It’s remarkable that we really thought this one was going to work:
After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Thus spake the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in January of 1919, a year that saw many cellars filled in anticipation of the coming apocalypse. We’ve already explored the 21st Amendment a bit, which repealed the 18th. As I was digging into the 18th Amendment and what led to it, I expected to find that many states had tried this out in the preceding decades. What I did not expect was to discover how many other countries tried to do the same thing at roughly the same time in history, including Canada, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Russia. All northern nations, where at certain times of year there seems to be little else to do but drink.
The forces and reasoning behind this Amendment are not that difficult to guess. But the sheer arrogance in the face of human history is staggering (not unlink a drunk person). One could make a reasonable argument that civilization would not have taken hold in the absence of drinking. There isn’t much in the way of records definitively chronicling why we decided to stop hunting and gathering, and chose instead to start planting roots and farming. But at some point we figured out grains and fruit did something wonderful if you let them ferment, and that had to play some sort of role in our decision to settle down.
The Sumerians made a mean beer by all accounts. The Romans were famous for their love of wine. And did Jesus turn wine to water? No, quite the opposite. The Belgians have been making Stella since the 1300’s. One of America’s founding fathers was Sam Adams. What the hell were these people thinking in the 1910’s?
Equally interesting is the text of the Amendment itself. It speaks to making, selling, and moving around of alcohol. But it didn’t become illegal to drink. That alone speaks to the doomed nature of the 18th Amendment. The only reason not to make it illegal to drink was that it wouldn’t have otherwise passed, which means people were still going to drink, which means they were eventually going to get it by illegal means. And then we were gonna have to repeal it, which of course we did in 1933.
So basically, the United States went to a party, blacked out, woke up 14 years later with a massive hangover, took some ibuprofen, and then went about the rest of the day’s business as though nothing had happened.