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The Eighteenth Amendment and National

Prohibition, Part 5: Proposal and Ratification

June  26, 2023

This Legal Sidebar post is the fifth in a seven-part series that discusses the Eighteenth Amendment to the
Constitution. Prior to its repeal, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, or
transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes within the United States. Section 2 of the
Amendment  granted Congress and the state legislatures concurrent power to enforce nationwide
Prohibition by enacting appropriate legislation. The Eighteenth Amendment was partly a response to the
Supreme Court's pre-Prohibition Era Commerce Clause jurisprudence, which limited the federal and state
governments' power over the liquor traffic. As such, the Eighteenth Amendment's history provides insight
into the judicial evolution of the Commerce Clause, which operates as both a positive grant of legislative
power to Congress and a limit on state authority to regulate commerce. Additional information on this
topic will be published in the Constitution Annotated: Analysis and Interpretation of the U.S.

Proposal and Ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment

By 1917, the widespread proliferation of state restrictions on the liquor trade and Congress's enactment of
wartime prohibition measures had laid the foundation for nationwide Prohibition. The states' ratification
of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913 boosted the Eighteenth Amendment's prospects by empowering
Congress to impose a nationwide income tax to offset the loss of federal alcohol excise tax revenue. With
the Anti-Saloon League's political influence at its peak, a wave of dry candidates swept into Congress
in 1916. Although earlier nationwide prohibition efforts had failed to gain enough political support,
advocates recognized that the political environment was favorable for Congress's proposal of the
Eighteenth Amendment.
On April 4, 1917, Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas introduced the joint resolution that would, as
revised, become the Eighteenth Amendment. The Senate Judiciary Committee, to which the joint
resolution was referred, reported it favorably. The committee's report, relying on statements from prior
Congresses, contended that the amendment should be submitted to the states because of popular support
for Prohibition, the evils of alcoholic beverages, and the presumption that Congress lacked
constitutional authority to regulate the intrastate manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages
comprehensively in peacetime. (In the decades leading up to the Eighteenth Amendment's proposal and

                                                                Congressional Research Service

CRS Legal Sidebar
Prepared for Members and
Committees of Congress

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