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The 18th Amendment shouldn’t be our hated amendment. I’ll admit, the hate is well-deserved. The 18th Amendment, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors,” failed to achieve its noble purpose. And it didn’t just fail; it failed miserably. During its 13-year reign, the 18th Amendment was the architect of violent crime, clogged courts and a wounded economy.
Mercy came on December 5, 1933. On that date, the 21st Amendment was ratified, and the 18th Amendment was repealed. This gave birth to a little known holiday: Repeal Day, which is observed every December 5th. Last Saturday (Repeal Day), Americans raised their glasses to the heroic 21st Amendment and vilified the evil 18th Amendment.
But is the villainy justified? Or does the 18th Amendment deserve a little love?
Two Good Things about the 18th Amendment
The 18th Amendment is a hole in the Constitution: dead words, no teeth. Even worse, it’s a timeless hole. Despite its repeal, prohibition will forever be our 18th Amendment. It can’t be erased, only repealed. The 18th Amendment will forever splinter the Constitution like a rock through stained glass.
#1: A History Reminder
But the 18th Amendment, as immortal, is a good thing. For one, the 18th Amendment is a reminder of prohibition, its history and its failings. Will Rogers made a joke of it, but in his humor, we hear the truth about prohibition’s constitutional disaster:
Why don't they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth.
Prohibition was a joke, and the 18th Amendment’s immortality is a good reminder of that.
#2: A Constitutional Lesson
But of greater importance, the 18th Amendment is a signpost of fallibility. A reader of the Constitution, yielding between the 17th and the 19th Amendments, is faced with an obvious flaw … an amendment that both failed and sabotaged.
The Constitution is not perfect. Written by men, fluid with words, blurred by ideologies, the Constitution can never be perfect. This is easily forgotten by those who throw constitutional freedoms like bricks … bricks that are sharply lined, hard cornered, rigid and unyielding. At times, I am such a person, and there is no better remedy than our failed 18th Amendment.