President Franklin D. Roosevelt has been well revered as one of the greatest presidents the United States as known. He navigated the country through the Great Depression, and he would be the one to declare war on Japan in 1941 and lead the United States through the majority of WWII.
And on March 22, 1933, he signed the “Beer and Wine Revenue Act,” otherwise known as the Cullen–Harrison Act, an amendment to the Volstead Act, that imposed a tax on certain wines and beer and would come into effect the following month (as seen above).
FDR was never a fan of prohibition. Earlier that same month (often misattributed to the day he signed the act) he famously said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” He was constantly vying for the repeal of prohibition, fighting against groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League. His own valet once was caught several times drunk on the job, and FDR would not fire him. FDR had also been known to drink as he was rising the ranks in political circles prior to the oval office.
“Temperance” was a hot button topic then, and would have been a “buzz word” today. It was a movement that eventually led to prohibition, based on the fundamental idea that alcohol consumption was gravely immoral, as it led to drunkenness and promoted a culture of debauchery. Those who aligned themselves with the Temperance movement began to really gain steam throughout the 1800s.
People were known as either “dry” or “wet” supporters, and they aligned themselves to one side or another quite vehemently. Finally, the dry side won and in 1919 the Volstead Act was passed, drafted by the Anti-Saloon League. While this wasn’t the first piece of legislation to keep people from “intoxicating liquors,” it bolstered the existing amendment to the constitution and ushered in America’s age of prohibition.
Making alcohol illegal did not wipe out any culture of debauchery, it did not promote abstinence — it didn’t even keep people from drinking alcohol. However, it did give organized crime groups an opportunity for booming business, giving rise to names like Al Capone. The general public became more and more opposed to prohibition, to the point where juries would almost never convict someone accused of breaking prohibition law. The “Beer and Wine Revenue Act” was less of a revolutionary act, and more of a natural consequence of the way people were already feeling.
It would also be disingenuous not to mention that passing this, and taxing alcohol as such, was also a way to combat the desperate need during the Great Depression.
On April 7, 1933, the act went into effect and American citizens flocked to bars and taverns to celebrate their first legal drink in years — and they don’t seem to have stopped since.
Featured image: A crowd gathers as kegs of beer are unloaded in front of a restaurant on Broadway in New York City, the morning of April 7, 1933, when low-alcohol beer is legalized again. (AP Photo)
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