On the 15th December 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution came into effect, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment which had made the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol illegal. Having been proposed on the 20th February 1933, it was ratified on the 5th December.
Prohibition was introduced in 1920 as a result of the 18th Amendment. This ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages was greeted with delight by members of the temperance movement, but many law-abiding Americans who had previously been drinkers felt anger towards the government for criminalising what they viewed as a harmless activity.
As a result, some members of the public were willing to break the law, and this quickly ushered in a period of criminal activity focused around the production of illegal bootlegged alcohol. Al Capone, one of prohibition’s most famous gangster bosses, made around $60 million a year from bootlegging alcohol and selling it in so-called ‘speakeasies’.
Izzy Einstein, one of the government’s most famous prohibition agents, demonstrated the scale of the problem facing the authorities who were trying to enforce the ban on alcohol. When visiting New Orleans it took Einstein just 35 seconds to obtain liquor after his taxi driver offered him a bottle of whisky.
Combined with many police officers being paid by the criminals to turn a blind eye to illegal activity, prohibition brought lawlessness and corruption to America. In the wake of the Wall Street Crash, repealing prohibition made sound economic sense, although the introduction of the 21st Amendment ensured that individual states were still able to enforce their alcohol laws.