History Timeline 1910's

Photo above: World War I. Courtesy National Archives. Right: United States troops entering Veracruz, Mexico on April 21, 1914, remaining in occupation until November. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

World War I

U.S. Timeline - The 1910s

World War I

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  • Timeline

  • 1917 - Detail

    December 18, 1917 - The 18th Amendment, advocating prohibition of alcoholic beverages throughout the United States, is sent to the states for passage by the United States Congress.


    The proponents of banning the sale of alcohol had been diligent, through acts of violence and decades of rallies by the like of Carrie Nation and her ilk. By 1917, they had gained enough support to pass both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. It was a unique and difficult task to achieve, but the prohibition movement had their grand goal in the federal legislature. However, even with that passage, it was not going to be easy to pass the three quarter majority of all states to become ratified and put into law. Somehow, by January 16, 1919, the prohibition forces achieved that. One last hurdle, the enabling legislation, would gain a new twist. Woodrow Wilson, lukewarm to the idea, would veto it, but both houses of Congress provided a veto override. And now, within one year of its ratification, the sale of that terrible brew would be banned. It would not last.

    But just how did the proponents of prohibition achieve the ban? States had begun to ban the sale of alcohol for decades in a variety of ways, so the movement had been moving through state houses even before it reached the national level. For example, the sale of alcohol had been banned in Kansas through a Kansas Constitutional Amendment in 1881. The Women's Temperance Association, i.e. the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, had been on the prohibition bandwagon for eight years before that Kansas ban, founded on December 15, 1873 by three hundred men and women at Fredonia Baptist Church in Fredonia, New York. The men pledged one thousand dollars; the women organized and put a plan in motion. This date is the official origin as stated by the wctu, however, there are some reports that state a founding on December 23, 1873 in Hillsboro, Ohio. Oh, the technicalities of history.

    The Woman's Christian Temperance Union considered the consumption of alcohol against Christian values, but also had other goals, women's suffrage and missionary work. One year after its founding, a national convention was held. Ten years after first forming in the United States, they took their mission international.

    The WCTU was, from the start, a national organization, and grew rapidly. Under second President Francis Willard and her "Do Everything" policy, they campaigned for local, state, and national prohibition, women's suffrage, protective purity legislation, and more. Various chapters emerged around the nation. For one, in Minnesota 1873-1874, the origin of their state chapter began with women harrassing saloon customers. Over the next several decades, the organization grew rapidly. In 1881, they had twenty-two thousand eight hundred members; by 1921, there were three hundred forty-four thousand, eight hundred and ninety-two.

    But the Women's Christian Temperance Association was not the first or even largest temperance group. In 1826, the American Temperance Society was formed and by 1838 had over one million members. Prior to the start of the Civil War, this organization had been effective in thirteen states and territories to pass some statewide prohibitory laws. However, the war, coupled with the need for additional taxes for war efforts, tempered the movement and even led to the repeal of some prohibitory laws. It took until the era of Reconstruction was over for the second wave of prohibitionists, i.e. the WCTU, to take up the cause again. The emergence of the Anti-Saloon League in 1893 energized the effort with their call for state bans in 1906, which led to campaigns for national prohibition.

    The Vote and Ratification

    On August 1, 1917, the United States Senate passed the first resolution calling for alcohol prohibition. Republicans voted 29-8 for the amendment. The Democrats 36 to 12. It took until December 17, 1917 for the House of Representitives to pass the final version; Republicans 137-62, Democrats 141-64. It was a bipartisan effort. Technically the amendment did not call for a ban on alcohol consumption, but its sale and manufacture, making it difficult to obtain.

    The first state to ratify the amendment was Mississippi on January 7, 1918. The thirty-sixth, therefore, the state that pushed it into ratification was Nebraska on January 16, 1919, although technically five states voted to ratify it on that date; North Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, Missouri, and Wyoming. Only Connecticut and Rhode Island voted not to ratify.

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    Practical Application of Prohibition

    Problems with the application of the 18th Amendment began almost immediately from its first date of use, January 17, 1920. There were challenges in the Supreme Court on the constitionality of providing a ratification deadline (first and only in a proposed amendment) and the way Ohio ratified. Both were upheld. The public chaffed at the language in the bill, not thinking that the term "intoxicating liquor" in the text meant beer and wine, but it did. Bootlegging began almost immediately to wet the appetite of consumers taken aback by the harsh institution of its language. Organized crime took advantage of the underground economy of liquor, extending it to prostitution and other moral dilemmas. The impact of the law was seen as an antithesis to its intention to foster moral behavior, with the public beginning to push for its overturn. By the time the Great Depression hit in 1929, the majority of the public were against it, with the loss of jobs and government revenue needed to combat unemployment pushing it to the forefront of economic issues. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt added its overturn to his plank while running for President in 1932, and with his subsequent victory, the 18th Amendment and the Prohibition era was about to be undone. The 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933.

    The Woman's Christian Temperance Union still exists today under the pledge, "I hereby solemnly promise, God helping me, to abstain from all distilled, fermented and malt liquors, including wine, beer and hard cider, and to employ all proper means to discourage the use of and traffic in the same."

    Text, 18th Amendment

    Section 1 - After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

    Section 2 - The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    Section 3 - This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

    Photo above: Prohibition officers raiding a lunch room in Washington, D.C., 1923, National Photo Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Carrie Nation on the right holding her axe and the suffragette movement on the left, Louis Dalrymple, 1901, J. Ottmann Lithograph Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: constutioncenter.org; wctu.org; wwctu.org; Wikipedia Commons.

    Carrie Nation and Prohibition

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