Drink Up! Prohibition Is (Mostly) Over
Posted: Dec 5, 2008 5:02pm ET
Let’s all raise our glasses to the end of Prohibition and a return to good cheer.
Seventy-five years ago today, Prohibition, the so-called Noble Experiment, was ushered out with the 21st Amendment of the Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment. The original change, also called the Volstead Act, had ruled the land for almost 14 years, making alcoholic beverages illegal and generally creating national calamity. On December 5, 1933, came the culmination of the country's return to its senses. A state convention in Utah ratified the 21st Amendment, making it the 36th state to do so and clearing the bar of the needed 75 percent of states.
As much as it now seems quaint that the United States would have been dry for so long, we should all take a sober moment of reflection so that it may never happen again, for there remain elements among us who would rob us of other civil liberties. Given the woes that beset the nation on account of Prohibition, we must be ever vigilant against such acts.
In retrospect, the attendant problems of Prohibition were many and obvious, the benefits few. But clearly for there to have been an original amendment supporting an end to drinking, there must have been a mindset that thought it would help. Does that remind you of some more recent examples of groupthink run amok, cigar smokers?
While Prohibition was the law, the country became lawless. Mobsters and murderers ran the liquor trade and otherwise law-abiding citizens who just wanted to have a drink became scofflaws. Clearly, the organized gangland structure that exists now arose from Prohibition as so much was to be made in the trade and the public proved it was willing to overlook their transgressions.
Prohibition was not only damaging during its reign, but it has wreaked long-term havoc on our national alcohol industry. American producers were effectively set back decades. With no whiskey produced for a decade and a half, outside spirits makers were able to make inroads into our market. Canadian producers particularly benefited as they could easily smuggle their spirits across the border. When it was all over, American whiskey makers had no liquor with which to battle back as new spirits had to age for at least two years to sell and more like four to be any good. Whiskey rushed to market gave rise to the epithet "rot-gut Bourbon." Straight rye, once the market leader, almost disappeared altogether and is only now making a resurgence.
Beer, which had once been made in every city and every style, was consolidated into a few major producers and for years following Prohibition was almost completely regulated to light lager production. It took until the relatively recent rise of craft brews for that to change, and for years lovers of stronger brews and ales had to look to Europe for product.
The wine industry suffered many of the same setbacks, and it was until recent decades that California and other American wine regions were considered any kind of challenge to the vaunted product of France.
Yes, the Nanny State even existed 90 years ago, and considered it a good idea to become vice fascists and impose one of the only two of out 27 amendments that have limited personal behavior on the part of citizens. The other is the 13th Amendment that outlaws slavery. It now seems patently ludicrous to create a Constitutional Amendment that in any way equates the adult enjoyment of fine wines, spirits and brews to enslaving other people, but sadly at one point it made sense to many.
If that sort of thinking prevailed once, it could happen again. We know this as cigar smokers because we have seen our rights encroached upon in outrageous, ill-conceived ways recently. So as we celebrate Prohibition's repeal we must remember that it is not necessarily isolated.
However, we smokers can all take heart. The nation woke up from its collective absurdity then, and it can come to consciousness again.
Drink up! But be forever vigilant.
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