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Posted at 07:11 PM ET, 12/05/2011

Repeal Day celebrations and the history behind the end of Prohibition

Raise a glass: 78 years ago, the 21st Amendment took effect, and the sale of alcohol in the United States was made legal once more. After a 13-year national experiment with temperance, Repeal Day ended Prohibition.
This was the scene in the Silver Spring Liquor Dispensary when it first opened Dec. 6, 1933, at the end of Prohibition. Within a few hours, every bottle was sold. (The Washington Post)

In celebration of the day, and fitting with our contemporary standards, there are kitschy celebrations around the nation. Nickel beer nights in San Francisco and flapper dance parties in New York. But those still stuck in front of their work computers waiting for their editors to take them out for car bombs can ruminate on the larger context of the history of the day — something made easier with an interesting confluence of recent creative works on the subject.

The recently renewed Prohibition-era period piece “Boardwalk Empire” has shown HBO viewers the fabric of the time in dramatic fashion. And the recently aired Ken Burns documentary “Prohibition” provides a more meat-and-potatoes examination of the era.
Carrie Nation, the hatchet-wielding teetotaler, began her crusade against drinking by busting up saloons in Kansas. (Bill Haber/Associated Press)

As is our custom here at BlogPost, we flipped through the archives of our paper’s Dec. 5, 1933, edition to see what our forebears had to report. A ProQuest query returned 23 stories for that day that included the word “repeal.” Some stories talked about efforts from the “drys” to challenge the repeal in court. There was speculation of what level of taxing state and federal governments might levy on the newly legal suds. One piece reported on the 2 million gallons of alcohol sitting in storage in Baltimore and how no one knew how they might be distributed up until the last second.

But perhaps the most sobering read is from an article that ran on Page 2 headlined “Enforcement cost billions.” It details the failures of the movement and ends with this dry recounting of the end:

The real movement for repeal began after the Congressional elections of 1930. It enveloped the country after the Presidential election of 1932. Even the most ardent did not foresee the speed with which the country would reverse itself on the liquor question.
After a number of test votes, in which legalization of beer was defeated, beer with a content of 3.2 per cent alcohol was legalized early this year. The twenty-first amendment was submitted to the states by Congress early this year. The resolution provided that it must be acted upon by State conventions, delegates to be elected by the people.
The first State to ratify was Michigan, which voted on April 3, casting 850,546 votes for repeal and 287,931 against. Other States voted in rapid succession until 37, one more than the necessary number, had ratified. Only two States, North Carolina and South Carolina, voted dry. They voted on November 7. The last States to vote wet were Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Utah on November 7.

And with that note, we recommend a nightcap.


Drinks all around. (Associated Press)

By Justin Bank  |  07:11 PM ET, 12/05/2011

 
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