Section 1.

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2.
The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Passed by Congress February 20, 1933. Ratified December 5, 1933.

Guest Essayist: Frank M. Reilly, Esq., a partner at Potts & Reilly, L.L.P

Amendment XXI, Section 2:

Section 2: The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.


The 21st Amendment is the only amendment to the Constitution which repeals another amendment.  The amendment which it repealed, the 18th, became effective in 1920 and it prohibited


“the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States”


and its territories.  The passage of the 18th Amendment, and the subsequent enactment by Congress of its enabling legislation, named the Volstead Act, began a period known as the Prohibition.  The Prohibition era lasted a little over 13 years until the states ratified the 21st Amendment in 1933.

The framers of the 18th Amendment, encouraged by the strong temperance movement and the Anti-Saloon League, hoped that a national prohibition on the use of alcoholic beverages would make the nation a better, and more moral place.  President Calvin Coolidge, who served from 1923 to 1929 as our nation’s 30th president, called Prohibition the “greatest social experiment of modern times.”    Others, such as former President William Howard Taft, who had served as president from 1909 to 1913 and who served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court during much of the Prohibition period, predicted that


“the business of manufacturing alcohol, liquor and beer will go out of the hands of law-abiding citizens and will be transferred to the quasi-criminal classes.”


Taft’s prediction ultimately came true, and many entities that previously made alcoholic beverages, as well as new operations, clandestinely (and sometimes openly) violated the law.  The fulfillment of Taft’s prediction, and the other unintended consequences of the Prohibition, was a cruel irony for those who wanted Prohibition to foster a more chaste nation.

Instead of reducing crime and improving the national morality, crime and immorality significantly increased during Prohibition.  “Speakeasies,” bars quietly operating in violation of the law, sprang up in larger cities, and in contrast with the swinging-door saloons they replaced, they welcomed the women that began to frequent the new bars.  It is said that it became popular within the national culture to violate the law, and a whole class of ordinary citizens became criminals.  Private stills produced barrels and barrels of moonshine, some operations were small and served a family or a small group of people; others were larger operations operated by the underworld.  Bootlegging gangsters, such as Al Capone, had their heyday.  Similar to the illicit drug imports today, international criminals worked hard to bring whiskey, rum and other spirits into the country, more often succeeding than failing at their tasks.

Others found clever ways around the Prohibition.  For example, the Napa Valley vineyards of the Beringer family made and sold legal “raisin cakes” from dried grapes, and packaged them with warning labels that said “Caution: will ferment and turn into wine.”  Sales of sacramental wine, used in church services to celebrate communion and which was exempt from the Prohibition laws, skyrocketed, and many assumed that some priests and rabbis of the time were bootlegging on the side.  People with doctor’s prescriptions were able to purchase 1 pint of spirits per week for “medicinal purposes.”  While these exemptions in the law were used for legitimate purposes, organized crime syndicates frequently took advantage of these exemptions and cooked their books to use the legitimate services as front operations to bootlegging.

The Prohibition ushered in at least two additions to popular culture:  NASCAR races and the cocktail.  In the southern United States, some bootleggers retrofitted cars to run loads of whiskey on a fixed fee, per case basis.  These stock cars were built with a heavy duty chassis so that revenue agents would not see an overloaded car, and a souped up engine so the agents could not catch it.  These modified stock cars led to the genesis of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing after races by moonshine runners became popular in the south.  Finally, the cocktail – an alcoholic spirit mixed with a sweet or strongly flavored mixer – was invented to cover up the bad taste of homemade gin or whiskey.

Support for Prohibition began to wither with increased public recognition of:  Prohibition’s failures; costly, corrupt and inefficient enforcement efforts; a recognition by some Prohibitionist business leaders that taxing liquor could reduce the impact of rising income taxes; the prospect of new jobs that could be created with a newly legal liquor industry; and finally, the political and economic distractions of the Great Depression.  In 1932, Congress passed a resolution to send the 21st Amendment to the states for ratification, and within a year two-thirds of the states ratified the amendment.  The law began to fracture even before the amendment became effective.  In the spring of 1933, prior to the ratification, newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to repeal portions of the Volstead Act to allow the brewing of real beer (“near beer” had been allowed under Prohibition; it tasted like real beer but had an extremely low alcohol content).  After the 21st Amendment became effective, the remainder of the federal Prohibition laws were repealed, and significant taxes were added to the sale of liquor.

Frank M. Reilly, Esq., is a partner at Potts & Reilly, L.L.P., Attorneys & Counselors in Austin and Horseshoe Bay, Texas

May 28, 2012

Essay #71


Guest Essayist: Lawrence J. Spiwak, President of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies

Amendment XXI, Section 1:

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Ending Prohibition:  Are there Lessons to be Learned?

In this essay, my intention is not to focus on the fact that the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, but to explore briefly what lessons we can learn from the experience.

To quickly summarize the facts, the 18th Amendment was enacted in 1919, which prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.”  However, as detailed in the excellent Ken Burns documentary, Mark Thornton’s seminal book entitled The Economics of Prohibition, and elsewhere, despite its altruistic intentions, Prohibition didn’t decrease alcohol abuse but increased it; Prohibition didn’t eliminate crime but created it; and Prohibition certainly didn’t increase prosperity but robbed the treasury of taxes.  As a result, Prohibition was repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment.  (Significantly, because of fear of grassroots political pressure from the temperance movement, the 21st Amendment is, thus far in American history, the only constitutional amendment ratified by state conventions rather than by the state legislatures.)

Given this debacle, I think there are at least a few lessons I think we can learn:

To begin, Prohibition provides an excellent example—albeit a bit dysfunctional one—of the amendment process spelled out by Article 5 at work, in that we as a society were able to self-correct a policy gone horribly wrong.  Indeed, although I’m sure Prohibition was enacted with the best of intentions, the Prohibition experience nonetheless epitomizes the “law of unintended consequences.”

That said, here is an interesting question to ponder:  let us assume that rather than elevate Prohibition to the full fledged level of a Constitutional Amendment, we only went so far as to pass a law that prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.”  Would it have been easier for us to self-correct Prohibition via either a new law through the legislative process or a Constitutional challenge in the courts?  Probably.  As a result, Prohibition also teaches us to exercise some degree of caution and careful thought before we seek to undertake another effort to amend the Constitution.

Yet, but perhaps most importantly, Prohibition forces us to recognize the old maxim that if we are to be a society of laws, then the public must believe in the legitimacy of the law.  Indeed, in undertaking research for this essay, I came across a telling quote by wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. from 1932, whereby he wrote:

“When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”

So what is it about Prohibition that caused many Americans literally to lose faith with their own Constitution?  Certainly, we have a lot of laws that constrain personal behavior (e.g., prohibitions against murder; prohibitions against fraud and theft; prohibitions against treason), but everybody generally accepts these constraints as necessary to ensure a functioning society.  What was it about Prohibition that, to use Mr. Rockefeller’s words, “created a vast army of lawbreakers…”?

Although I’m sure different people can provide different answers to this question, I come out with the view that Prohibition failed because Americans simply came to realize that the government had no business sticking its nose into their personal lives and interfering with their proverbial “pursuit of happiness.”  Thus, because many Americans viewed the law as violating their basic civil liberties, they saw no reason to comply with the law.

To illustrate my point, let’s take the following extreme hypothetical example.  As many readers of Constituting America are well aware, American’s cherish their Second Amendment right to bear arms.  Now, let’s assume that a huge “firearms temperance” movement sweeps the nation and, as a result, a new Constitutional amendment is enacted that repeals the Second Amendment and prohibits the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of firearms within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.”  In such a hypothetical case, while law abiding citizens could no longer own guns to hunt or to protect their families, do we honestly think that gun-related crimes would disappear or that a vibrant black market for firearms would not instantly blossom?  Of course not.  In such a case, I have no doubt that after a few years of many unintended consequences, there would be a forceful movement to repeal my hypothetical amendment too.

In sum, Prohibition teaches us that while it is possible to correct bad policy decisions, any time we seek to elevate an issue to the level of a Constitutional Amendment we should do so with both great discipline and respect for individual liberty.  If we do not learn the lessons from Prohibition, however, then we are doomed to repeat them in the future.

Lawrence J. Spiwak is president of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies (www.phoenix‑, a non‑profit research organization based in Washington, DC.  He is a member in good standing in the bars of New York, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.  The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of the Phoenix Center or its staff.

May 25, 2012

Essay #70

Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

Amendment XXI

1:  The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

2:  The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

3:  This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

If nothing else, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution underscores the slippery slope that comes from both the adaptation of Constitutional prohibitions to the mores of the day, and the legal gymnastics that invariably ensue.

If you’ve already read Professor Joerg Knipprath’s excellent essay on the 18th Amendment here at Constituting America, you understand what led to the Prohibition era in the United States.  It became clear within the matter of a decade that America’s statist experimentation with a wholesale ban on alcohol was an abject failure—but because the nation had taken the extraordinary step of banning the manufacture, sale and use of a something within the Constitution, it would take another constitutional amendment to repeal that ban.

But while this act of “liberal fascism” (as Jonah Goldberg so aptly put it) took many years to come to fruition and ratification, it was undone in a matter of mere months.  This is because the architects of the 21st recognized something that should remain foremost in the minds of citizen activists when they are trying to figure out if politicians will do the “right thing” on issues.  They recognized that when push comes to shove, politicians will invariably be beholden to a narrow range of vocal special interests, and are thus apt to do something profoundly stupid for the rest of us.

When it comes to ratification of constitutional amendments, we are provided with two methods—the state legislature method, which had been the primary method of ratification of most of the Amendments to that point; or the state convention method.  In the case of the 21st, the architects chose the latter.  The reason for this is simple:  the proponents of the 21st wanted to avoid the political pressures that had, in fact, led to the adoption of the 18th amendment in the first place.  State legislators continued to be beholden to the temperance movement, a loud group whom it was perceived held great political power.

Using a method of state conventions, the 21st Amendment was ratified just months after it was passed by Congress.

The 2nd section of the amendment makes manifest the axiom of the road to hell being paved with good (legal and political) intentions.  While the architects clearly wanted to do the right thing and preserve those essential elements of state sovereignty guaranteed in the 10th Amendment, the broad, sweeping language has puzzled legal scholars and presented case after case to the courts.

Fundamentally, the questions arise as to whether or not the powers reserved to the states in section 2—to essentially decide for themselves if the state will remain “dry”, trump other rights guaranteed or powers created or reserved elsewhere in the Constitution.  Can a state ban the total use of alcohol, for instance, even in religious situations, thereby trumping both the 1st and 14th Amendments?  The answer is no, it can’t but it took a ruling by the Supreme Court to make that certain.

Clearly, the states have the power to exercise tremendous control over the alcohol that is manufactured and purchased within their borders.  But like all other powers in our republic, those too are limited.

America’s foray into constitutionally prohibiting the sale of a good in the marketplace offers us a helpful object lesson for those attempting just the flip-side today.  Today we’re not talking about the federal government trying to enact a sweeping ban on the sale of a good—we’re talking about attempts to enact a federal mandate on the purchase of a good:  health insurance.

Citizens implicitly understand the Constitution’s limitations in the imposition of the individual mandate:  Congress simply has no power to compel individual Americans to purchase a good.  We will most likely see the Supreme Court striking down those provisions of the recent comprehensive health care reform legislation on those very grounds.

But with almost similar certainty, when that happens, we will see a movement, similar in many respects to the Temperance movement, attempting to pass and ratify an amendment to make the compelled purchase of such a good constitutionally legal.

We know from careful study of the constitution and an implicit understanding of the concepts of limited, enumerated, and separated powers just how terrible such an amendment would be.  We need only look at the tortured history of the 18th and 21st amendments, and their impacts on American society and legal frameworks, to see directly what would happen if such a mandate were to come to constitutionally pass.

If there’s anything that we’ve learned from our foray into using the Constitution to tinker with both the marketplace and societal norms, it’s that it not only doesn’t work well, it has horrendous unintended consequences.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty

Guest Essayist: Carol Crossed, Owner and President, Susan B Anthony Birthplace Museum

Amendment XIX

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

It is hard to imagine that only 90 years ago, one half of the population of the United States could not vote because of their gender.  But the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 mandated that states could no longer deny women this fundamental right.  It was named the Susan B Anthony Amendment, after the foremost leader for women’s suffrage.

On that first Election Day, November 2, 1920, single and married women, young and old, exercised a right they had fought for in their homes and churches, in town halls, and on the streets.  Polling places swelled almost beyond capacity with voters who had never before done such a thing.  Mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts proud and eager, rushed to their polling location as early in the morning as possible, as if vying for the front row seat at the theater. Flustered by the idea of a secret ballot, one woman thought she needed to sign the back of the card. Others carried their groceries on their hips, maneuvering the crowds and chatting enthusiastically over screaming children.

The New York Times reported that while approximately one in three women, who were eligible, voted, more women than men actually voted in some districts. The Chicago Tribune credited Republican Harding’s landslide victory to the woman’s vote.

Unlike some other amendments to the constitution, the 19th Amendment was hard fought.  For instance, the 26th Amendment passed in 1971, which granted the right to vote for citizens 18 years of age, took only 3 months and 8 days to be ratified.  As a matter of fact, of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, 7 took only 1 year or less to become the law of the land.

However, women struggled for72 years to pass the Nineteenth Amendment.  Anti suffrage organizations were most popular in the New England states.  Opponents claimed that the female brain was of inferior size.  Others claimed that women did not possess a soul.  Humorous postcards portrayed women taking too long to get all their petticoats on to get to the polls.  Some newspaper editorials said that women would only vote the way their husbands told them to anyway.

But even the movement that supported votes for women was ripe with internal dissention.  The passage of the 15th Amendment, giving the Negro the right to vote in 1869, caused a 20 year split in the women’s movement.  Some felt that Negro suffrage should only be passed if it also gave women suffrage.  Others felt that the country was not prepared to enfranchise both and therefore women had to take a back seat.

Did the rights of the Negro have to diminish the rights of women, black and white?

That question was also being asked about women’s rights as it related to motherhood and family life.  Would freeing women to participate in government put at risk the care of children?  In other words, could the rights of all coexist?

Against this backdrop, suffrage leaders took seriously these portrayals of power and domination by their gender.  They exercised their greatest skill in combating this perception put forth by their opponents that they would abandon their children. Nowhere was this made more apparent than in their opposition to ‘Restellism,’ the term given to abortion, the most heinous form of child abandonment. It was named after the infamous abortionist Madame Restell, frequently arrested and discussed in Susan B Anthony’s publication The Revolution. Suffrage leaders saw opposition to ‘ante-natal murder’ and ‘foeticide’ as an opportunity to clear their name of unfair accusations against them by anti-vice squads, who believed the decadence of the Victorian Era lay at women’s independence.

But opposing abortion was more than a political strategy.  It was support for a human right, a right that was integral to their own.  The organizer of the first women’s rights convention in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, made these connections in a letter to suffrage leader Julia Ward Howe.  Howe believed war was the enemy of women because it destroyed their sons and husbands and brothers. Stanton made this same death connection with mothers who destroyed their children: “When we consider that women are deemed the property of men, it is degrading that we should consider our children as property to destroy as we see fit.”

Not only were anti-suffrage crusaders misinformed about the care for children that was integral to the suffrage agenda, they misunderstood that women wanted the vote not so much for their own self aggrandizement but for ‘life over material wealth’ or for the good of families and children. Child labor laws, poverty, and universal education were issues for which they sought the vote. They sought the vote for themselves because they were mothers who knew the needs of everychild. It was their maternity that they saw as their greatest gift of citizenship. As political artist J Montgomery Flagg’s winning 1913 poster proclaimed, Mothers bring all voters into the world.

Susan B Anthony did not live to see the passage of the Amendment that was named for her life’s work.  A radical young new woman leader, Alice Paul, was jailed with 66 colleagues for their protest at an event honoring President Wilson and the US participation in World War I.  This sparked the nation’s awakening and compassion, but more importantly, weakened the President’s opposition to the justice they demanded.

Paul created a flag with the suffrage colors: gold for the sunflower of Kansas (an early state to grant women suffrage), white for purity, and purple for eminence.  She sewed on it a star for each state that ratified the Amendment.  Only one more state was needed, and on August 18, 1920, Paul received a telegram proclaiming the ‘yes’ vote by the Legislature of the State of Tennessee.  Paul draped the flag over a balcony in Washington DC.  Women now could exercise the right to shape and determine the course of history.


·         Boston Daily Globe, Nov. 3, 1920

·         NY Times, December 19, 1920

·         Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 3, 1920

·         Archive collection, Susan B Anthony Birthplace, Adams, MA

Carol Crossed is the Owner and President of the Susan B Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, Massachusetts.