The only amendment to the Constitution to be repealed subsequently, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes.” Commonly referred to as national prohibition, the Eighteenth Amendment was adopted by bipartisan majorities in excess of two‐thirds in each house of Congress in December 1917, ratified by three‐fourths of the states as of 16 January 1919, put into effect on 17 January 1920, and, after more than a decade of controversy, overturned by equally lopsided margins when the Twenty‐first Amendment was ratified on 5 December 1933.
National prohibition was the product of a century‐long, broad‐based temperance crusade. After voluntary abstinence campaigns sharply reduced American alcohol consumption, antebellum temperance advocates sought legal bans on liquor to extend the benefits of abstinence. During the 1850s, a dozen states briefly adopted prohibition laws. From the 1880s to World War I, local option laws and statewide prohibition spread. Encouraged by this success, a coalition of church groups, feminists, social and political reformers, and businessmen, all of whom believed in the benefits of a dry society, began calling for a total, seemingly permanent national solution, constitutional prohibition.
Senators, reluctant to vote for the prohibition amendment but afraid to vote against it, required ratification within seven years. They calculated that this innovation would thwart ratification but were proved mistaken: forty‐four state legislatures ratified within thirteen months. By 1922 every state but Rhode Island had ratified. A 1919 Ohio referendum overturning ratification was invalidated by the Supreme Court in Hawke v. Smith (1920) but fostered an impression that the amendment lacked popular support.
Opponents also bore responsibility for another distinctive feature of the amendment: a one‐year delay in its taking effect to cushion the blow to the liquor industry. Nevertheless, prohibition devastated the previously legal manufacturing, distribution, and retail liquor business, the seventh largest industry in the country. In two centuries of constitutional development only the Thirteenth Amendment, ending slavery, had a greater impact on property rights.
The Eighteenth Amendment specified that state and federal governments would have concurrent power to enforce prohibition. In 1919 Congress, overriding Woodrow Wilson's veto, adopted the Volstead Act to provide for federal enforcement and define as intoxicating any beverage containing more than .5 percent alcohol. The ban on beer and wine was unexpected and controversial. In the National Prohibition Cases (1920), the Supreme Court quickly rejected a variety of challenges to the constitutionality of the amendment. Thereafter the Court sought to aid its implementation by treating concurrent power expansively in United States v. Lanza (1922), upholding warrantless automobile searches in Carroll v. United States (1925), restricting medicinal liquor prescriptions in Lambert v. Yellowley (1926), and permitting telephone surveillance by means of off‐premises wiretapping in Olmstead v. United States (1928). Nevertheless, popular resistance and organized opposition to national prohibition grew until, in 1933, the Twenty‐first Amendment repealed what Herbert Hoover once called “an experiment noble in motive.”