Some celebrate Dec. 5 as Repeal Day, because Prohibition — which outlawed alcohol — was ended by a constitutional amendment which repealed an earlier amendment. The 21st Amendment’s repeal of the 18th Amendment is the only time such an instance has occurred in the nation’s history.
• The 18th Amendment was passed by Congress on Dec. 18, 1917 and ratified by the states on Jan. 16, 1919.
• Its main section states, “After one year from the ratification of this article 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 is hereby prohibited.”
• The 21st Amendment was passed by Congress on Feb. 20, 1933 and ratified Dec. 5, 1933 (in such a way that again makes the 21st Amendment the only one of its kind of all the amendments to the U.S. Constitution).
• Its main section simply states, “The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”
• “In addition, it is the only amendment which was ratified, not by the legislatures of the states, but by state ratifying conventions, as called for by the Amendment’s third section,” according to the National Constitutional Center’s website. “The Constitution, in Article V, allows for ratification by either method.” The use of this method likely aimed to give legislators political cover, that organization theorizes.
• It is important to note, according the the NCC, that the 21st Amendment did not “restore the status quo ante.” Its second section “has been interpreted by the courts and others as giving broad authority over the regulation of alcoholic beverages to the states and limiting the power of the national government to intrude upon state alcohol beverage control policies. States, in turn, can and in many cases have delegated authority to counties and localities. As a result, the availability of alcoholic beverages, their prices, and the terms and conditions under which they can be obtained (for example, whether a county is ‘dry,’ or whether a state itself exercises a monopoly on the sale of wines and spirits) have varied substantially across the country.”
The following are frequently asked questions from the NCCs website.
Q. It has been stated that the Prohibition Amendment was the first instance of incorporating a statute in the Constitution. Is this so?
A. No. Those portions of the Constitution which specifically dealt with slavery and the slave trade ( Art. I, sec. 9, cl. 1; Art. IV, sec. 2, cl. 3 ) were both of this character. They were made obsolete by time limit in one case and the Civil War in the other.
Q. How many amendments to the Constitution have been repealed?
A. Only one: the Eighteenth (Prohibition).
Q. How is an amendment repealed?
A. By adding another amendment.
Q. If the Eighteenth Amendment is repealed, why is it necessary to call the new one repealing it the Twenty-first?
A. The Eighteenth Amendment will indeed remain in the Constitution, but a notation will be added to the effect that it is repealed by the Twenty-first.