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Temperance Was Not Okay
We begin ranking the amendments with one that had a massive hangover.
Happy Friday, Okay History friends. I appreciate every one of you. If I could, I’d love to have a drink with you. Thankfully we are legally allowed to do so, but at one time, we weren’t.
Because the United States Constitution said we couldn’t.
We kick off our Year Three Series of Rankings, the rankings of the amendments to the United States Constitution, with number 27 - dead last.
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Let’s get right to it and raise a glass to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution!
27: Amendment XVIII
Its purpose: Established the prohibition of alcohol in the United States
Year proposed: 1917
Year Ratified: 1919
Nothing. There is absolutely nothing good about this amendment. It would have been better if this amendment had never been born. It’s the Judas of amendments because even Jesus Christ was pro-booze.
Everything. Unless you are in organized crime, then you loved this amendment because it made you rich. Actually, this could be a good part because we ended up with some pretty good organized crime movies in the following decades.
Why did I rank it here?
I am not an alcoholic by any stretch. At least, I don’t think I am, and I can respect people who choose not to drink, but I can’t believe we ever, as a country, decided to ban alcohol collectively. I can admit I am looking through this with the 21st-century lens, and people aren’t going out and pouring grain alcohol down their throats as they did back in the 1830s. But consumption was down by the time the Civil War rolled around.
But that wasn’t enough. The Temperance Movement, the people behind the alcohol ban, was strong and determined. Anti- Booze societies began popping up throughout the country starting at the end of the Revolutionary war through the Edgar Allen Poe era. They did provide reasonable explanations as to why we may want to curb alcohol, with the rise of domestic abuse, unemployment (like Poe), and flat-out abandonment of responsibilities.
Some of the efforts, however, revolved around making booze more expensive, a delicacy for the rich. So instead of figuring out how to help people who abuse the stuff, the Temperance Movement people took it even further and fought to amend the Constitution banning the stuff altogether.
It’s like responding to car accidents by banning all cars. Or banning all guns when we have mass shootings. Wait. Never mind.
We had examples of effective Temperance Movements around the 1830s in Europe. There was in Ireland, but I’m pretty confident that was the Protestant Ireland. Temperance took hold in Norway and Sweden and then took over all of Europe. It spread to South America, Africa, Australia, and, okay, basically the entire planet. There was an International Prohibition Confederation. This sounds like a Confederacy, and confederacies are doomed to fail.
One of the early Temperance Movement leaders was a lady named Carrie Nation. Carrie was born in Kentucky and moved to Texas, Missouri, and Kansas. Her real last name was Moore, but it looks like she spent her life fighting for Less, so I get the name change. She was ambitious. She also married an alcoholic, who ended up dying an alcoholic. Man.
She would turn this grief into a movement to end alcohol forever.
Her nickname was Hatchet Granny because she walked around with a hatchet. She would walk into bars and smash stuff, using a hatchet with a handle that had Death to Rum engraved on its handle.
I say Death to Rum the day after I drink rum.
Carrie had a newsletter aptly named The Hatchet. Do you now see how vital Okay History is in the annuals of the country?
Okay, so Carrie did help poor people and built shelters for wives and children of alcoholics. She made clothes for folks around the holidays and genuinely fought the notion that we needed to drink. Again, I get that. I don’t completely agree with that, but I understand the premise.
Carrie died in 1911 and never did see the fruits of her labor.
A guy named Wayne Wheeler was the driver of the bus toward the passage of the 18th amendment. Born in Ohio, Wheeler, like Carrie, experienced alcoholism firsthand when the hired help on his family farm got wasted and stabbed with a pitchfork. Yikes.
Wheeler would join the Anti-Saloon League and quickly become its leader. He was a smart dude because he believed in women’s suffrage, so he partnered with that movement. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours - type of thing. Guess what the 19th Amendment is.
After the 18th amendment passed, Wheeler rose to power with the enforcement of the law. Then he became a real prick. By the mid-1920s, people realized that banning booze wasn’t the best idea, but Wheeler, as the leader of the Prohibition Bureau, didn’t care and started to poison the industrial alcohol so it couldn’t be snuck into people’s drinks. Thousands of people died, but Wheeler said they committed suicide because they broke the law. Come on, Wayne.
So support for this amendment quickly diminished. By the 1920s, people were sick of secretly running around to drink their Makers. Then the Great Depression hit, and the only way you could fully experience the Great Depression was by drinking. So by 1933, the 21st Amendment was passed, repealing the 18th and bringing sanity to our country.
So there we have it. 18th is actually 27th, and we are on our way.
Have a nice weekend. Don’t drink too much, especially rum, and I’ll see you on Monday.