Study Guide

18th and 21st Amendments Analysis

By United States Congress

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  • Rhetoric

    The 18th and 21st Amendments aren't an argument—they're the end of one. The argument was made, and the result was the law. As such, the Temperance Movement employed all three forms of persuasion at one time or another. The predominant kinds, however, were pathos and logos.

    Because many leaders of the Temperance Movement were women, who had limited rights at the time, they couldn't use ethos (appeals to credibility), as the male-dominated culture made sure they wouldn't be seen as credible authorities. So they had to use the tools of persuasion left to them. Often, these were emotional appeals to the damage alcohol could wreak, though in Carry Nation's case, it was a violent explosion of righteous anger.

    Plenty of people, especially women, resonated with those appeals. Domestic violence, child abuse, and poverty were well-known byproducts of alcohol abuse.

    Logos—persuasion via logic and reason—was also used to convince people of the economic and social costs of drunkenness, but pathos really won the arguments.

  • Structure

    Legal Document

    The 18th and 21st Amendments are pretty obviously legal documents. How can you tell? The fact that they're part of the Constitution. That's your first clue.

    Both documents have the boilerplate aspects of Constitutional law, including sections on how to ratify it. You're not going to see that in, say, an impromptu stump speech. Or, if you do, you're listening to an alien in cunning human disguise. Run.

    How it Breaks Down

    No more drinking.

    Section 1 of the 18th Amendment is the money section. This is where the point of the law is enumerated, that there's no buying, selling, transporting, importing, exporting, or manufacturing of liquor. It also leaves the loophole that you can drink all you want if you hoarded it from the get-go.

    Congress and the states get to enforce this.

    Section 2 of the 18th instructs the feds and the states to work together to make it happen. Laws need sections where they're told how they can be enforced, otherwise they're not.

    How it gets ratified.

    Section 3 of the 18th is standard Constitutional boilerplate: this needs to be ratified by the states, or it's a whole lot of hot air.

    No more Prohibition.

    Section 1 of the 21st Amendment is the do-over. The 18th Amendment is no more.

    Well, not all the way...

    Section 2 of the 21st makes it clear that legalizing liquor doesn't supersede local law. That is, if a state or county or whatever is legally dry, it can still be dry.

    This looks familiar.

    Section 3 of the 21st is basically the same as section 3 of the 18th. It's that boilerplate thing.

  • Writing Style


    What does that mean, exactly? We're glad you asked, voices in our head.

    "Legal English" is a technical term for the sub-dialect of the language employed in writing laws and legal decisions. It runs the gamut from something relatively straightforward like this, to a byzantine morass designed to obscure meaning in something like a contract—a.k.a. the "fine print."

    The goal of Legal English is to avoid ambiguity. This is supposed to be the end-all be-all of the law. Ambiguity means loopholes, which if you're unaware, are ways of sticking to the letter of the law while still running afoul of the intention. An example in the 18th Amendment would have been hoarding liquor, or drinking industrial alcohol. You've found a way to drink.

    The 21st Amendment, likewise, is clear to note that it doesn't override local laws. Not only is that an important note, it fits in with the 10th Amendment, which states that anything not governed by the federal government is reserved for the states. Technically, it didn't have to be there, but in this case, a potential trouble spot is already accounted for.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Well, there were seventeen amendments before the 18th, and twenty before the 21st.

    Sometimes it's as simple as that.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    Section 1 of each Amendment is where the law is stated. This is the meat of the entire thing. What's this Amendment for? Why is it here? What's going on? Section 1 has your answers.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    Section 3 of both Amendments is nearly identical, just reiterating how Amendments actually become law through the process of ratification by the states.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (5) Tree Line

    These guys are nice and short, but some of the legalese is a bit difficult to parse. Take it slow, consider what each word means, and you'll be fine.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    The Constitution

    Both Amendments are doing their best to sound like they're supposed to be part of the Constitution.

    That's about it. Volstead and Wheeler were writing a Constitutional Amendment, not a diss track.

    References to This Text

    Literary and Philosophical References

    The Great Gatsby 
    F. Scott Fitzgerald's most famous work takes place in 1922, or right at the beginning of Prohibition. Guess how Gatsby became great? Bootlegging.

    To Kill a Mockingbird 
    Mentions the Prohibition Party, which was a minor political party of the day.

    Historical and Political References

    Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper
    Stamper draws an explicit link between the War on Drugs and Prohibition. Spoiler alert: anyone who does that thinks the Drug War, or how we've been prosecuting it, isn't working.

    Pop Culture References

    The original film is about bootlegging, while the remake is about cocaine. Both are fictionalized accounts of Al Capone's rise to power.

    The Untouchables
    Both the TV series from the early '60s and the film in the 1980s tell the highly fictionalized account of Eliot Ness and his Treasury Agents taking the fight to the gangster Al Capone.

    The Simpsons
    In an episode called "Homer versus the 18th Amendment," prohibition comes to Springfield. Like everything else that comes to Springfield, it doesn't turn out well.

    Boardwalk Empire
    The HBO show begins with Prohibition and the glee of the main characters planning to make millions off peddling illegal alcohol.

  • Trivia

    Al Capone made millions of dollars on illegal liquor. What finally sent him to prison, though? Income tax evasion. (Source)

    Prohibition made Dr. Seuss. Well, kinda. While he was at Dartmouth College, he became editor-in-chief of their humor magazine. When he was caught throwing a party with (gasp) liquor, he was forced to take a pen name. That name? "Seuss," to which he later added "Doctor," because at that point, might as well. (Source)

    The slang term "the real McCoy" has its origins with Prohibition. There was a bootlegger by the name of McCoy whose product was better than most. "Is this the real McCoy?" customers would ask. And then there was shooting, because this was the '20s. (Source)

    There were between 20,000 and 100,000 speakeasies (illegal bars) operating in New York during Prohibition. (Source)

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