The Colossal Scale of Failure
Organized crime had the black market in its pocket, taxes were up, morale was down, and the “noble experiment” was looking more and more like a national failure. One of the most influential advocates of Prohibition was John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated $70,000 of his own money to the Anti-Saloon League. A lifelong abstainer from alcohol, Rockefeller publicly withdrew his support from Prohibition, claiming in a letter to The New York Times that drinking rates were up, lawbreakers were making money (“on a colossal scale”), and that some of the best citizens of the United States were blatantly disregarding the 18th Amendment. Prohibition, wrote Rockefeller, eroded the respect for law enforcement and led to an “unprecedented degree” of increase in crime rates.
Without support from people like John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the soul of the Prohibition movement was sapped. As the Democratic party’s presidential candidate for the 1932 elections, Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigned on a platform to overturn the 18th Amendment. Even led by Herbert Hoover, who had championed “the noble experiment,” the Republican party had largely turned its back on Prohibition.
The election results spoke to what the attempt to ban alcohol had done to the United States. Roosevelt won 42 states to Hoover’s six, earning 57.4 percent of the popular vote, while his Republican opponent claimed only 39.7 percent. It was, at the time, one of the most comprehensive presidential victories in American history.
Roosevelt made good on his promise to end Prohibition. Two months after his inauguration, and eight months before Prohibition was officially annulled, he signed legislation that loosened the legal definition of alcoholic beverages.
As he signed the legislation, Roosevelt famously said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” Americans all over the country agreed and still do to this day. History remembers Prohibition as the least loved Amendment, and the only Amendment to be repealed.
In 1933, Congress passed the 21st Amendment, which explicitly and officially repealed the 18th Amendment, thereby allowing alcohol to be manufactured, distributed, and sold in the United States.