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Prohibitionism: the “noble experiment” that ended 75 years ago

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You’d never know it, but Dec. 5 marks the 75th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition, an historic landmark we should all be celebrating. Instead, the date seems likely to come and go with hardly a murmur in the wine industry.

Our friends in the beer industry have taken notice. The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) yesterday issued a press release calling the anniversary “a great time to recognize the success of the past 75 years of effective, state-based alcohol regulation.” I’m not sure how successful our “state-based alcohol regulation” system has been, what with the confusion and obstructionism in certain states following the Supreme Court’s 2005 Granholm decision. But we should certainly have learned some valuable lessons from the debacle of Prohibition. Chief among them is that you cannot legislate morality. (People opposed to same-sex unions should heed this lesson well.) Another lesson is that we should always be on the lookout for signs of neoprohibitionst revanchism.

Who brought us Prohibitionism? The folks in the temperance movement, that’s who — priests and ministers who told their flocks that alcohol was sinful (despite the fact that Jesus seemed to rather like it). They were aided and abetted by organizations such as the Anti-Saloon League and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, as well as crazy zealots like Carrie Nation, who invaded bars wielding a hatchet.

The delightful Ms. Nation. Note the warm smile and twinkling eyes

It was they who drove Prohibitionism forward, putting intense pressure on (hypocritical) legislators who voted for the 18th Amendment. President Wilson properly vetoed it, but the Congress overrode his veto. Once again, we see a Democrat struggling to preserve an existing freedom, while conservative zealots try to take that freedom away from the people.

Anyway, even though the wine industry isn’t planning on any formal celebrations, that shouldn’t stop us individually from recognizing Dec. 5 as a special day, and vow to never again let government take away our rights.

  1. Hi Steve – Many of the St. Helena area wineries and merchants are planning a Repeal of Prohibition Celebration weekend. There is a growing list posted at http://www.appellationsthelena.org.

  2. You mean rights like the right to buy wine from anywhere I chose instead of from an unconstitutional monopoly power?

    Oh… wait a sec…

  3. In reference to, “…that shouldn’t stop us individually from recognizing Dec. 5 as a special day, and vow to never again let government take away our rights.”

    I’ll drink tot that!

  4. I was planning on writing something about prohibition for the 75th anniversary on my new site.

    But to respond to some comments you had, “Once again, we see a Democrat struggling to preserve an existing freedom, while conservative zealots try to take that freedom away from the people.” This isn’t entirely true. Wilson only vetoed because the Volstead Act disallowed production and transportation of liquor during war time. It didn’t have much to do with a Democrat struggling against the terrible conservatives.

    Actually, in fact, some of the first states to ratify the 18th amendment were (at that time) traditionally Democrat controlled states such as Texas, Mississippi, Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana; while generally Republican states like Wisconsin, Vermont and New York passed the Amendment after it had the necessary amount of states. Rhode Island and Connecticut (also Republican states) expressly rejected the Amendment.

    My real point here is that it wasn’t a Democrat or Republican that created Prohibition, it was generally a national issue that 46 of the (then) 48 states supported and much of the populace. The population of the United States was evenly divided between urban and rural in that day and much like today, alcohol abuse was a major problem in rural areas. America was a very different place then. But this is long enough already. If anyone wants to read more about my thoughts on prohibition, click my name. They’ll be up sometime between now and Thanksgiving.

  5. Considering that the left has embraced its own temperance movement (see, e.g., cigars, food restrictions, etc.), one can hardly claim that but for Democrats, conservatives would take away freedoms.

  6. BTW – This entry ended up on Wine Business’s blog page as one of their most read blog entries. This proves that there’s still a lot of interest in this historical event…

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