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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The 18th amendment (prohibition) went into effect 93 years ago today

The precursor to the "war on drugs":

Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
- H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) (A Book of Burlesques, "Sententiae")

Abstainer, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially inactivity in the affairs of others.
- Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) (The Devil's Dictionary)

Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.
- Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)(speech, 18 December 1840 to the U.S. House of Representatives)

The prohibition law, written for weaklings and derelicts, has divided the nation, like Gaul, into three parts - wets, drys, and hypocrites.
- Florence Sabin (1871-1953) (speech, 9 December 1931)

Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.
- W. C. Fields (1880-1946) (attributed)

Today is the 93rd anniversary of the effective date in 1920 of the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which introduced the era of Prohibition, a national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States. An outgrowth of the temperance movement, which had been gathering momentum during the entire 19th century, Prohibition got a final impetus from World War I, which prompted the Congress to pass the 18th amendment in December 1917.* Ratification (by 36 of the 48 states) came on 16 January 1919, and the Volstead Act implemented the measure a year later.** Prohibition - highly unpopular - was only weakly enforced by the federal government, and thousands of "speakeasies" - many controlled by organized crime - quickly appeared to satisfy the nation's thirst. The illegal importation and distribution of booze soon became a major source of income for "the Mob" and led to the infamous gang wars of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Prohibition was repealed by the 21st amendment to the Constitution and ended in April 1933 to great acclaim. I will turn again to American film comedian W.C. Fields for some concluding words on that unfortunate era in American history:

"A woman drove me to drink, and I never even had the courtesy to thank her."

* N.B. To save grain for the war effort, a temporary prohibition measure was enacted just after the Armistice and went into force in July 1919. More
over, the discrediting by the war of the large German-American community, strong objectors to Prohibition, diminished the opposition. Similarly, it has also been claimed that the absence of a large proportion of American men - serving in France - had a significant effect.

** Named for Minnesota representative Andrew Volstead (1860-1947), the act defined the alcoholic products affected, stated enforcement procedures, and set out the penalties for violation. It was passed over President Wilson's veto.

Interesting short documentary below. I like this quote: "The problems with legislating morality soon became abundantly clear".

The spirit of Prohibition:

My maternal grandmother was the president of the Poughkeepsie, NY chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) - there were 4 members and they met monthly (or thereabouts).  Her four sons tried many times over her life to sneak a few drops of something into her lemonade, but as far as I know they never succeeded and she went to her grave never having had alcohol pass her lips.

via Ed's Quotation of the day, only available via email.  Leave an email address in the comments if you'd like to be added.

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