The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, which began the 13-year ban on the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol. To this day, the 18th Amendment stands out because it was specifically written to restrict, not advance, individual freedoms. Burns himself noted the uniqueness of the 18th Amendment saying that historically amendments have “always expanded human freedom [but] in this case narrowed it.”
The 18th Amendment was viewed as a solution to the excesses, over consumption and myriad of social ills in the years leading up to Prohibition. Congress tried to implement a one-size-fits-all solution by banning this product that had previously been legal.
But it was quickly evident that this experiment didn’t work. The intended consequences never became reality; instead the country saw an increase in alcohol consumption and a surge in organized crime. As John D. Rockefeller, Jr. stated at the time:
“[D]rinking 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.”
The federal “solution” of Prohibition was no solution at all.
Fortunately, the 21st Amendment provided a solution that continues to be effective today. It recognized that alcohol is a unique product that is best controlled by the individual states and gave rise to our modern state-based system of alcohol controls.
Today’s system balances a competitive industry with local social standards and community desires. It is this system that fuels today’s robust and dynamic licensed beverage industry that creates access to market for start-up businesses.
It’s this system that supports and promotes some 13,000 labels of beer and 1,750 brewers across the country. It’s this system that includes nearly 500,000 licensed independent U.S. retailers and that supports nearly two million jobs. It should come as no surprise that the 98,000 men and women in the beer distribution industry are proud to be part of this effective system.
So, as we celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, please join me in raising a glass of your favorite beer to the 21st Amendment and solutions that continue to serve our country well today.
Craig A. Purser is President & CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, representing the interests of America’s 3,300 beer distributors.