Prohibition to National Beer Day
by Marty Nopper, Tastemaker in Residence
You all probably aren’t aware of this but to me, it’s a National Holiday…April 7, 2019. According to National Holidays calendar, ‘this day was established to not only honor the history of beer but also to celebrate the Cullen–Harrison Act – an act which allowed people to buy, sell and drink beer that had 4% alcohol by volume and was signed by FDR in 1933. The day in which it went into effect, over a million and a half barrels of beer were sold. Other countries which celebrate a National Beer Day include Iceland (March 1st) and the United Kingdom (June 15th).’ This is a little longer than my usual cogitations but I figured it’s a great lesson in why we can enjoy our national beverage, every day! Let’s take a closer look and explore what Wikipedia has to say!
Stay tuned for Marty’s upcoming post - Prohibition and Pops, "I think this would be a good time for a beer”!
Consumption of alcoholic beverages has been a contentious topic in America since the colonial period. In May 1657, the General Court of Massachusetts made the sale of strong liquor "whether known by the name of rum, whisky, wine, brandy, etc." to the Indians illegal.
In general, informal social controls in the home and community helped maintain the expectation that the abuse of alcohol was unacceptable. "Drunkenness was condemned and punished, but only as an abuse of a God-given gift. Drink itself was not looked upon as culpable, any more than food deserved blame for the sin of gluttony. Excess was a personal indiscretion." When informal controls failed, there were legal options.
Shortly after the United States obtained independence, the Whiskey Rebellion took place in western Pennsylvania in protest of government-imposed taxes on whiskey. Although the taxes were primarily levied to help pay down the newly formed national debt, it also received support from some social reformers, who hoped a "sin tax" would raise public awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol. The whiskey tax was repealed after Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party, which opposed the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton, came to power in 1800.
In 1830, on average, Americans consumed 1.7 bottles of hard liquor per week, three times the amount consumed in 2010.
Development of the Prohibition Movement
"Who does not love wine, wife and song, will be a fool for his lifelong!"
During the nineteenth century, alcoholism, family violence, and saloon-based political corruption prompted prohibitionists, led by pietistic Protestants, to end the alcoholic beverage trade to cure the ill of society and weaken the political opposition. One result was that many communities in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries introduced alcohol prohibition, with the subsequent enforcement in law becoming a hotly debated issue. Prohibition supporters, called "drys", presented it as a victory for public morals and health.
The Prohibition movement, also known as the dry crusade, continued in the 1840s, spearheaded by pietistic religious denominations, especially the Methodists.
In 1881 Kansas became the first state to outlaw alcoholic beverages in its Constitution. Arrested over 30 times and fined and jailed on multiple occasions, prohibition activist Carrie Nation attempted to enforce the state's ban on alcohol consumption. She walked into saloons, scolding customers, and using her hatchet to destroy bottles of liquor. Nation recruited ladies into the Carrie Nation Prohibition Group, which she also led. While Nation's vigilante techniques were rare, other activists enforced the dry cause by entering saloons, singing, praying, and urging saloonkeepers to stop selling alcohol. Other dry states, especially those in the South, enacted prohibition legislation, as did individual counties within a state.
Proliferation of neighborhood saloons in the post-Civil War era became a phenomenon of an increasingly industrialized, urban workforce. Workingmen's bars were popular social gathering places from the workplace and home life. The brewing industry was actively involved in establishing saloons as a lucrative consumer base in their business chain. Saloons were more often than not linked to a specific brewery, where the saloonkeeper's operation was financed by a brewer and contractually obligated to sell the brewer's product to the exclusion of competing brands. A saloon's business model often included the offer of a free lunch, where the bill of fare commonly consisting of heavily salted food meant to induce thirst and the purchase of drink.
Prohibition was an important force in state and local politics from the 1840s through the 1930s. Numerous historical studies demonstrated that the political forces involved were ethnoreligious. Prohibition was supported by the dries, primarily pietistic Protestant denominations that included Methodists, Northern Baptists, Southern Baptists, New School Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Congregationalists, Quakers, and Scandinavian Lutherans, but also included the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America and, to a certain extent, the Latter-day Saints. These religious groups identified saloons as politically corrupt and drinking as a personal sin. They were opposed by the wet’s, primarily liturgical Protestants (Episcopalians and German Lutherans) and Roman Catholics, who denounced the idea that the government should define morality.
The brewing industry was shut down in state after state by the legislatures and finally nationwide under the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. Enabling legislation, known as the Volstead Act, set down the rules for enforcing the federal ban and defined the types of alcoholic beverages that were prohibited. For example, religious use of wine was allowed. Private ownership and consumption of alcohol were not made illegal under federal law, but local laws were stricter in many areas, with some states banning possession outright.
Prohibition ended with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 5, 1933. Some states continued statewide prohibition, marking one of the last stages of the Progressive Era.
Prohibition represented a conflict between urban and rural values emerging in the United States. Given the mass influx of migrants to the urban centers of the United States, many individuals within the prohibition movement associated the crime and morally corrupt behavior of American cities with their large, immigrant populations. Saloons frequented by immigrants in these cities were often frequented by politicians who wanted to obtain the immigrants' votes in exchange for favors such as job offers, legal assistance, and food baskets. Thus, saloons were seen as a breeding ground for political corruption.
Two other amendments to the Constitution were championed by dry crusaders to help their cause. One was granted in the Sixteenth Amendment (1913), which replaced alcohol taxes that funded the federal government with a federal income tax. The other was women's suffrage, which was granted after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920; since women tended to support prohibition, temperance organizations tended to support women's suffrage.
In the presidential election of 1916, the Democratic incumbent, Woodrow Wilson, and the Republican candidate, Charles Evans Hughes, ignored the prohibition issue, as did both parties' political platforms. Democrats and Republicans had strong wet and dry factions, and the election was expected to be close, with neither candidate wanting to alienate any part of his political base.
In March 1917, the 65th Congress convened, in which the dries outnumbered the wets by 140 to 64 in the Democratic Party and 138 to 62 among Republicans. With America's declaration of war against Germany in April, German Americans, a major force against prohibition, were sidelined and their protests subsequently ignored. In addition, a new justification for prohibition arose: prohibiting the production of alcoholic beverages would allow more resources—especially grain that would otherwise be used to make alcohol—to be devoted to the war effort. While wartime prohibition was a spark for the movement, World War I ended before nationwide Prohibition was enacted.
A resolution calling for a Constitutional amendment to accomplish nationwide Prohibition was introduced in Congress and passed by both houses in December 1917. By January 16, 1919, the Amendment had been ratified by 36 of the 48 states, making it law. Eventually, only two states—Connecticut and Rhode Island—opted out of ratifying it. On October 28, 1919, Congress passed enabling legislation, known as the Volstead Act, to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment when it went into effect in 1920.
Start of National Prohibition (January 1920)
Prohibition began on January 17, 1920, when the Volstead Act went into effect. A total of 1,520 Federal Prohibition agents (police) were tasked with enforcement.
Prohibition became highly controversial among medical professionals, because alcohol was widely prescribed by the era's physicians for therapeutic purposes. Congress held hearings on the medicinal value of beer in 1921. Subsequently, physicians across the country lobbied for the repeal of Prohibition as it applied to medicinal liquors. From 1921 to 1930, doctors earned about $40 million for whiskey prescriptions.
Prescription for Medicinal Alcohol During Prohibition
While the manufacture, importation, sale, and transport of alcohol was illegal in the United States, Section 29 of the Volstead Act allowed wine and cider to be made from fruit at home, but not beer. Up to 200 gallons of wine and cider per year could be made, and some vineyards grew grapes for home use. The Act did not prohibit consumption of alcohol. Many people stockpiled wines and liquors for their personal use in the latter part of 1919 before sales of alcoholic beverages became illegal in January 1920.
Since alcohol was legal in neighboring countries, distilleries and breweries in Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean flourished as their products were either consumed by visiting Americans or smuggled into the United States illegally.
Three federal agencies were assigned the task of enforcing the Volstead Act: the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Treasury's IRS Bureau of Prohibition, and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Prohibition.
On November 18, 1918, prior to ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment, the U.S. Congress passed the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act, which banned the sale of alcoholic beverages having an alcohol content of greater than 1.28%. (This act, which had been intended to save grain for the war effort, was passed after the armistice ending World War I was signed on November 11, 1918.) The Wartime Prohibition Act took effect June 30, 1919, with July 1, 1919 becoming known as the "Thirsty-First".
The U.S. Senate proposed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 18, 1917. Upon being approved by a 36th state on January 16, 1919, the amendment was ratified as a part of the Constitution. By the terms of the amendment, the country went dry one year later, on January 17, 1920.
On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act, the popular name for the National Prohibition Act, over President Woodrow Wilson's veto. The act established the legal definition of intoxicating liquors as well as penalties for producing them. Although the Volstead Act prohibited the sale of alcohol, the federal government lacked resources to enforce it.
Prohibition was successful in reducing the amount of liquor consumed, cirrhosis death rates, admissions to state mental hospitals for alcoholic psychosis, arrests for public drunkenness, and rates of absenteeism. While some allege that Prohibition stimulated the proliferation of rampant underground, organized and widespread criminal activity, many academics maintain that there was no increase in crime during the Prohibition era and that such claims are "rooted in the impressionistic rather than the factual."
On March 22, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Cullen–Harrison Act, legalizing beer with an alcohol content of 3.2% (by weight) and wine of a similarly low alcohol content. On December 5, 1933, ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment. However, United States federal law still prohibits the manufacture of distilled spirits without meeting numerous licensing requirements that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal beverage consumption.
As early as 1925, journalist H. L. Mencken believed that Prohibition was not working. "Prohibition worked best when directed at its primary target: the working-class poor."
Before the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect in January 1920, many of the upper classes stockpiled alcohol for legal home consumption after Prohibition began. They bought the inventories of liquor retailers and wholesalers, emptying out their warehouses, saloons, and club storerooms. President Woodrow Wilson moved his own supply of alcoholic beverages to his Washington residence after his term of office ended. His successor, Warren G. Harding, relocated his own large supply into the White House after inauguration.
After the Eighteenth Amendment became law the United States embraced bootlegging. In just the first six months of 1920 alone, the federal government opened 7,291 cases for Volstead Act violations. In just the first complete fiscal year of 1921, the number of cases violating the Volstead Act jumped to 29,114 violations and would rise dramatically over the next thirteen years.
Doctors were able to prescribe medicinal alcohol for their patients. After just six months of prohibition, over fifteen thousand doctors and fifty-seven thousand pharmacists got their license to prescribe medicinal alcohol. Grape juice was not restricted by Prohibition, even though if it was allowed to sit for sixty days it would ferment and turn to wine with a twelve percent alcohol content. Many folks took advantage of this as grape juice output quadrupled during the Prohibition era.
To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol, consisting of 4 parts methanol, 2.25 parts pyridine base and 0.5 parts benzene per 100 parts ethyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended.
Another lethal substance that was often substituted for alcohol was Sterno, commonly known as "canned heat." Forcing the substance through a makeshift filter, such as a handkerchief, created a rough liquor substitute; however, the result was poisonous, though not often lethal. Many of those who were poisoned as a result united to sue the government for reparations after the end of Prohibition.
Making alcohol at home was common among some families with wet sympathies during Prohibition. Stores sold grape concentrate with warning labels that listed the steps that should be avoided to prevent the juice from fermenting into wine. Some drugstores sold "medical wine" with around a 22% alcohol content. In order to justify the sale, the wine was given a medicinal taste. Home-distilled hard liquor was called bathtub gin in northern cities, and moonshine in rural areas of Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Homebrewing good hard liquor was easier than brewing good beer. Since selling privately distilled alcohol was illegal and bypassed government taxation, law enforcement officers relentlessly pursued manufacturers. In response, bootleggers modified their cars and trucks by enhancing the engines and suspensions to make faster vehicles that, they presumed, would improve their chances of outrunning and escaping agents of the Bureau of Prohibition, commonly called "revenue agents" or "revenuers". These cars became known as "moonshine runners" or "'shine runners". Shops with wet sympathies were also known to participate in the underground liquor market, by loading their stocks with ingredients for liquors, including bénédictine, vermouth, scotch mash, and even ethyl alcohol, which anyone could purchase legally.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, many bootleggers and suppliers with wet sympathies simply moved into the legitimate liquor business. Some crime syndicates moved their efforts into expanding their protection rackets to cover legal liquor sales and other business areas.
Once Prohibition came into effect, the majority of U.S. citizens obeyed it.
Enforcement of the law under the Eighteenth Amendment lacked a centralized authority. Clergymen were sometimes called upon to form vigilante groups to assist in the enforcement of Prohibition. Furthermore, American geography contributed to the difficulties in enforcing Prohibition. The varied terrain of valleys, mountains, lakes, and swamps, as well as the extensive seaways, ports, and borders which the United States shared with Canada and Mexico made it exceedingly difficult for Prohibition agents to stop bootleggers given their lack of resources. Ultimately it was recognized with its repeal that the means by which the law was to be enforced were not pragmatic, and in many cases the legislature did not match the general public opinion.
Prohibition was a major blow to the alcoholic beverage industry and its repeal was a step toward the amelioration of one sector of the economy. An example of this is the case of St. Louis, one of the most important alcohol producers before prohibition started, which was ready to resume its position in the industry as soon as possible. Its major brewery had "50,000 barrels" of beer ready for distribution since March 22, 1933, and was the first alcohol producer to resupply the market; others soon followed. After repeal, stores obtained liquor licenses and restocked for business. After beer production resumed, thousands of workers found jobs in the industry again.
Prohibition created a black market that competed with the formal economy, which came under pressure when the Great Depression struck in 1929. State governments urgently needed the tax revenue alcohol sales had generated. Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932 based in part on his promise to end prohibition, which influenced his support for ratifying the Twenty-first Amendment to repeal Prohibition.
Naval Captain William H. Stayton was a prominent figure in the anti-prohibition fight, founding the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment in 1918. The AAPA was the largest of the nearly forty organizations that fought to end Prohibition. Economic urgency played a large part in accelerating the advocacy for repeal. The number of conservatives who pushed for prohibition in the beginning decreased. Many farmers who fought for prohibition now fought for repeal because of the negative effects it had on the agriculture business. Prior to the 1920 implementation of the Volstead Act, approximately 14% of federal, state, and local tax revenues were derived from alcohol commerce. When the Great Depression hit and tax revenues plunged, the governments needed this revenue stream. Millions could be made by taxing beer. There was controversy on whether the repeal should be a state or nationwide decision. On March 22, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an amendment to the Volstead Act, known as the Cullen–Harrison Act, allowing the manufacture and sale of 3.2% beer (3.2% alcohol by weight, approximately 4% alcohol by volume) and light wines. The Volstead Act previously defined an intoxicating beverage as one with greater than 0.5% alcohol. Upon signing the Cullen–Harrison Act, Roosevelt remarked: "I think this would be a good time for a beer." According to a 2017 study in the journal Public Choice, representatives from traditional beer-producing states, as well as Democratic politicians, were most in favor of the bill, but politicians from many Southern states were most strongly opposed to the legislation.
The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed on December 5, 1933, with ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Despite the efforts of Heber J. Grant, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the 21 Utah members of the constitutional convention voted unanimously on that day to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment, making Utah the 36th state to do so, and putting the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment over the top in needed voting.
In the late 1930s, after its repeal, two fifths of Americans wished to reinstate national Prohibition.
The Twenty-first Amendment does not prevent states from restricting or banning alcohol; instead, it prohibits the "transportation or importation" of alcohol "into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States" "in violation of the laws thereof", thus allowing state and local control of alcohol. There are still numerous dry counties and townships in the United States that restrict or prohibit liquor sales.
Map showing dry (red), wet (blue), and mixed (yellow) counties in the United States as of March 2012
It is not clear whether Prohibition reduced per-capita consumption of alcohol. Some historians claim that alcohol consumption in the United States did not exceed pre-Prohibition levels until the 1960s; others claim that alcohol consumption reached the pre-Prohibition levels several years after its enactment, and has continued to rise. Cirrhosis of the liver, a symptom of alcoholism, declined nearly two-thirds during Prohibition. In the decades after Prohibition, any stigma that had been associated with alcohol consumption was erased; according to a Gallup Poll survey conducted almost every year since 1939, two-thirds of American adults age 18 and older drink alcohol.
Shortly after World War II, a national opinion survey found that "About one-third of the people of the United States favor national prohibition." Upon repeal of national prohibition, 18 states continued prohibition at the state level. The last state, Mississippi, finally ended it in 1966. Almost two-thirds of all states adopted some form of local option which enabled residents in political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition. Therefore, despite the repeal of prohibition at the national level, 38% of the nation's population lived in areas with state or local prohibition.
In 2014, a CNN nationwide poll found that 18% of Americans "believed that drinking should be illegal".
For those 18%, this Bud's for you!