18th Amendment

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages. The states ratified it on January 16, 1919 though it did not take effect until the next year. Congress repealed this amendment, referred to as the “Noble Experiment” by President Herbert Hoover, in 1933. To explore this concept, consider the following 18th Amendment definition.

Definition of 18th Amendment


  1. The amendment to the U.S. Constitution that banned the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol beverages.


1919 Constitutional Amendment

What is the 18th Amendment?

The meaning of the 18th Amendment has its roots in prohibition. On December 18, 1917, Congress proposed an amendment that would make it illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport liquor in the United States. Each state had seven years to ratify the amendment, but within a year, three-quarters of the states had done so. Though the states ratified it on January 16, 1919, it did not go into effect until a year later.

In all 18th Amendment examples, the country saw a decline in the consumption of alcohol, though enforcement proved challenging. Organized crime and bootlegging became a problem throughout the country and public support of prohibition began to wane. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt, presidential nominee for the Democratic party, called for repeal as part of his platform. In 1933, Congress proposed the 21st Amendment doing away with prohibition. The required number of states ratified it on December 5, 1933, making the 18th Amendment the only Amendment to see repeal.

History of the 18th Amendment

The history of the 18th Amendment dates to the American Revolution. At this time, many citizens began drinking alcohol in excess due to economic and social problems. For some, it was even a way of life as it was customary to pay workers in money and drinks.

Temperance groups also played a large part in the history of the 18th Amendment. In the early 1800s, temperance groups began sweeping the nation. Rooted in Protestant churches, these organized groups saw alcohol as evil and a great threat to the nation. They encouraged people to resist alcohol and demanded that the government prohibit it.

In 1838, Massachusetts banned the sale of spirits in quantities less than 15 gallons, though the law lasted only two years. In 1846, Maine passed the first prohibition law on the state level. By the start of the Civil War, several other states followed Maine’s lead.

Women became a part of the temperance movement as many believed that alcohol played a major role in destroying families. In 1906, the Anti-Saloon league put more pressure on the government to prohibit the sale of alcohol. By this time, even factory owners supported prohibition with the goal of increasing worker efficiency. By 1916, 23 states had passed anti-saloon legislation, and many also prohibited the manufacture of alcohol.

In 1917, the country entered World War I and President Woodrow Wilson enacted a temporary wartime prohibition to save grain. The same year, Congress proposed the 18th Amendment and sent it to states for ratification.

Temperance Movement

During the 19th century, many Americans started to believe that fellow citizens were living in sin. They feared God would stop blessing the country, and that these immoral citizens posed a threat to the political system. These concerns led certain reform measures, including the temperance movement.

Temperance groups encouraged people to limit their alcohol consumption or forsake it completely. Before long, thousands of groups formed, and early temperance laws began to take shape. The largest group, the American Temperance Society, had more than 200,000 members by the 1830s. They published tracts and used speakers to talk about the negative effects of alcohol. In 1873, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union formed, and their membership spread nationally. The union became a major political force as it lobbied for local laws restricting the sale of alcohol.

Bootlegging and Organized Crime

Examples of the 18th Amendment’s failure include an increase in bootlegging and organized crime in major cities. Bootlegging started mainly in towns on the border of Mexico and Canada, as well as in cities with ports and harbors. One popular bootlegging spot was Atlantic City, New Jersey.

To try and combat the issue, the government had the Coast Guard search and detain ships carrying alcohol. However, this too came with complications as disputes over water jurisdiction ensued. The Coast Guard also lacked what they needed to chase down the bootlegging vessels. Instead, they began searching vessels out at sea.

Soon after prohibition started, profitable gangs began controlling every aspect of the process. This included concealing brewing and storage facilities, as well as selling in restaurants and nightclubs. The gangs also fought for control of specific territories, which led to violent confrontations. This in turn led to an increase in murders and burglary rates. Bootlegging and organized crime also acted as a gateway for other gang-related crimes like prostitution and loan-sharking.

Powerful Players in Bootlegging and Organized Crime

Some of the most powerful players in bootlegging and organized crime include Dion O’Banion, George Remus, and Al Capone. O’Banion, a safecracker and part-time florist, led a north-side gang that specialized in smuggling liquor in from Canada. Remus, a well-known midwestern criminal attorney, became a successful bootlegger. Al Capone created a multi-million dollar bootlegging operation in Chicago during the height of prohibition. He committed many acts of violence, mainly against other gangs.

Controversies over Prohibition

One of the many 18th Amendment examples has clashes in controversies over prohibition was the provision that set a deadline for its ratification. The states challenged this in Dillon v Gloss where the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the deadline. One of the biggest controversies over prohibition involved the public. Many blamed prohibition for the increase in widespread moral decay. Though legislation intended to decrease criminal activity, all 18th Amendment examples had the opposite effect. People also started condemning prohibition, seeing it as an infringement on individual freedom.

Another example of the 18th Amendment’s loss of public support came as people argued that prohibition decreased much-needed government revenue.

Repeal of the 18th Amendment

As it became clear that prohibition was causing widespread problems, anti-prohibition groups began advocating for its appeal. One such group was the Americans Against Prohibition Association (AAPA). In 1932, presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt made his stance against prohibition clear. His victory later that year was another step towards the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

21st Amendment

In February 1933, Congress proposed the 21st Amendment, which repealed federal prohibition. The amendment required approval of state conventions instead of state legislatures. This gave the states a one-vote referendum instead of popular vote. By December, the required number of states ratified the 21st Amendment officially repealing the 18th Amendment, and ending federal prohibition. A few states, however, continued statewide prohibition.

18th Amendment Example In the Ohio State Legislature

In January 1919, the Ohio General Assembly became one of the 36 to ratify the 18th Amendment. A 1918 amendment in the Ohio Constitution required statewide referendum after General Assembly ratification for U.S. Constitutional amendments. This meant that within 90 days of state legislature ratification, Ohio voters could challenge the ratification with a 6 percent vote. This would bring the issue to referendum.

Ohio legislature approved the 18th Amendment and declared it in effect before the 90-day waiting period passed. Meanwhile, the required number of Ohio voters had signed the petition referendum, which would have invalidated passage of the amendment. Citizens against the amendment successfully appealed its approval. Supporters of the 18th Amendment filed a lawsuit however; the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Decision

The court addressed the issue of whether states had a right to allow people to review the legislature’s ratification of federal amendments. Prohibitionists argued that the Constitution only allowed for ratification of federal amendments by state legislatures. Opponents argued that the Constitution did not specify what made up a state legislature and it was up to the state to decide. In this 18th amendment example, the ratification required a review by the people and thus, the amendment was not ratified.

On June 1, 1920, the court ruled that Ohio voters could not overturn the state legislature’s approval of the Eighteenth Amendment. This case made the validity of the 18th Amendment clear and it showed the power of the prohibition groups.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Amendment – The modification, correction, addition to, or deletion from, a legal document.
  • Authority – The right or power to make decisions, to give orders, or to control something or someone.
  • Congress – The legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Legislation – A law, or body of laws, enacted by a government.