Saturday, November 9, 2013

Drinking During Prohibition

On December 18, 1917, all manner of manufacturing and transportation of all alcohol within the United Stats and its Territories was prohibited. Basically, national prohibition outlawed anything to do with the pleasures of drinking. But the 18th amendment of the US Constitution had no mechanism of enforcement. That is why the Volstead Act was passed on October 28, 1919. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the act but Congress overrode the veto. The veto and override both occurred on the same day.

In as much as the Volstead Act gave the government the power to enforce the prohibition of alcohol, it also provided measures that permitted brewers to brew very low strength beer once they obtained a Federal permit. The Act also allowed citizens the right to drink full strength beer along with whiskey and wine of any kind.

A provision written in the Volstead Act specifically allowed for the consumption of alcohol in ones private home provided the alcohol was in place prior to February 2, 1920. Prior to that date the sale of booze was legal and those that were able to could buy as much as they could afford. They had to keep it in their homes and could not sell it. Guests in the homes were allowed to drink but could not buy a bottle for take away.

In a sense, the government actually permitted legal speakeasies. Although no money could change hands what savvy homeowner could not have a “birthday party” every so often but require “guests” to contribute a cash donation for the all you can eat “buffet’?

Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution on December 18, 1917, which was ratified on January 16, 1919. Prohibition took affect on January 16, 1920.  The Twenty First Amendment repealed the 18th, having been passed on February 20, 1933 and ratified on December 5, 1933.

Twenty-First Amendment of the United States Constitution
Although the 21st amendment was pass in February, it was not ratified until December. Congress took steps in March of 1933 to revise the Volstead Act to allow for the legal production of beer (not wines or spirits). Prior to the repeal of prohibition in 1933, the Volstead Act was revised to permit the manufacture of beer having not more than 3.2% alcohol.

The Volstead Act defined intoxicating liquor as any beverage having 0.05% alcohol. This superseded all other prohibition laws enacted by other states. Enforcement officially began on February 2, 1920.

For more on drinking laws during the 18th century, please see the Brooks Law on the Pittsburgh Brewers website.