16 February 1933

The Blaine Act ends Prohibition in the United States.

The Blaine Act, formally titled Joint Resolution Proposing the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution, is a joint resolution adopted by the United States Congress on February 20, 1933, initiating repeal of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which established Prohibition in the United States. Repeal was finalized when the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the required minimum number of states on December 5, 1933.

“Wets” in Congress perceived that support for Prohibition was waning. A week after the defeat of the Bingham repeal proposal, House “wets” began drafting legislation to amend the Volstead Act to permit the manufacture of beer once more. Their goal was to force a vote before the session of Congress ended in July 1932. With only 34 “wet” votes in the Senate and 190 in the House, repeal lobbyists believed no action could be taken until after the November 1932 elections.

Congressional “wets” received a major boost on February 20 when a leading Democratic candidate for president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, announced he supported repeal of the 18th Amendment as a means of generating tax revenues for the federal government and states. Roosevelt’s support for repeal boosted “wet” support in the House. On February 16, the House Judiciary Committee had voted 14-to-9 against the Beck-Linthicum resolution, which would have asked state legislatures to reaffirm or repeal the 18th Amendment. House “wets” then shocked political leaders in both sides on February 25 by obtaining 110 signatures on a discharge petition for the Beck-Linthicum resolution. The “wets” secured the required 145 signatures for discharge on March 1. The Beck-Linthicum resolution received 187 votes, resulting in the smallest majority “drys” had managed to muster since the start of Prohibition. House “wets”, who considered the vote on Beck-Linthicum only a test of their growing strength, were thrilled by the vote.

The House test vote was encouraging to Senate “wets” as well. On March 19, Blaine’s Judiciary subcommittee favorably reported a bill by Senator Bingham proposing the legalization of 4 percent beer. Surprisingly, the subcommittee report even called modification of the 18th Amendment useless. Three days later, a bipartisan group of 38 Senators surprised the Senate by signing a letter demanding a vote to modify or repeal the 18th Amendment. The letter referred to four resolutions before Blaine’s subcommittee. Senator George W. Norris, chair of the full Judiciary Committee, promised the group that his committee would report at least one of the bills, and give senators a chance to vote on it on the Senate floor.

House “wets” appeared to suffer a setback on March 25 when the House rejected a bill, proposed by Rep. Thomas H. Cullen, to amend the Volstead Act to permit the manufacture of 2.75 percent beer and tax it.

“Wets” in the Senate also lost ground. Blaine began holding hearings on repeal of the 18th Amendment in mid April, and on April 19 the Senate Manufactures Committee unfavorably reported a 4 percent beer bill which had the perverse outcome of enabling a floor vote. In this test vote, “wets” were able to secure only 24 votes.

In May 1932, House “wets” shocked the political establishment again by securing enough signatures on a discharge petition to free the O’Connor-Hull bill from the House Ways and Means Committee. The House defeated the bill, which would have permitted 2.75 percent beer and taxed it at a rate of 3 percent of its retail value, 228 to 169. It was a significant drop in anti-Prohibition support.