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The End of Prohibition: Why the 21st Amendment Passed Without a Fight

Posted by Justin on

January 16, 1919 marked the beginning of the Prohibition Era in the United States, with the passing of the 18th Amendment. This federally prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of any intoxicating liquors as part of a broad liberal movement designed to stop the consumption of alcohol across the nation.

However, the Prohibition Era was ultimately short-lived.

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified by Congress, which repealed the 18th Amendment. This ended Prohibition across America – and it’s why Americans are free to enjoy a drink!

Still, it’s an odd bit of legislative history, since the 18th Amendment is the only one ever to be repealed. So why did this happen?

Let’s break down some lesser-known US history and explain the main reasons why Prohibition ended without a major fight in Congress:


3. The Growth of a Black Market

For starters, the prohibition of alcohol almost immediately led to the rise of a black market focused on the manufacturing and transportation of liquors throughout the country. In fact, famous gangsters like Al Capone made their fortunes because of the money they could generate from these illegal activities.

Not only were gangsters making tons of money, but the corruption of public officials became more common. Once gangsters sold law enforcement officers or politicians alcohol, they effectively had those government servants under their thumbs, leading to widespread mistrust and other legal problems.

This black market became quite robust and eventually became a major public issue. The repeal of the 18th Amendment neutralized this black market since making and selling alcohol once again became legal.

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2. Billions of Dollars Wasted

While there was indeed a dip in alcohol consumption in the first few years immediately after the ratification of the 18th Amendment, the effort was ultimately a big waste of time (and, more importantly, money).

Indeed, it’s estimated that billions of dollars were wasted on federal efforts to crack down on the manufacturing and transportation of alcohol. While many taverns and bars may have closed their doors, the creation of speakeasies and similar establishments meant that adults who really wanted a drink knew where they could get one.

All in all, all of the government’s efforts to regulate alcohol in the wake of prohibition led to billions of taxpayer dollars going down the drain.

1. Growing Need for Tax Dollars by the Government

Speaking of tax dollars, prohibition came about a decade before the Great Depression of 1929. In the years immediately following the big stock market crash, the government was in major need of taxpayer funds to pay for major social programs like the New Deal.

Savvy politicians soon realized that they could get lots of extra revenue from taxing the sale of liquor and other alcoholic beverages. As a result, there was significant legislative pressure to repeal the 18th Amendment purely so the government could have more operating funds.

As you can see, there were lots of important reasons why Prohibition ended relatively rapidly after its implementation. It just goes to show that limiting freedoms is never a good idea in America!

Thank you for reading, stay strong patriots. 

Justin | FamTeeWorld
Maine, USA

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