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Constitution Day 2022

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Why did Prohibition Succeed and Fail?

Ratified in 1916, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” but not the consumption, private possession or production for one's own consumption. The road to Prohibition was paved with good intentions, mostly those of activist women swept up in a religious revival. They took to the streets, in marches and in prayer, and exercised an emerging public voice to protect themselves and their children from domestic  violence and loss of income and instability caused by alcohol abuse by men. Like many public policy shifts, Prohibition brought with it some unintended consequences. It gave us the Jazz Age during the rise of (secret) speakeasy night clubs like the Stork Club and the Cotton Club. It gave rise to a vast underground economy of bootleggers and rum-runners who made and sold spirits illegally. Organized crime flourished, running the liquor and the speakeasies business, and made gangsters like Al Capone rich and the G-men who sought them household names.  

What happens when a well-intentioned social movement such as the Temperance Movement, fueled by evangelical religious fervor, ignites the public’s passion for a policy, social change or constitutional amendment that infringes on individual liberty? How do Americans react to such restrictions? What learnings can we apply to today from understanding the history of the short-lived 18th amendment? These are the sorts of questions to be considered by two speakers for VCU Libraries’ annual Constitution Day presentation. 

Professor Carolyn Eastman, Ph.D., VCU History Department https://history.vcu.edu/directory/faculty/eastman.html, will speak about the Temperance Movement and its interweaving threads with the Women's Rights Movement. Eastman is a prize winning historian of early America with special interest in 18th and 19th century histories of political culture, the media and gender. Associate Professor John Aughenbaugh, Ph.D., https://politicalscience.vcu.edu/people/faculty/aughenbaugh.html a political scientist with expertise in constitutional and administrative law, will discuss the difficulties in enforcing the ban on making and selling alcohol for community consumption.  

Constitution Day is observed on or near September 17, the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in Philadelphia. The law establishing the present holiday was created in 2004 and the act mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions, and all federal agencies, provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution on that day. 

The event is free and open to all and will be held in person and via zoom. The in-person location will be the James Branch Cabell Library Lecture Hall, Room 303, 901 Park Ave., Richmond, Va. 23219. Parking is available for a fee in the West Broad Street, West Main Street and West Cary Street parking decks.