By: Javier Sánchez Valenzuela
“Tonight, a minute after twelve, a new nation will be born. The drinking devil is writing his will. An Era of new ideas and clean manners starts. The ghettos will soon be part of the past. All jails and prisons will be empty; we’ll transform them into barns and factories. All men will walk upright once more, all women will smile and all children will laugh. The gates to Hell will shut forever. “These were the words Minnesota Republican Senator, Andrew Volstead, used to announce the beginning of the Dry Law.
This is part of the speech that began one of the darkest XX Century eras in the United States: The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; Title II, section 3 says: … “No person shall on or after the date when the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States goes into effect, manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor except as authorized in this Act, and all the provisions of this shall be liberally construed to the end that—the use of intoxicating liquor as a beverage may be prevented.”
When this law took effect, almost a century of efforts made by moralist and religious groups who pushed the US Government to prohibit alcohol consumption throughout the national territory ended. These groups had started their work at the beginning of the 19th century. Achieving some success in states such as Maine in 1829, Indiana in 1832, and Georgia in 1833. These laws were enacted as “local option” and gave power to the local, state, towns and villages governments, even to districts as a whole, in order to restrict and prohibit the consumption of spirited drinks. A spirited drink was any drink that had over .5% of alcohol volume.
Shortly after the Civil War (1861 to 1865), these banning efforts started to take more strength in states such as New England, where some groups like the National Temperance Society, The Prohibition Party, The Brotherhood of Total Abstinence and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), were formed. These groups made possible that, for a period of 10 consecutive years (1880 to 1890), eight states joined their cause.
The true national impulse of these prohibition efforts took place within the first two XX Century, mainly promoted by southern and western states of the country. The Prohibition Laws finally went into effect on January 16th, 1919. The one in charge of writing the terms of this law was Mr. Wayne Wheeler, member of the National Anti-Saloon League, and the one in charge of supervising its approval was the president of the White House Judicial Committee, Mr. Andrew Volstead, where the law took its name. This 18th Amendment to the US Constitution is known in history as the “Prohibition” or “Dry Law”.
As it was expected, the “Dry Law” had a significant impact in many different areas of life in the United States. In addition to the birth of illegality culture from which some known characters emerged, such is the case of AL Capone or Ton Dennison, among many others, the impact on formal economy was devastating. Important industries such as the agriculture industry was seriously affected from night to day, which was not able to sell its grain crops to the distillery industries or breweries in the country, reason why they were forced to close without any possibility of recovery. Thousands of workers lost their Jobs taking away their families’ livelihood. Likewise, transportation industry, food, drinks, commerce, entertainment, and advertisement were affected, as well as peripheries activities, who all ended up doing something else after seeing their operations seriously affected.
Over the years, the pressure from different groups in North American society exerted towards Federal Government and started to cause effect. In 1933 Congress started to show signs of taking back when it legalized the manufacture and consumption of 3.5% alcohol volume beer, nonetheless the Volstead Law total collapse occurred in 1935, when the twenty-first amendment to the US Constitution abolished the Eightieth Amendment and declared it unconstitutional, the terrible law that for 16 tiring years stressed the country. In that same year the Federal Alcohol Administration restored alcohol use in all states. This government office changed its name once again in 1968, when it was named The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, better known as the ATF. In 1972, Richard Nixon created the independent office of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Next in the story. The alcohol industry and particularly the brewing industry is one of the main contributors of direct and indirect taxes to its country’s government and an important job creation industry. Brewing shows us the determination and innovation capacity within the industry and it also tells us that we still have many chapters to write in its history.
How about you? …What new beer have you tried this week? Explore, have fun, get lost in the diversity. Look beyond the corner store!
Peace and work for all!