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 especially — moderation. 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.