Happy Repeal Day! | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Happy Repeal Day!

Cheers! Today marks the 75th anniversary of the US government changing its mind about Prohibition.

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Prohibition poster

Exactly 75 years ago today, our nation changed its mind and decided that alcohol isn't so bad for the constitution after all...the U.S. Constitution, that is.

In 1919, Congress had written a strict prescription (in the form of the 18th amendment and related Volstead Act) banning the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors"—ushering in the era of Prohibition. It was a well-intentioned measure, driven by the temperance movement, which hoped to heal alcoholism and related problems in society. But needless to say, demand for drink didn't just dry up as a result. That demand simply flowed underground instead, into the shady realm of bootleggers and gangsters like Al Capone. You could still get a drink, you just had to do it at a speakeasy, with the understanding that your evening might end like this.

The Dec. 5, 1933 ratification of the 21st amendment -- Utah's vote was the tipping point -- officially repealed the 18th amendment, thus ending Prohibition. I'm guessing the nation had a heckuva hangover the next day. (Excepting, perhaps, the lawmakers themselves: I read in this morning's Washington Post Express that it took three months for Congress to iron out whether the repeal applied to the District of Columbia. Read more about that soon in the Post's Sunday Source.)

So, as if you don't already have enough excuses to celebrate this season: Happy Repeal Day!

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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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