Did you know there’s only one American holiday written into our Constitution?
Ironically, the origins of this boozy celebration also start with the early Temperance Movement, an awareness campaign that emerged in the 1800s to limit alcohol consumption in the US.
From Temperance to Prohibition
Built on a platform of religious pillars and concerns for health, women quickly became one of the biggest groups of advocates for the movement, blaming social problems they felt were related— domestic abuse, poverty, mental illness, and crime— on drunkenness. The movement ultimately transformed to a more radical platform of “teetotalism” or total abstinence from alcohol.
The Civil War brought a temporary halt in efforts, as state tax revenue (earned through liquor sales) was needed to pay for war expenses. Of course, the distraction was short lived.
The 1870s saw the next wave of Temperance, and this time advocates were focused on organized law-changing efforts that would stop alcohol consumption for good. Led by the activism from organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the country was driven toward a Prohibitionist mindset.
Prohibition’s Unintended Consequences
On January 16, 1919, Congress passed the 18th Amendment enacting Prohibition. The amendment forbid the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol; but there were consequences.
The very social problems that Temperance sought to eliminate thrived under Prohibition, as the nation’s thirst for alcohol only increased. Crime ran unchecked. Speakeasies cropped up by the thousands in big cities like New York. Bootlegging became a rampant enterprise of organized crime families, who got rich off of the illegally manufactured and distributed liquor, including industrial alcohol not fit for consumption.
Killings and bombings made newspaper headlines, those like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre— a retaliatory attack on Al Capone’s rival gangster, George “Bugs” Moran. It was not uncommon for cops and other officials to receive bribes in the form of “tribute” from illegal parties.
The Bureau of Prohibition put out a report to showcase the rampancy of bootlegging and highlight the challenge of controlling illegal liquor across 48 states (Hawaii and Alaska were still territories at the time). According to The Mob Museum, the report found that the number of liquor-producing stills seized went from 32,000 in 1920 to 261,000 in 1928; and that around 118 million gallons of illicit wine and 683 million gallons of illicit beer were produced in 1930.
The start of the Great Depression in 1929 only exacerbated matters. With growing unrest and dissatisfaction of what would later be called “The Great Experiment,” the nation soon took up the rallying cry to repeal the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.
In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt would run for President, winning on a platform that included the repeal of Prohibition.
Cheers for Repeal Day!
After 13 years of Prohibition, on December 5th, 1933, Utah made history as the final state needed for a three quarters majority to ratify the revisionary 21st Amendment. While the amendment still allowed for state and local levels of Prohibition, by 1966 there were no state laws banning alcohol. The nation could officially enjoy a drink without persecution.
December 5 continues to be celebrated as Repeal Day, allowing Americans to enjoy their right to imbibe as well as show appreciation for the enduring traditions of craft distilling and bartending.
It’s easy to participate in Repeal Day! Just grab a dram of your favorite spirit and raise your glass to freedom.
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