Eighteenth Amendment

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Temperance Crusaders Outside of D. Corcoran 2.jpg
A small group of women gathered outside the doorway of the D. Corcoran Bakery in Mount Vernon, Ohio during the Women's Temperance Crusade of 1873-1874. The women were protesting the sale of alcoholic beverages.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within the United States and its territories.

During the early nineteenth century, many citizens of the United States became convinced that many in the U.S. were living in an immoral manner. These people feared that God would no longer bless the United States and that these ungodly and unscrupulous people posed a threat to the political system. To survive, the United States, these people believed, needed virtuous citizens who did not engage in immoral acts.

Because of these concerns, many people became involved in reform movements during the early 1800s. One of the more prominent reforms was the temperance movement. Temperance advocates encouraged their fellow residents of the United States to reduce the amount of alcohol that they consumed. Ideally, U.S. residents would forsake alcohol entirely, but most temperance advocates remained willing to settle for reduced consumption. The largest organization established to advocate temperance was the American Temperance Society. By the mid-1830s, more than 200,000 people belonged to this organization. The American Temperance Society published tracts and hired speakers to depict the negative effects of alcohol upon people.

Many Ohioans participated in the temperance movement. In 1826, residents of Trumbull County formed a temperance society, and Summit County residents followed suit three years later. Many of the earliest temperance advocates were women. Most men believed that women were best suited for the home. It was, according to the men, a woman's responsibility to raise virtuous children. Many women used this argument against the men. If women were responsible for creating virtuous children, women, they contended, should also play a role in helping those people who have become consumed by immoral acts redeem themselves.

During the late 1800s, support for Prohibition, "the outlawing of alcohol's manufacture, transportation, and consumption," gained tremendous support. Progressives especially supported Prohibition, as these reformers tried to convince their fellow residents of the U.S. to live a more moral lifestyle. Progressives also feared the millions of immigrants, especially those coming from Southern and Eastern Europe, who arrived in the United States during the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Progressives characterized many immigrant groups as being drinkers, and these reformers sought to instill what they deemed to be more godly values into these new immigrants to the U.S. through Prohibition.

On May 24, 1893, temperance advocates in Ohio formed the Ohio Anti-Saloon League in Oberlin, Ohio. This organization's members, like the Progressives, believed that U.S. society was in moral decline. As people moved from rural areas to urbanized ones, many in the United States believed that they were losing touch with their religious values. One way that people were violating God's desires was by consuming alcohol. The Ohio Anti-Saloon League hoped to prohibit alcohol by enforcing existing laws and by implementing new ones. This same year, temperance supporters in Washington, DC, formed their own Anti-Saloon League. In 1895, the Ohio and Washington organizations united to create the National Anti-Saloon League, which eventually became the Anti-Saloon League of America. The Anti-Saloon League adopted Prohibition as its primary goal.

For the first fifteen years of its existence, the Anti-Saloon League and its subsidiaries focused on implementing anti-alcohol laws in local communities. As support grew, including among such prominent figures in the U.S. as John D. Rockefeller, the League began a national campaign to implement Prohibition. In 1913, the League sponsored a parade in Washington, DC. At the gathering's conclusion, the League's superintendent, Purley Baker, presented an amendment to the United States Congress and to the House of Representatives. This amendment would be the basis for the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Anti-Saloon League of America and its state organizations inundated the U.S. Congress with letters and petitions, demanding the prohibition of alcohol. With the outbreak of World War I, the League also used anti-German sentiment to fight for Prohibition. Many brewers in the United States were of German heritage. Utilizing patriotism and morality, the Anti-Saloon League succeeded in getting the Eighteenth Amendment passed by the Congress and ratified by the necessary number of states in 1919. Congress subsequently enacted the Volstead Act (the National Prohibition Act), which established the legal means to for the federal government to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment.

With Prohibition in effect, anti-alcohol supporters, especially the Anti-Saloon League, entered a tumultuous period. Wayne Wheeler, a prominent League member, believed that the League should focus on enforcing Prohibition by enacting more stringent laws. Ernest Cherrington disagreed and argued that educating children about the evils of alcohol would prevent consumption of liquor and the breaking of the law in the future. This division dramatically weakened the Anti-Saloon League and allowed opponents to Prohibition to build momentum. Many temperance advocates believed that the struggle was over once Prohibition went into effect, causing many of these people to stop participating in anti-alcohol organizations. Prominent financial backers withdrew their support as well. Because of this declining support, anti-temperance supporters were able to introduce the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1933. That same year, a sufficient number of states ratified the amendment, ending Prohibition.

See Also


  1. Cronon, E. David. The Political Thought of Woodrow Wilson. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.
  2. Daugherty, Henry Micajah. The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy. New York, NY: The Churchill Company, 1932. 
  3. Hamm, Richard F. Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment: Temperance Reform, Legal Culture, and the Polity, 1880-1920. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
  4. Murray, Robert K. The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1969.  
  5. Murray, Robert K. The Politics of Normalcy: Governmental Theory and Practice in the Harding-Coolidge Era. New York, NY: Norton, 1973. 
  6. Report of Ohio Constitutional Convention, Repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and Ratification of Twenty-First Amendment. Columbus, OH: The F.H. Heer Printing Co., 1936.
  7. Trani, Eugene P, and David L. Wilson. The Presidency of Warren G. Harding. Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1977. 
  8. Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. New York, NY: Arcade Pub., 1996.  
  9. Clark, Norman. Deliver Us from Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition. New York, NY: Norton, 1976.  
  10. Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York, NY: Putnam, 1973.