US Temperance Amendment Passed
by Jeff Provine
says: what if intoxication was a federal crime under the eighteenth
amendment? muses Jeff Provine's on his excellent blog
This Day in
Alternate History. Please note that the opinions expressed in this post
do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
On December 18th 1917,
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after nearly a century of social and
political clamoring, the Temperance Movement made its greatest victory in
the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment, also known as the Temperance
While the original draft for the wording called for the prohibition of
"the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors", a
rewrite in committee changed the goal of the proposal to make intoxication
itself a federal crime.
The question of the constitutionality of banning traded goods was suddenly
removed, and the new question of personal liberty came into effect.
However, after some eighty years of presence, the Temperance Movement had
the clout to shout down the naysayers. Beginning in the 1830s out of the
same spiritual and social revolutions that would conjure ideas of the
abolition of slavery and women's rights, the Temperance Movement would
make great initial strides, such as the Maine Law of 1851 banning the sale
of alcohol except for "medicinal, mechanical or manufacturing purposes".
Thirteen states would have this legal prohibition until riots in 1855
caused the law's repeal. The Civil War and other social reforms took
precedence in America for the next few decades, but the Temperance
Movement continued to smolder.
"This version of Prohibition would fit nicely into
my own timeline where Gerald L. K. Smith got to be president and
established a right-wing fundamentalist dictatorship after 1940.
(Shameless plug!) But as with that TL, it would have taken a POD many
years before the event to make something so extreme possible. I can't
quite make out what that is in this post. " - reader's commentsAfter
the Civil War, temperance began anew with the Women's Christian Temperance
Movement and the Prohibition Party. The total removal of alcohol became
the goal, as was seen in the state constitution of Kansas and WCTU leader
Carrie Nation vandalizing saloons, shaming customers, and breaking bottles
with her notorious hatchet. Education became a useful tool for the spread
of the idea of abolition in forms such as the Department of Scientific
Temperance Instruction, begun in 1880. True clout began to grow, and by
the time World War I began, all necessary pieces fell to complete the
puzzle with the argument of saving grain for the war effort, the silencing
of German-American naysayers, and the Anti-Saloon League carrying numerous
The 1916 election gave ample seats in Congress to the "dries" arguing for
prohibition with 140 to 64 in the Democratic Party and 138 to 62
Republicans. Using their majority, an amendment for prohibition seemed
inevitable, but reminder of the Maine riots and the need for public
support brought on the question that prohibition may be a legal step too
far, though public control would be perfectly acceptable along the lines
of maintaining peace and the public welfare.
Upon the ratification of the Temperance Amendment in 1919, the Volstead
Act was introduced to Congress establishing definitions of "intoxication"
and clarification of punishments, ultimately leading back to the
Temperance Movement's ideals of education. Many leaders such as Billy
Sunday cried that the amendment did not go far enough by outright
prohibition, but they were quickly settled onto tasks of how to reform
those arrested and sent to federal rehabilitation communities.
"Unlikely. Too many people had drunks in their
families. Besides, sacramental wine was always legal during Prohibition.
Would they arrest any Christian who took communion? " - reader's commentsWhile
their methods were morally questionable as berating the prisoners, forcing
scientifically derived "purging" diets, psychological shock, and ruthless
work hours to keep the devil away from idle hands, they managed enough of
a success rate to continue. Police were given local methods of rooting out
intoxication through various tests and, using the research of Dr. Francis
E. Anstie, detection of alcohol on the breath or in the urine. Public
intoxication cases dropped rapidly at the beginning of the 1920s, and
quiet intoxication at home escaped notice without a warrant.
However, the crackdown on intoxication led the practice deep underground.
Prostitution parlors combined with opium houses gained a whole new
business in allowing drunks a place to hide out. Following the new
revenue, gangster crime rose in some of the larger cities, most
notoriously Chicago. A new push from the Temperance Movement arose in the
1920s to ban alcohol altogether, but public opinion had shifted toward
indulgence on material things, and numbers among the temperance clubs
To this day, though definitions have been adapted due to other intoxicants
such as marijuana in 1937 and to the broad Comprehensive Drug Abuse
Prevention and Control Act of 1970 after the "Free Your Mind" campaigns of
the late 1960s, it remains illegal to be inebriated in the United States.
Critics cite overcrowded rehab centers and high crime rates as outcomes of
this crackdown, but healthy economic productivity seems to outweigh any
negatives since suspicion of not appearing timely at work will bring G-men
armed with breath-sensors and comprehension exams to one's door.
says in reality the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited "the manufacture,
sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation
thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all
territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes". The
Age of Gangsters would reign through the 1920s and '30s, fueled by
speakeasies. With the economic tension of the Great Depression, the
Twenty-first Amendment would repeal the Eighteenth in 1933 due to crime and
illegal, non-taxable, business. To view guest historian's comments on this
post please visit the
Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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