New Deal 21st Amendment

The 21st Amendment

When/Why Created and Purpose

  • The 18th Amendment had previously been ratified in 1922. It prohibited the sale, manufacturing, and transportation of intoxicating alcoholic drinks. This led to a period of time known as Prohibition.

  • The 18th Amendment led to more criminal activity. Crime rates soared under prohibition. People began illegally selling alcohol.

    • The illegal sale of alcohol was much more common in urban areas due to the fact that people in urban areas tended to oppose prohibition more than those in more rural areas.

    • Gangsters such as the infamous Al Capone used prohibition as a means to get money. They acted as ‘bootleggers’. Al Capone was known for smuggling alcohol around the city of Chicago and establishing ‘speakeasies’ as places where people could consume alcohol without being arrested. It was estimated that Al Capone was earning $60 million annually from his smuggling operations.

    • Smuggling operations done by mafias would often result in violence. Gangsters like Al Capone would have any rivals and snitches beaten or even killed for going against them. One of the most infamous incidents of violence was the St. Valentine’s Day on February 14, 1929, when Al Capone had seven of his rivals in the liquor smuggling business gunned down.

  • “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.” - John D. Rockefeller Jr. (Okrent 246-247)

  • All of the crime caused by prohibition led some people to believe that prohibition was more of a problem rather than a solution, including Franklin Roosevelt.

  • Congress began proposing the 21st Amendment in February 1933 in order to repeal the 18th Amendment. The Amendment was fully active when Utah ratified it on December 5, 1933.

  • It was the first amendment to repeal a previous amendment and the first to be ratified by state conventions.

Actions Taken By/ Impact/Effectiveness of Agency or Effort:

  • Section 1: “The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.” (US Const. amend. XXI, sec. 1)

  • Section 2 of the Amendment allowed states to regulate alcohol based on their own laws. In other words, the federal government couldn’t enforce prohibition, but state governments could.

  • Most states chose to enforce it, but some states did not: Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota made no action regarding the amendment, while the amendment was rejected by South Carolina. North Carolina voted against a meeting to consider the amendment.

  • Alongside the spread of crime, gambling, bootlegging, and prostitution rose during the Prohibition, and some americans attributed this moral decay to the ban on alcohol
  • The repeal of the 18th amendment provided a victory over the temperance movement and their entrenched politicians.

  • The states that approved the amendment allowed for the sale of intoxicating alcohols, while other states like Mississippi didn’t approve of it till much later.

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Reaction of American People/ Government to Agency/Effort:

  • President Franklin Roosevelt asked that the American people make sure that "this return of individual freedom shall not be accompanied by the repugnant conditions that obtained prior to the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment and those that have existed since its adoption." (NYT 1)

  • FDR and the national government encouraged citizens to drink responsibly so as not to go back to the way things were before prohibition. The actual people of the U.S. had reactions that varied depending on where those people lived. People who lived in areas that had established looser alcohol laws celebrated by drinking their newly found freedom. Other states had continued prohibition, so the people in those states had very little to celebrate about. Prohibition had lost a lot of support over the years, so many people who had formerly been prohibitionists no longer advocated for continued prohibition.

  • Some states continued to ban alcohol throughout their entire land, but that stopped when Missouri became the last state to end prohibition in 1966.

  • Alcohol is still banned in some areas of states today, but no states ban alcohol completely.

  • Temperance movement workers were surprised that the 18th amendment was met with so much resistance

  • Because of the rise of gambling, bootlegging, and prostitution during the Prohibition, average americans began to view the prohibition as the reason for moral decay. Some said that it contributed to a lack of jobs that were necessary for the economy to get back on its feet.


Quote Citations:

Letter on Prohibition - see Daniel Okrent, Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, New York: Viking Press, 2003. (pp.246/7).

U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend. XXI, Sec. 1.

"Prohibition Repeal Is Ratified at 5:32 P.M.; Roosevelt Asks Nation to Bar the Saloon; New York Celebrates with Quiet Restraint." The New York Times 6 Dec. 1933: 1. New York Times. The New York Times. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <>.

Information citations:

"18th and 21st Amendments." History. A&E Television Networks. Web. 12 Feb. 2016. <>.

"Al Capone." History. A&E Television Networks. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <>.

Holder, Harold D. "The End of U.S. Prohibition." Contemporary Drug Problems 23.2 (1996). Questia. Web. 12 Feb. 2016. <>.

Classroom, Annenberg. "Amendment XXI Repeal of Prohibition." National Constitution Center. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <>.

"18th and 21st Amendments." A&E Television Networks. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <>.

Picture citations:

Wischnowsky, Dave. Massacre 7 of Moran Gang. Digital image. Wisch List. 7 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <>.

Munson, Holly. 21st Amendment Excitement. Digital image. National Constitution Center. 5 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <>.