20071205

Prohibition repeal anniversary, or not?

Today is the 74th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Or is it truly the day that hideous experiment in social control ended?

Beer historian Bob Skilnik has some strong thoughts on the topic, which he has posted online as he does from time to time in debunking other myths. Even though he specializes in beer, Prohibition affected spirits as well, so let's see what he has to say:

"December 5, 1933 notes a 'first' in constitutional history. It was on this day, 74 years ago, that American voters, through state referendums, added the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It was the first time in our history that a constitutional amendment was passed, not simply by the will of legislators, but instead through popular mandate, i.e., the power of the U.S. citizenry. For some of us, December 5, 1933 might even be remembered as the end of National Prohibition. Unfortunately, there are too many writers and trade organizations who should know this, but have chosen, instead to revise U.S. history for their own purposes, and if I might, usually for self-promoting ones.

"You might recall my rants back in April when organizations like the Brewers Association, the A&E network, Anheuser-Busch, with its pimping of 'The American Brew' an hour-long movie commissioned by the St. Louis brewery, and beer geek sites like Beeradvocate proclaimed April 7 as the day that Prohibition was 'repealed today in 1933.' The Jacksonville Business Journal went so far as to proclaim that 'The 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect April 7, 1933 …' -- an amazing feat since the states hadn’t even gotten around to setting up constitutional referendums and state conventions to vote for delegates who would set the constitutional change into effect.

"They weren’t alone in repeating this historical inaccuracy, but the list of offenders would probably be longer than this entire blog entry. So once again, let me beat this dead horse of a canard one more time. The passages below are from my book 'Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago,' and gives the perspective of events leading up to December 5, 1933 from a Windy City perspective. But throughout the story, the thread leading up to the end of Prohibition can be found."

You can find his full essay here.

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2 comments:

In Touch With Reality said...

Skilnik is correct about his history, of course. But that doesn't change the significance of April 7th for brewers and beer drinkers. On that date in 1933, it became legal to produce, distribute, sell and consume beer of up to 3.2% alcohol by weight (which is 4.0% abv).

Thus the practice of prohibition effectively ended on that date even if it took another 8 months for the states to ratify it.

Bob said...

"Thus the practice of prohibition effectively ended on that date even if it took another 8 months for the states to ratify it."

Tell that to the spirits and wine industries and all those breweries that couldn't brew beers like dopplebocks or higher-octane seasonals as they did prior to National Prohibition. How can something "effectively" end when Prohibition Agents were still busting down stills and prohibiting the wine industry from starting up operations? If the 21st hadn't passed, would April 7, 1933 "effectively" ended Prohibition?

You're pounding your squared version of history into the rounded hole of beer geekism.

Without the 21st Amendment, we would still be drinking "session beers." The only thing April 7, 1933 did was was to "effectively" line the pockets of the federal, state, county and some big cities governments with revenue from a multitude of taxes imposed upon beer.