On this day in history, Jan. 16, 1919, Prohibition is ratified, banning booze in the United States

The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, a progressive effort to enforce social reform by expanding federal power and popularly known as Prohibition, was ratified on this day in history, January 16, 1919.

“The manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation, or exportation of the United States and all territory subject to its jurisdiction for the purpose of drinking is prohibited,” the amendment states.

The ban remains unique among the 27 amendments in three ways.

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It is the only amendment that limited the rights of American citizens rather than restricting the powers of the government, as the Bill of Rights originally intended.

It quickly proved very unpopular despite initial overwhelming support from the state assemblies.

And it got so bad that it was overturned by the 21st Amendment in 1933.

John Barleycorn's "funeral" was organized by Boston Prohibitionists in front of the Morgan Memorial Church of All Nations in Boston's South End as the 18th Amendment's alcohol prohibition went into effect at midnight on January 16 1920. The cortege consisted of eight motor trucks containing 125 victims and victims.  screaming men, women and children, and a water wagon from the city featured "Uncle Sam."

John Barleycorn’s “funeral” was organized by Boston Prohibitionists in front of the Morgan Memorial Church of All Nations in Boston’s South End, as the 18th Amendment alcohol prohibition went into effect in at midnight on January 16, 1920. The cortege consisted of eight automobiles. trucks containing 125 cheering and shouting men, women and children, and a city water wagon featuring “Uncle Sam.”
(The Boston Globe Archive via Getty Images)

“America is Voted Dry,” Ohio’s temperance newspaper The American Issue boasted in a bold front-page headline in January 1919. “Thirty-sixth State Ratifies Dry Amendment.”

Nebraska singled out Missouri for “the honor of having completed the work of writing a dry act into the Constitution; Wyoming, Wisconsin, and Minnesota at once,” the paper reported.

The 18th Amendment limited the rights of American citizens rather than restricting the powers of the government.

January 16, The American Issue rhapsodized, is “a momentous day in the history of the world.”

Congress then passed the Volstead Prohibition Act on October 28 to create the infrastructure to enforce the amendment.

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“Prohibition greatly expanded federal law enforcement powers and turned millions of Americans into scofflaws,” notes PBS News Hour.

Federal agents arrested about 577,000 suspects between 1920 and 1930, with about two out of three convicted of various offenses, according to John Kobler in his 1973 book, “Ardent Spirits.”

“The act called for the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (at the Department of the Treasury) to oversee enforcement and make adjustments to the regulations as necessary,” according to the Las Vegas Mob Museum website.

Police photo of Chicago mobster Al Capone.  The photograph was taken by the Miami Police Department.

Police photo of Chicago mobster Al Capone. The photograph was taken by the Miami Police Department.
(Getty Images)

“The IRS later established the Prohibition Unit, staffed by agents who were not required to take civil service exams, leaving the door open for members of Congress and local polls to appoint their peers, including applicants with questionable background.”

The museum adds: “The government provided funds for only 1,500 officers at first to enforce the ban across the country. They were issued weapons and given access to vehicles, but many had little or no training “.

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The 18th Amendment, and the commission to enforce it, went into effect a year after ratification, on January 16, 1920.

Effective enforcement of Volstead was doomed almost from the start.

“Doubts crossed my mind as I thought about the feasibility of enforcing a law that most honest citizens didn’t seem to want,” Eliot Ness, one of the Fed’s most famous proponents of the ban, said of the act .

The nation certainly had a problem with alcohol in the 19th century, along with a host of social ills that went with it.

“Doubts crossed my mind as I thought about the feasibility of applying” this law. – Eliot Ness

Americans in the 1800s consumed alcohol at much greater levels than they do today.

Much of it was hard liquor, as distillers expanded dramatically over the course of the century.

Rampant drunkenness spawned the rise of temperance movements that eventually gained broad political support, as evidenced by the adoption of the amendment by most states.

Both sides of the prohibition issue were expressed in a variety of novelties, including automatic accessories.  The 18th Amendment became law in 1920 as a result of the National Prohibition Act or Volstead Act passed by Congress in 1919 over President Wilson's veto.

Both sides of the prohibition issue were expressed in a variety of novelties, including automatic accessories. The 18th Amendment became law in 1920 as a result of the National Prohibition Act or Volstead Act passed by Congress in 1919 over President Wilson’s veto.
(David J. and Janice L. Front/Corbis via Getty Images)

“In the late 1800s, support for prohibition was strong, especially among progressives who favored social reform and greater morality on a national scale,” writes the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles and History.

“The Anti-Saloon League, supported by many women and Protestants, was a driving force in abolishing the manufacture of alcohol. After a temporary war ban to save grain during World War I, Congress submit the Eighteenth Amendment for state ratification. It was quickly ratified within a year and will remain law for the next 13 years.”

Prohibition led to a massive increase in organized crime.

Among other unintended consequences, Prohibition led to a massive increase in organized crime and the political corruption and violence associated with it, as gangsters competed for control of the underground booze business.

“Organized criminal gangs illegally supply America’s demand for alcoholic beverages, make millions and influence the nation’s largest financial institutions,” the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says in its history of amendments.

“Large criminal fortunes corrupt law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges, juries and politicians.”

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Many of the most notorious gangsters in American history emerged from the underground liquor economy created by Prohibition, including Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and Bugsy Moran.

The infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which suspected members of Capone’s gang killed Moran loyalists, was part of a Prohibition turf war in Chicago.

Moonshine confiscated by the Internal Revenue Bureau photographed at the Treasury Department between 1921 and 1932. Man standing by, looking at the contents of the glass.  Nearly 600,000 Americans were arrested by Prohibition agents in the 1920s.

Moonshine confiscated by the Internal Revenue Bureau photographed at the Treasury Department between 1921 and 1932. Man standing by, looking at the contents of the glass. Nearly 600,000 Americans were arrested by Prohibition agents in the 1920s.
(Photo12/Universal Image Group via Getty Images)

The amendment was fueled by a range of interests trying to enforce behavioral change through a federal mandate, including the progressive Anti-Saloon League and the Ku Klux Klan, several historians note.

“The relationship between the Anti-Saloon League and the Ku Klux Klan in support of Prohibition has been a source of controversy since the 1920s,” Loyola College professor Thomas R. Pegram wrote in 2008 for the Journal of the Gilded Age and peer reviewed. He was progressive,

“Both the ASL and the KKK acted to enforce the ban, the ASL through legal and political means, the KKK through grassroots political pressure and extralegal vigilante methods.”

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However, the ban was not a complete failure.

It succeeded in the reformers’ original goal of quenching the nation’s thirst for alcohol.

“Alcohol-related cirrhosis deaths declined, as did public drunkenness arrests,” reports PBS News Hour.

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