Happy Repeal Day!

It was sev­en­ty-five years ago today that the mis­er­able exper­i­ment that was the Eigh­teenth Amend­ment came to an end, and the shut­tered brew­ing indus­try was allowed to strug­gle back to life in this coun­try. In recent years local water­ing holes have seized upon this date as their own Hall­mark hol­i­day, a snap­py his­tor­i­cal mar­ket­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty, and many estab­lish­ments now hold spe­cial events and pro­mo­tions around what is trum­pet­ed as “our right to drink” which no doubt help them pack the place.

What is too sel­dom acknowl­edged is that Car­rie Nation and the Tem­per­ance Move­ment were respond­ing to a very real soci­etal ill. Ram­pant alco­holism among a sub­sis­tence-lev­el indus­tri­al work­ing class was a scourge of epic pro­por­tions in this coun­try. Men worked long bru­tal hours of hard phys­i­cal toil, received no employ­ee ben­e­fits as we know them, and when they received their pay as cash in hand at the end of the day or the week, there was the very real pos­si­bil­i­ty that they would stum­ble weari­ly into the near­est saloon and slap it on the bar, neces­si­tat­ing a des­o­late expe­di­tion by a des­per­ate wife, or per­haps a respon­si­ble old­est child, to retrieve the ine­bri­ate par­ent and hope­ful­ly some por­tion of the only means of finan­cial sup­port they had to depend on for sur­vival. There was lit­tle indi­vid­u­als could do to rem­e­dy the larg­er eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion that ground peo­ple down in their mil­lions for the enrich­ment of the few. So those out­raged enough turned their right­eous fury on the source of such temp­ta­tion, and their voic­es were heard.

But Pro­hi­bi­tion was not the answer. Mod­er­a­tion in all things, it is wise­ly said, even — per­haps espe­cial­lymod­er­a­tion. The morass of orga­nized crime and fur­ther eco­nom­ic dis­rup­tion that sprang up dur­ing the Pro­hi­bi­tion years should remain a cau­tion­ary tale for law­mak­ers con­sid­er­ing a sweep­ing response to any per­ceived soci­etal ill. That it has tak­en more than half a cen­tu­ry for the brew­ing indus­try to re(dis)cover a cul­ture of excel­lence is anoth­er rea­son to greet this day with more reflec­tion than exuberance.

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