In 1929, Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas — author of the Eighteenth Amendment that created alcohol Prohibition, known as “the father of national Prohibition,” and the leading supporter of Prohibition in Congress — boasted:
“There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.”
Just three years later, alcohol Prohibition was… repealed.
I love that quote. Those of us fighting to end the War on Drugs can take heart from it.
When Sen. Morris made his declaration, Prohibition had been a part of U.S. law for nearly a decade. It must have seemed to many to be a permanent fixture of American life.
Certainly no one could have guessed that the country was just a few years away from ending the disaster of Prohibition.
That makes me wonder. Are we perhaps closer today to ending today’s Prohibition — the War on Drugs — than we realize? Might an extra push from the growing liberty movement be all that is needed to accomplish this?
Friday, December 5 is a great time to ponder such thoughts. It’s the 81st anniversary of Repeal Day, the glorious day America ridded itself of the disastrous failure of alcohol Prohibition. Repeal Day should be publicized and celebrated by libertarians and other friends of freedom every year.
Like the War on Drugs, alcohol Prohibition was supported by many people for the highest motives and with great confidence in the government’s ability to successfully shape and mold society and individuals. The abuse of alcohol was (and remains today) a serious problem. Banning alcohol seemed, to millions, a reasonable way to handle this problem.
Prohibition began on January 16, 1920. America’s most famous evangelist, Dr. Billy Sunday, boldly proclaimed:
“The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.”
Some communities even shut down their jails, confident that they would no longer be needed.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way.
In a Cato Institute study (highly recommended) entitled “Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure” economist Mark Thornton sums up the bitter fruit of this disastrous policy:
“Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became ‘organized’; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant. No measurable gains were made in productivity or reduced absenteeism. Prohibition removed a significant source of tax revenue and greatly increased government spending. It led many drinkers to switch to opium, marijuana, patent medicines, cocaine, and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition.”
And what about crime? “According to a study of 30 major U.S. cities, the number of crimes increased 24 percent between 1920 and 1921. …thefts and burglaries increased 9 percent, while homicides and incidents of assault and battery increased 13 percent. … violent crimes against persons and property continued to increase throughout Prohibition.”
Prohibition also created a massive prison state. “By 1932 the number of federal convicts had increased 561 percent, to 26,589, and the federal prison population had increased 366 percent. … Two-thirds of all prisoners received in 1930 had been convicted of alcohol and drug offenses, and that figure rises to 75 percent of violators if other commercial prohibitions are included.”
Sound familiar? Alcohol Prohibition offers a powerful, profound and easily understood example of the dangers of government social engineering. It’s a lesson Americans need to hear.
Celebrate and publicize Repeal Day this week. Some day — perhaps sooner than we dare think — we’ll have another Repeal to add to the celebration.