Study Guide

18th and 21st Amendments Timeline

By United States Congress

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The Mayflower landed at Cape Cod because its crew ran out of beer before they got to the Virginia colony.




Maine Liquor Law

The first Prohibition law in the United States to pass, almost seventy years before Prohibition would become a national policy. It was the last time anyone in Maine took a drink. Just kidding.

November, 1874

Women's Christian Temperance Union founded

Born in Cleveland—much like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but louder—this was a group of Christian women who thought men should stop drinking so much. They liked to go to saloons and pray at people. They were not popular at parties.


Anti-Saloon League founded

Ohio was the birthplace of the first big organization for temperance. Well, other than the Women's Christian Temperance Union, but people were super, super sexist back then. No one paid too much attention until men arrived to put some important-looking mustaches into the fight. This happened with the founding of the ASL in Oberlin, Ohio.

December 10, 1913

March on Washington

No, not that march on Washington. In this one, the Anti-Saloon League and the Women's Christian Temperance Union were marching to demand a Constitutional Prohibition Amendment.

December 18, 1917

18th Amendment passed by Congress

The 18th Amendment got the required two-thirds majority vote by both houses of Congress. That's the House of Representatives and the Senate. Try to imagine two-thirds of Congress agreeing on anything today. Seriously, try getting them to vote on whether the sky is blue.

January 16, 1919

18th Amendment ratified by the states

Before an amendment becomes law, it has to be ratified, which does not mean to become a rat. It means it gets sent to each state to be voted on. If three-fourths of the states say yes, then it's part of the Constitution. That was thirty-six states back then. Notice it took slightly more than a year from the 18th Amendment being passed to it being ratified.

October 28, 1919

Volstead Act passed

Also called the National Prohibition Act, the Volstead Act gave the 18th Amendment some teeth. Unfortunately, even these teeth were not enough to chew what it had bitten off.

January 17, 1920

First Day of Prohibition

The Amendment said it would go into effect one year after being ratified. By that night police were already shutting down illegal liquor stills.

February 14, 1929

St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Seven associates of George "Bugs" Moran were shot to death in a garage. It's never been officially linked to Al Capone, but most experts just put their hands out with an exasperated "Come on!" whenever someone points that out. This is generally considered to be the high water mark of 1920s gang violence and the moment when the public started thinking that in the choice between "liquor" and "massacres," they were going to pick liquor every time.

October 1929

Stock Market crashes

And right on the heels of it, the Great Depression happened. Suddenly, the whole country needed a drink to answer the question, "What happened to my life savings?"

February 20, 1933

21st Amendment passed by Congress

This is the first and so far the only time that the Constitution has been specifically amended to cancel out another amendment. For those who think that one or more should be altered in some way, this is a powerful precedent. For those who don't, it's easy to point out the futility of modifying the Constitution only to just change it back. The 21st was also the only Amendment to be sent for ratification to state conventions, rather than state legislatures.

December 5, 1933

21st Amendment ratified by the states

Thirty-six states were totally on board with taking the whole experiment back. The 21st Amendment gave the authority back to the local governments, and there are still areas of the country—"dry counties"— where selling liquor is illegal.

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