Repeal Day

December 5th, 2008 marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of national Prohibition, one of the great social experiments in American history. Enacted in 1919 and repealed in 1933, Prohibition was brought about by the impressive zeal of several organizations who persuaded the American public of the promise of a society free of alcohol and saloons. The 18th Amendment represented the ultimate victory-Prohibition would be entrenched in the supreme law of the land.

Yet as the years rolled by, those utopian visions were replaced by an increase in illicit activity. Enforcement agencies were underfunded, understaffed and riddled with corruption. Liquor that was not illegally produced in home stills, casks, and breweries was smuggled in across the many thousand miles of unpatrolled border and coastline of the United States. Forced underground into basement speakeasies, alcohol consumption became more furtive, excessive and violent than ever before.

By 1932, public opinion had swung decisively against the 18th Amendment, and there was little question to its end by the time Congress framed the language of the 21st Amendment and passed it on to the states on February 20, 1933. The process was completed as Utah became the 36th and final state to ratify repeal on December 5th.

In many ways, Legal Age 21 can be considered latter-day prohibition. It denies legal alcohol purchase and consumption to a specific group of adults who are allowed all other rights of citizenship. Legal Age 21 drives alcohol consumption underground and away from supervision, and has created a cultural norm of reckless drinking that is similar to the dangerous behaviors common during the Prohibition era. Both Prohibition and Legal Age 21 encourage widespread disrespect for the law and creative lawbreaking, while the laws themselves are impossible to enforce.

America’s Prohibition experiment ended because the law failed to bring about the desired cultural change. After more than 20 years, Legal Age 21 has also failed to achieve its goal, as dangerous drinking by young adults remains a widespread and growing problem. It is time to heed the lessons of the Prohibition era and consider creative strategies to stop dangerous alcohol use by America’s young adults. Please join us today in commemorating this historic date responsibly.

Visit the Prohibition and Repeal section of our website for more on the history of the era in your state.

Here is a selection of press about Repeal Day from papers across the country:

USA Today
San Francisco Chronicle
Philadelphia Enquirer
Dallas Morning News
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

2 Responses to “Repeal Day”

  1. Edwin Says:

    The current drinking age is very similar to the 18th amendment because young adults (18-20) are denied alcohol. Adults must be treated as adults and with that, responsibility will prevail among young people.

  2. Corey Says:

    MADD is Neo-Prohibitionist! They used to go after dangeous drunks but now they terrorize anyone who drinks under 21 and who drives after drinking with the threat of “Zero Tolerance” which should be ruled cruel and unusual in american society. MADD should go after the real hardcore drinkers and then I would support them, only if they didn’t support legal age 21 and absurd drunk driving laws. MADD’s goal is Zero Tolerance!