18th Amendment to the Constitution

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The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution came into effect on January 17, 1920. The purpose and effect of this Amendment was a total prohibition of the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcoholic beverages. A separate Act was established to separate out what fit under the definition of “intoxicating liquor” and how prohibition was to be enforced.

While the 18th Amendment fully prohibited the import, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages, it did not ban the possession or consumption of it by private citizens. It was, however, extremely difficult for people to consume alcohol that they could not readily purchase in a legal way.


Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

The Volstead Act

Andrew Volstead was the House Judiciary Committee Chairman who had the duty of bringing the sponsored Prohibition Bill before Congress. Not surprisingly, Andrew Volstead did not win a re-election in his riding after the passing of the 18th Amendment. The Volstead Act that was established in conjunction with the 18th Amendment. The Act set out that there were certain types of intoxicating liquors that were exempt from prohibition including those that were used for a religious purpose or by physicians of the day for certain medical treatments.


18th_AmendmentThe Senate passed a resolution which encapsulated the wording which was to be presented for ratification to all of the participating states of that time. Republicans voted 29 in favor of prohibition while 8 were opposed. On the side of the Democrats, 36 were in favor while 12 opposed, resulting in a total vote of 65 to 20 and also resulting in the passing of a revised resolution by the House of Representatives on December 17, 1917.

A vote of 282 to 128 was the end result in the House of Representatives. This made the resolution ready for official proposal by Congress to all of the participating states for ratification. The Senate passed that resolution on December 18, 1917. The 18th amendment was ratified by 46 states. Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states during this time period. Two states rejected the 18th amendment: Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Prior to the ratification of the 18th Amendment, Congress passed the Wartime Prohibition Act which was a temporary measure banning the sale of any alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content of more than 2.75%. This Act was passed in an attempt to preserve grain for the war effort of the day and was widely known as the “Thirsty-First.”


One of the main results of the 18th Amendment was a sharp rise in organized crime. Large crime rings of the day were fighting against one another to supply the public’s insatiable appetite for liquor. Courts and police forces were stretched beyond their capacity. Police and top officials had to deal with corruption as they tried to enforce laws that no one wanted. It became difficult after a time to find anyone on the police force that was not being paid to “look the other way.”

Jails and courts were soon backlogged and overrun with countless citizens charged with prohibition-related offences. Many cases that finally reached the Court after lengthy delays as a result of the 18th Amendment were fought by lawyers representing defendants on the constitutional challenge that they violated Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.

Early Roots

The American Temperance Society (ATS) of 1826 was the “dry” movement of the day, with a view to working towards prohibition. By 1835, their membership had expanded to 1.5 million members. This movement continued to grow and expand, effecting small victories including a total ban on the sale of alcohol in certain cities, but not long term.

Prohibition lasted for a surprising 13 years in the United States. During that time, many crime families amassed incredible wealth and gained solid footholds within major cities. Chicago was one of the more famous examples, with many speak easies run by large crime families.

On December 5, 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed via the 21st Amendment. To this day, the 18th Amendment is the only Amendment within the United States Constitution to be repealed in its entirety (and not in part).

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