The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution

Amendment XVIII

Section 1.

After one year from the ratification of this article 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 is hereby prohibited.

Section 2.

The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.


The 18th amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by Congress on 18 December 1917. About thirteen months later, on 16 January 1919, Nebraska signed on as the 36th state approving the amendment, thus ratifying it as law. For the next 14 years, the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol was illegal in the United States.

The calls for prohibition and temperence were nothing new. In fact, Massachusetts already had experience dealing with prohibitory laws. In 1855, a law passed that forbade the sale of all intoxicating liquors (including beer, wine, and cider) as a drink or medicine, except when sold by certain agents of the State. Appeals for a more lenient license law were constant until 1875 when the new Governor Gaston recommended repeal of the law. As it turns out, not everyone was strictly abiding by the law while it was in place, a problem that was endemic during the national prohibition decades later

Here at the MHS, we have documents relating to these issues going back a century before the 18th amendment became law. Much of the material here is in support of prohibition and is pro-temperance. In some cases, women involved in the suffrage movement tried to combine forces with the temperance movement, encouraging suffrage so that the temperance movement could have more votes. Francis Parkman, a temperance advocate, disagreed with the strategy:


However, among all the 19th century voices condemning the consumption of alcohol, there were still those opposed to full prohibition, even some that were members of the clergy:


After just a few years, there were claims that Prohibition and the 18th amendment were already failing. One such example comes from Joseph Curtis who wrote a pamphlet simply titled Prohibition is a Failure in 1924. Prompted by an article stating that stricter enforcement of the law was soon to come (embodied in the Volstead Act), Curtis recounts reading a statement by Dr. C.W. Eliot calling for such enhanced enforcement and how he felt that his "life, liberty and happiness, and that of every other american citizen was going to be imperiled if Dr. Eliot's views should prevail. For without liberty and happiness, life isn't worth living..." 

To find out what else the MHS has regarding temperance and prohibition, try searching the terms in our online catalog, ABIGAIL. Then raise a glass to the liberty and happiness of Mr. Curtis which make life worth living!

permalink | Published: Friday, 16 January, 2015, 4:17 PM