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Repeal of Prohibition

Triple XXX Root Beer, Southern Beverage Company, ca. 1925
During Prohibition, many brewers switched to making soft drinks in order to stay in business.
Archives Photograph Collection

Because Prohibition was enacted by the 18th Amendment, another constitutional amendment was needed in order to repeal it. Unlike any other amendment to the U. S. Constitution, the 21st Amendment was approved by state ratifying conventions rather than by state legislatures, as is the traditional practice. Most of the state legislatures were still heavily in favor of Prohibition, so the passage of the 21st Amendment via the traditional method was unlikely.


"An Act to provide for a convention to pass on an amendment to the Constitution...," Nashville, Tennessee, March 31, 1933
Acts of Tennessee, 1933, Public Chapter 38

Full text of the act [PDF]

Prohibition had become unpopular across the nation because of the rise in crime associated with moonshining and the black market for alcohol. Many of the people who had supported the 18th Amendment discovered that, instead of discouraging the use of alcohol, Prohibition merely sent the consumption of alcohol underground and caused an increase in the number and power of gangsters, who were making hefty profits from illicit alcohol sales.

Tennessee was the 19th state to ratify the 21st Amendment during a constitutional convention on August 11, 1933. The 21st Amendment did not, however, overturn any existing state laws regarding alcohol sales and consumption. Nor did the passage of the 21st Amendment affect Tennessee's ban on manufacturing alcoholic beverages, which would not be repealed until 1937.


Senate Bill No. 1122, which repealed the ban on manufacturing alcoholic beverages in Tennessee, Nashville, Tennessee, May 21, 1937
RG 60, General Assembly Original Bills, etc.

Though it has been 80 years since the 21st Amendment effectively repealed Prohibition, some states still retain what are called "Blue Laws." These laws, religious in origin, date back to colonial times. They regulate the sale of alcohol and seek to monitor other forms of moral turpitude. For example, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, 12 states currently still enforce Blue Laws which ban the retail sale of distilled spirits on Sundays (Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia).

In 2009 Tennessee lawmakers passed a law allowing the legal production of whiskey and other distilled spirits in the 41 counties that already have approved retail package sales and liquor-by-the-drink sales (production was already legal in Moore, Coffee and Lincoln counties prior to the new law).

Passage of this law has generated much interest, particularly among entrepreneurs and investors, and Tennessee has already seen an increase in the number of new craft distilleries and microbreweries.



"U. S. Will Discard Prohibition Law Today," Nashville Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, December 5, 1933
Newspaper Microfilm Collection

"Now Watch Your Step," Nashville Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, December 6, 1933
Newspaper Microfilm Collection

"Help Us Strike the Liquor Vampire From the Breast of Tennessee" broadside, after 1941
Even after the passage of the 21st Amendment, there were still those who wanted to see Prohibition reinstated.
Library Special Collections