December 5, 2013: 80th Anniversary of Repeal Day

Today marks 80 years since the end of Prohibition on December 5, 1933. From yesterday’s Baltimore Sun:

“More than 90 years ago, the United States Congress ratified the 18th Amendment prohibiting alcohol in the United States. As a result of the temperance movement, Prohibition effectively banned states from allowing the sale, distribution and consumption of alcohol in a safe and legal manner.

True to “The Free State” philosophy, Maryland was the only state in the union that refused to pass a law enforcing Prohibition. Legislators saw the law as a violation of Maryland’s rights as a state. We like to think our state government was ahead of the curve. They knew that Prohibition was not the right answer.

However, despite Maryland’s protest, federal law ruled. From 1920 to 1933, national Prohibition resulted in increased organized crime, widespread alcohol abuse, the production of illegal and unsafe alcohol and decreased respect for the rule of law.”

The Lord Baltimore Hotel had opened almost five years prior to Repeal Day, on December 28, 1928, and it included a speakeasy, uncovered during the current renovations:

“[General Manager Gene-Michael] Addis made a startling discovery: a room in the southwestern corner of the building that had originally been a speakeasy during Prohibition.

“We’re putting it back and we’re going to call it Speakeasy,” he said.”

A Washington Post blog from a couple of years ago noted about the paper’s coverage of Repeal Day:

“As is our custom here at BlogPost, we flipped through the archives of our paper’s Dec. 5, 1933, edition to see what our forebears had to report. A ProQuest query returned 23 stories for that day that included the word “repeal.” Some stories talked about efforts from the “drys” to challenge the repeal in court. There was speculation of what level of taxing state and federal governments might levy on the newly legal suds. One piece reported on the 2 million gallons of alcohol sitting in storage in Baltimore and how no one knew how they might be distributed up until the last second.”

And due to a legal quirk noted by WETA’s blog, Baltimore residents could drink immediately after Prohibition’s repeal while D.C. residents could not:

“Sadly for District residents alcohol sales in the nation’s capital wouldn’t resume until March 1, 1934 — three months later! — delayed while Congress developed alcohol tax and regulation policies for the city. In a way, they delay was fitting. Because of the D.C.’s colony-like relationship with the federal government, the District had always operated by a different set of rules with regard to Prohibition.”

Finally, here’s the New York Times coverage from 12/5/33:

“Legal liquor today was returned to the United States, with President Roosevelt calling on the people to see that “this return of individual freedom shall not be accompanied by the repugnant conditions that obtained prior to the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment and those that have existed since its adoption.”

Prohibition of alcoholic beverages as a national policy ended at 5:321/2 P.M., Eastern Standard Time, when Utah, the last of the thirty-six States furnished by vote of its convention the constitutional majority for ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment. The new amendment repealed the Eighteenth, and with the demise of the latter went the Volstead Act which for more than a decade held legal drinks in America to less than one-half of 1 percent of alcohol and the enforcement of which cost more than 150 lives and billions in money.”

Happy Repeal Day!

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