Today is Repeal Day– the 77th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. I think that’s cause for celebration.  This video sets the scene— be forewarned, there is some upsetting footage here (barrels of whiskey being smashed and wasted!).

On January 16, 1919 Congress passed the 18th Amendment outlawing alcohol.  A year later a 13 year “noble experiment” began. Advocates of Prohibition extolled that banning alcoholic beverages would reduce social problems of drunkenness, crime, mental illness, and poverty, and would make America a more responsible nation. But what typically happens when you tell people they can’t have something that they want?  Outlawing “intoxicating liquors” seemed to make it even more attractive.  The production, consumption and sale of alcohol did not end, instead it went underground—hello, bathtub gin, moonshine, speakeasies, the first “booze cruises” (drinking was legal in international waters) and an explosion of organized crime.  With no regulation, a lot of this illegal booze was actually poisonous to consumers.  Bootlegging created an industry completely under the control of organized crime—have you heard of Al Capone?  The 18th Amendment did not have the intended effect.

Many began to speak out for the repeal of Prohibition. Franklin Delano Roosevelt even included the repeal in his 1932 Presidential campaign platform.  Vocal citizen organizations sprung up as well—the Molly Pitcher Club was created in 1922.  Molly Pitcher was the name given to women who carried water to men on the battlefield during the American Revolution; this group sought to bring alcoholic libations back to the American people. The group’s mission was to prevent “any tendency on the part of our National Government to interfere with the personal habits of the American people except those habits which may be designated as criminal.” (Side note, this makes me think about the recent discussions of enforced reduction of salt usage in NYC restaurants. Hey, if I want salty, delicious food that’s my business!)

Finally on December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified essentially ending Prohibition and making our option to have a cocktail a Constitutional right.  Here’s a great newsreel from 1933 announcing the repeal of Prohibition.

So, celebrate Repeal Day today. Have a drink. Because you can. Cheers!

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