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Constitutional Amendments

Americanflagwethepeopleusconstitution.jpgPROHIBITION, the18th AMENDMENT and REPEAL the 21st AMENDMENT

Leading up to 1917, and after decades of effort by the temperance movement, many states had enacted alcohol prohibition statutes. In 1917, the US Senate passed, by a bi-partisan 76% vote (2/3 required to pass), a resolution containing the language of the amendment to be presented to the states. Four months later, the House passed a similar bill by a bi-partisan 69% vote. In the House, 274 votes were needed to pass. The measure garnered 282.  In each chamber, a nearly equal percentage of Republicans and Democrats voted in favor. The Senate passed the House version the following day, and it was proposed to the state legislatures for the 75% approval required to become law.

The amendment became part of our constitution two years later when the 36th of the then 48 state legislatures ratified it. By terms of the amendment, the effective date was one year after approval, so prohibition in the United States became a reality on January 17, 1920. Congress passed enabling legislation, known as the Volstead Act, which was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson. The veto was immediately overridden.

Fourteen years later, following years of crime and flagrant violation of the law, with the ratification of the 21st amendment, prohibition was repealed. In the Senate, the vote was 75% in favor of submitting to the states for ratification, in the House, 70% (2/3 needed), with ratification by the 36th state (3/4 needed) occurring in late 1933.

One key issue involves how each amendment was proposed to the states and how they were ratified. Article 5 of the US Constitution outlines two methods to PROPOSE amendments:

  1. A 2/3 majority of the Senate and of the House of the US Congress


  1. A national convention assembled at the request of at least 2/3 of the states (The so-called Constitutional Convention)

Then, to RATIFY an amendment approval by:

  1. The LEGISLATURES of ¾ of the states


  1. State ratifying CONVENTIONS in ¾ of the states

Both the 18th and 21st amendments were PROPOSED by a 2/3 majority of Congress (not by the Constitutional Convention method).

However, Congress used different RATIFICATION requirements for each amendment. For Prohibition, Congress required ratification by the state legislatures. For the repeal, Congress required ratification by state conventions. This was the first and only time that the convention method has been used. The reason-The US Congress feared that state legislators were either beholden to or fearful of the temperance lobby. Leaving the repeal in the hands of state politicians would jeopardize its approval. Since all but one state holds separate elections specifically for choosing convention delegates, the US Congress felt that using the convention method would be most likely to secure approval and prohibition would be abolished.

And it was, on December 5, 1933.

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commented 2014-02-23 06:46:52 -0700 · Flag
This is relevant to the current COS issue pending before the States/