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The Twenty-first Amendment (Amendment XXI) to the United States Constitution repealed the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which had mandated nationwide Prohibition on alcohol on January 17, 1920. The Twenty-first Amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933. It is unique among the 27 amendments of the U.S. Constitution for being the only one to have been ratified by state ratifying conventions.
The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution had ushered in a period known as Prohibition, during which the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal. Passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 was the crowning achievement of the temperance movement, but it soon proved highly unpopular. Crime rates soared under Prohibition as gangsters, such as Chicago's Al Capone, became rich from a profitable, often violent black market for alcohol. The federal government was incapable of stemming the tide: enforcement of the Volstead Act proved to be a nearly impossible task and corruption was rife among law enforcement agencies. In 1932, wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. stated in a letter: When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before. As more and more Americans opposed the Eighteenth Amendment, a political movement grew for its repeal. However, repeal was complicated by grassroots politics. Although the U.S. Constitution provides two methods for ratifying constitutional amendments, only one method had been used up until that time; and that was for ratification by the state legislatures of three-fourths of the states. However, the wisdom of the day was that the lawmakers of many states were either beholden to or simply fearful of the temperance lobby. For that reason, when Congress formally proposed the repeal of Prohibition on February 20, 1933 (with the requisite two-thirds having voted in favor in each house; 63 to 21 in the United States Senate and 289 to 121 in the United States House of Representatives), it chose the other ratification method established by Article V, that being via state conventions. The Twenty-first Amendment is the only constitutional amendment ratified by state conventions rather than by the state legislatures.
b or d