Thursday, December 6, 2007

Drink to Common Sense

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the only time an amendment to the United States Constitution was repealed. The Twenty-first amendment was passed on December 5th, 1933, and repealed the Eighteenth amendment which had forbidden the manufacture, sale, transportaion and importation of "intoxicating beverages."

The brewing industry certainly had a role in spurring along Prohibition. In 1890, beer emerged as the leading intoxicant of choice in the US. Large brewers in Milwaukee and Saint Louis had harnessed the forces of industrialization to build huge brewing empires capable of producing large quantities of beer and distributing it nationally and even internationally. As these brewing titans expanded their reach, they butted heads, and competition grew.

Since at home refridgeration was not available at this time, most drinkers got their buzz at the local tavern. At the time, it made financial sense to have more than one bottle of whiskey on the shelf, but it was harder to keep two different tap beers fresh and flowing. Since the taverns only carried one variety of beer on tap, the solution from the brewers' perspective was to build another tavern. Saloons proliferated, often financed with brewer money, and outfitted with all manner of promotional materials. Some cities became saturated with bars, sometimes four on a corner (us Milwaukeeans can relate), which reduced demand cutting into profits for tavernkeepers. Bar owners often turned to other ways to attract drinkers: salty free lunches on the benign end of the scale, and prositution and cock-fighting on the slightly more risque side.

Taverns became viewed by some citizens as houses of ill-repute and a blight on the neighborhood. Anti-saloon sentiment helped to organize people, fueling the formation of the Anti-Saloon League, who with the Women's Christian Temperence Union, were the prime shakers in the Prohibition movement.

Another mover and shaker of the movement was the Prohibition Party, which oddly enough, still exists today. They seem to have morphed into an extremist mix of Libertarianism and Christian Theocratic rule. They are anti-abortion, anti-drug and alcohol, pro gun, anti-union, and pro gold standard. Ron Paul folks would love them, were it not for the weird religious angle and the battle against alcohol. I've linked their 2004 platform below. In all fairness, not all of their ideas are bad, just most of them.

Since 74 years ago today marks the first full day to legally chug a finely crafted brew, head to your local house of ill-repute and raise your glass to freedom!

The cartoons in this article come courtesy of Ohio State University.

Links of Interest:

Prohibition Party Platform, 2004

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1 comment:

kyle said...

Nice history lesson. Thanks!