minorities the right to vote (that came later), but to make alcohol illegal and stop people from drinking.

As we all know, people kept drinking. People who could afford it fled the country, expatriating themselves from the country they loved not only because they wanted to drink, but because they felt that America had spit in the face of its own citizens and had turned a dangerous corner. They were right. Besides turning most Americans into criminals, the 18th Amendment had two unintended consequences that we still feel the effects of to this day: the proliferation of organized crime in America and the introduction of the people’s deeply seeded resentment for, and fear of, the federal government.

On December 5, 1933, Congress ratified the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, repealing the 18th Amendment. Alcohol was once again legal in the United States. It took many years for each state to get back off the wagon, and some states and counties still suffer the aftereffects, but without the ratification of the 21st Amendment, alcohol would not be legal anywhere in the United States.

Repeal Day should be a holiday. I suppose it is a holiday if we all treat it like one. December 5th should be a day that we all celebrate the way the diverse American majority finally overcame the tyranny of a vocal, headstrong, religiously-motivated minority. It should be a day of reflection, a day when we all remember just how far a bunch of whackos can actually take things if we let them. It is a day to celebrate one thing that so many of us have in common regardless of our other difference.

Happy Repeal Day!


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  1. Good post. I’m not too into history but Prohibition is one of the few things that makes me want to go out and read a 200 page book on it (are there any good ones?). It’s amazing that a minority voice convinced 2/3rds of the legislature to pass an amendment that is obviously contrary to the spirit and intention of the Constitution (didn’t they read the part about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”??). Even if the liberty argument didn’t sway them, the economic one should have (prohibition killed off lots of businesses in the US, and even overseas such as Scotland where their scotch export trade cratered).

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