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13. Ibid., 72nd Congress, 1st Session, 1932, 75. 14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., 3856-3857, 3875-3876.

16. Ibid., 3857-78.

17. 4059-60.

18. Ibid.

19. Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government, The Constitution of the United States, (Richmond, 1965), 36–37.


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 The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

SEC. 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.

SEC. 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.


Once the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified as part of the Constitution in 1919, Congress immediately began to enact legislation to enforce it. The Volstead Act (H.R. 6810, 66th Cong.) which passed in October of 1919, provided for strong enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment, along with other related laws that had been enacted as wartime measures.1

Although enforcement measures were enacted quickly, the Eighteenth Amendment soon came under attack in Federal courtrooms. In the case of Hawke v. Smith,2 a referendum attempting to block Ohio's ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment was defeated. In Rhode Island v. Palmer, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the validity of the Amendment, although several of the Justices disagreed on the reasoning behind the decision. In Dillon v. Gloss, the time limit in Section 3 of the Amendment came under attack, as did the Amendment's enforcement methods in the case of Olmstead v. U.S.5 Finally, considerable controversy had resulted over State and Federal sovereignty in connection with Section 2 of the Amendment, which gives Congress and the States "concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." In U.S. v. Lanza, the Supreme Court ruled that the States were not required to enforce the Federal laws, but only their existing State laws. Without the help of the States, Federal authorities found it extremely difficult to enforce Prohibition legislation." 7

In 1928, President Herbert Hoover appointed The National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement to investigate difficulties in enforcing the Eighteenth Amendment's provisions. The commission's final report, issued in 1931, identified several factors that stood in the way of effective enforcement. These factors included a slow start in enforcement, which had allowed corruption to develop within law enforcement agencies, poor public opinion of Prohibition laws that hindered enforcement efforts, the tremendous profit potential in "bootlegging," and finally, poor cooperation and jurisdictional confusion between State and Federal agencies concerned with enforcement of Prohibition laws. The Commission

also issued a number of recommendations, including increased appropriations and numerous improvements in the laws and enforcement procedures. 8

Beginning in 1929, the Great Depression led much of the Nation to advocate a repeal of Prohibition. It was argued that substantial revenue could be collected if the business of "bootlegging," then running into the millions of dollars, were to be legalized, properly regulated and taxed. Legalization of the illicit alcohol beverage industry was also seen as a way to provide employment for thousands of unemployed workers.9

Another factor that contributed to the ultimate repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment became apparent with the release of the 1920 Census. It showed that, for the first time in the Nation's history, the majority of Americans were urban-based rather than rural. Thus, when the Congressional districts were reapportioned in 1929, the rural areas, which had strongly supported Prohibition, lost representation, while the anti-Prohibition urban areas of the Nation gained representation.10

By 1932, the platforms of both the Republican and Democratic parties began to question the propriety of Prohibition. The Republicans suggested submitting the issue to State conventions for consideration, while the Democrats took a much stronger stand against Prohibition. The democratic platform included these words:

We advocate the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. To effect such a repeal we demand that the Congress immediately propose a constitutional amendment to truly representative conventions in the States called to act soley on that proposal.11

A strong Democratic victory in the elections of 1932 virtually ensured the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. However, before the new 73rd Congress even had the chance to convene, the 72nd Congress, meeting in the last "lame-duck" session before the Twentieth Amendment became effective, quickly passed a resolution calling for the repeal of Prohibition.


S.J. Res. 211 (72nd Cong.) was reported favorably by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary with an amendment in the nature of a substitute.12 The Committee amendment consisted of four sections: Section 1, to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment; Section 2, to reserve to the States, territories, and possessions the power to regulate the traffic of intoxicating liquors; Section 3, to endow Congress with concurrent power to regulate or prohibit consumption of intoxicating liquors where they were sold; and Section 4, to require ratification of the article within 7 years after its submission to the States.

The Senate began consideration of S.J. Res. 211 on February 14, 1933.13 On February 15, amendments were offered that would strike Sections 2 and 3 from the proposal and provide for ratification by State conventions, rather than by legislatures.14 When debate concluded, the amendment to substitute conventions for legislatures passed, 15 as did a proposal to delete Section 3 of the committee amendment. 16

Of February 16, another resolution, S.J. Res. 202, was offered as a substitute for S.J. Res. 211. It called for a restriction on the sale

of intoxicating liquors for consumption at the palce of sale.17 This, along with a number of related amendments, was rejected by the Senate.18 Later, on February 16, the Resolution passed the Senate, as amended, 63 to 23, 10 not voting. 19

On February 20, S.J. Res. 211 was taken directly from the Speaker's desk and, under a suspension of the rules, quickly passed the House, 289 to 121, 16 not voting. 20 Earlier in the session, another resolution (H.J. Res. 4801) to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment had failed of passage under suspension of the rules.21


Once the Twenty-first Amendment passed Congress in February of 1933, it was immediately sent to the States for ratification.22 In accordance with Section 3 of the Amendment and for the first time since the ratification of the Constitution, the process was to be conducted by State conventions, rather than the legislatures. The procedures for assembling State conventions to ratify an amendment to the Constitution, not having an historical precedent, led to confusion among the States. Many States argued that Congress should instruct them on the manner in which the conventions should be called. Other States, deciding that the matter was clearly within their own jurisdiction, began to enact the appropriate legislation. Eventually, each State organized its own convention, with the number of delegates varying from 329 in Indiana to just three in New Mexico. A general consensus formed among the States that the purpose of the conventions was not to debate, but merely to meet and vote on the Amendment.

Once the State conventions finally began to act on the Twentyfirst Amendment, it required less than 10 months to be ratified by the necessary three-fourths of the States. Since 48 states were in the Union, 36 State ratifications were needed. 23 Printed below are the ratification dates for each State that ratified the Twenty-first Amendment:

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The Eighteenth Amendment was rejected by South Carolina on December 4, 1933. At a referendum conducted on November 7,

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