With World War I over, the decade prior to my birth was universally recognized as the “Roaring Twenties.” Many rejoiced, with mostly young, wealthy people indulging in wine, women and song. Promiscuous sexual behavior and the social use of alcohol became normal to the liberal thinkers who gathered in the bohemian sections of the world’s leading cities. Although political unrest still existed, most people enjoyed the peaceful years that followed the horror of World War I.
The United States, however, has always been a more structured, puritanical and religious country. From the time of the Pilgrims, spirituality and moderation has prevailed. In the United States, the concept of abstinence was advanced by the American Temperance Society, also known as the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance.
This activist group was established on February 13, 1826, in Boston, Massachusetts, and considered the concept of outlawing alcohol to be progressive. The United States Senate first proposed the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, with the intent of banning the use of alcohol. After passage by the House and Senate, on December 18, 1917, the proposed amendment was submitted to the states for ratification. On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified, with an effective date one year later on January 17, 1920. The Volstead Act, passed on October 28, 1919, specified the details for the enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment. A total of 1,520 Federal Prohibition agents, having police powers, were assigned to enforce this unpopular law.
Many people, ignoring this new law, partied at the many renowned illegal speakeasies, many of which were run by the Mafia. This ban on alcohol proved to be contentious, difficult to enforce, and an infringement on people’s personal rights. Still, due to political pressure, it continued until March 22, 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed an amendment to the Constitution, known as the Cullen-Harrison Act, which allowed for the manufacture and sale of watery 3.2% beer. It took over a decade from its inception before the Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed on December 5, 1933, when the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was adopted.