Twenty-First Amendment

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Twenty-First Amendment

The Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

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 The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.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

The Twenty-first Amendment was proposed on February 20, 1933, and ratified on December 5, 1933. It is the only amendment to repeal another amendment, the Eighteenth, and the only one to be ratified by state conventions rather than by state legislatures.

Repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment ended fourteen years of Prohibition, a failed national experiment that sought to eliminate the consumption of intoxicating liquors. Though consumption was reduced, federal and state law enforcement officials could not prevent the illegal manufacture and sale of "bootleg" alcohol. Organized Crime profited from the ban on alcohol, which enabled criminals such as Chicago gangster al capone to become multi-millionaires. Critics of Prohibition argued that the increase in crime and lawlessness offset any gains from reducing the consumption of liquor.

Prohibition was supported most strongly in rural areas. In urban areas enforcement was difficult. Cities had large populations of immigrants who did not see anything morally wrong with consuming alcohol. In the early 1930s, as production and sales of illegal liquor continued to rise, the onset of the Great Depression led to calls for repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. A legalized liquor industry would provide more jobs at a time when millions were out of work.

At its national convention in 1932, the Democratic Party adopted a platform plank calling for repeal. The landslide Democratic victory of 1932 signaled the end of Prohibition. In February 1933 a resolution proposing the Twenty-first Amendment was introduced in Congress; it contained a provision requiring ratification by state conventions rather than by state legislatures. Though Article V of the Constitution authorizes this ratification method, it had never been used. Supporters of repeal did not want the state legislatures, which generally were dominated by rural legislators supportive of Prohibition, to vote against ratification.

During 1933 thirty-eight states elected delegates to state conventions to consider the amendment. Almost three-quarters of the voters supported repeal in these elections. Therefore, it was not surprising that the ratification conventions certified the results and ratified the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933.

Section 2 of the amendment gives states the right to prohibit the transportation or importation of intoxicating liquors. Many states enacted their own prohibition laws in the 1930s, but all had been repealed by 1966. The regulation of liquor is now primarily a local issue.

Further readings

Brown, Everett Somerville, compiler. 2003. Ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: State Convention Records and Laws. Clark, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange.

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