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late 14c., "act of prohibiting, a forbidding by authority," from Anglo-French and Old French prohibition (early 13c.), from Latin prohibitionem (nominative prohibitio) "a hindering, forbidding; legal prohibition," noun of action from past participle stem of prohibere "hold back, restrain, hinder, prevent," from pro- "away, forth" (see pro-) + habere "to hold" (see habit). Meaning "forced alcohol abstinence" is 1851, American English; in effect nationwide in U.S. as law 1920-1933 under the Volstead Act.
People whose youth did not coincide with the twenties never had our reverence for strong drink. Older men knew liquor before it became the symbol of a sacred cause. Kids who began drinking after 1933 take it as a matter of course. ... Drinking, we proved to ourselves our freedom as individuals and flouted Congress. We conformed to a popular type of dissent -- dissent from a minority. It was the only period during which a fellow could be smug and slopped concurrently. [A.J. Liebling, "Between Meals," 1959]Related: Prohibitionist.
The outlawing of alcoholic beverages nationwide from 1920 to 1933, under an amendment to the Constitution. The amendment, enforced by the Volstead Act, was repealed by another amendment to the Constitution in 1933.
Note: Prohibition is often mentioned in discussions of how much social change can be brought about through law, because alcohol was widely, though illegally, produced and sold during Prohibition; it was served privately in the White House under President Warren Harding, for example.
Note: Many use the example of Prohibition to argue that more harm than good comes from the enactment of laws that are sure to be widely disobeyed.
Note: Some states and localities (called “dry”) had outlawed the production and sale of alcohol before the Prohibition amendment was adopted. The repealing amendment allowed individual states and localities to remain “dry,” and some did for many years.