Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Thomas Kessner

Subject Categories

United States History


Prohibition, Opposition, Repeal


The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution forbade the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the Nation. The National Government was to enforce Prohibition in every state of the union. Before there was consideration of the Amendment, the Temperance Movement in the United States was a constant factor in American life. From Colonial times on, there were groups promoting temperance and abstinence from alcohol.

By the beginning of the Twentieth Century two important groups had formed to promote the Temperance Movement- The Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League. In period prior to the First World War, there developed a movement toward national Prohibition. Prior to that point Temperance groups focused on individuals abstaining from alcohol or on local communities banning its manufacture and sale.

By 1917, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was being debated in Congress. The Senate passed it with very little discussion, and the House of Representatives took up the matter in December, 1917. While debate was fairly short, several points were advanced that presaged the ultimate failure of the Amendment. These are its unenforceability, the lack of state control over the alcohol industry and the impossibility of legislating sober living. These points were also prominent in the ratification debates in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The Amendment ultimately failed and was repealed in 1933. Those who have studied the process for the Amendment and its failure indicate that it failed because it was imposed by the government. The vast majority of the population did not want it. This thesis validates those points.

Examination of the votes against the Amendment showed that many congressmen cited its ultimate unenforceable nature and the lack of popular support for the Amendment as problems. These very elements were the causative factors in the Amendment’s failure. Congress was forced into passage of the Amendment by the efforts of the Anti-Saloon League which controlled a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. However, when the opposition is studied, the majority of those opposing the Amendment were from the larger states. Thus, the smaller states ultimately forced the majority of the population into accepting bad public policy.