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Thank you, Utah

The last night of class each year in The Legal Genealogist‘s appellate advocacy class is a tough one.

The students spend the semester working on one mock appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court from a criminal trial, writing a brief and preparing to do oral arguments in front of panels of real judges and experienced appellate lawyers.

Half the students represent the defendant, and half represent the state, and they all struggle learning new skills. They’ve all done some legal writing, they’ve all done some practice legal arguments.

But the one thing most of them have never done is see a full blown appeals court-style oral argument on which they might model their own.

So, every year, the last night of class, I argue the case they’re about to have to argue. Both sides. Defense, then State. One right after the other.

It’s fun.

It’s exhilarating.

It’s exhausting.

And but for Utah, 79 years ago, the usual end-of-semester-I’m-so-tired ritual might not be possible. Because that ritual involves something more than slightly alcoholic in nature, and it was exactly 79 years ago yesterday that Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment that ended Prohibition.1

Prohibition began on 17 January 1920, one year after the 18th amendment calling for the ban on “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States” was ratified by the states.2

That amendment had passed Congress in December 1917, and was ratified when, on a single day — 16 January 1919, it was approved by North Carolina, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and — fittingly — Utah. Utah was only the 35th state to vote to enact the amendment; the state that put it over the top was Nebraska.3

From a genealogist’s standpoint, the 18th amendment was a marvel. An absolute explosion of criminal cases flooded the courts, 1500 new enforcement agents were hired by the federal government, and records were created everywhere. In my own family, I’ve found prison records of at least four cousins in Alabama for bootlegging4 and I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Just as one example, the National Archives has a set of records called Identification Card Files of Prohibition Agents, compiled 1920 – 1925, documenting the period 1919 – 1925.5 If you need more, NARA also has a whole set of records about official corruption — payoffs from bootleggers to police and local officials — in the Seattle Washington area.6

And if that’s not enough, think of the possible local records you might find. The Denver Public Library has a scrapbook on the career of James W. Melrose, a Colorado State Prohibition Agent, kept by his daughter.7 The Western Reserve Historical Society in Ohio has records of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Lake County, Ohio.8 The Library of Virginia has an entire set of records from the Virginia Prohibition Commission, set up by statute in 1916 to “the sale and use of ardent spirits.” 9

So there’s a lot to be grateful for, as a genealogist, when thinking about Prohibition.

But last night, one very weary and very grateful Legal Genealogist raised a glass to Utah, and its vote 79 years earlier, on 5 December 1933, to ratify the 21st amendment: “The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”

Thank you, Utah.


  1. Amendment 21, United States Constitution.
  2. Amendment 18, United States Constitution.
  3. Wikipedia (, “Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” rev. 5 Dec 2012.
  4. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Consequences of crime,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 Mar 2012 ( : accessed 5 Dec 2012). In addition to Quitman and Ross Battles, Jeff and McKinley Battles also spent time in the same prison system for the same offenses.
  5. Identification Card Files of Prohibition Agents, compiled 1920 – 1925, documenting the period 1919 – 1925; Records of the Internal Revenue Service, 1791-2006; Record Group 58; National Archives II, Washington, D.C.
  6. Seattle Conspiracy (Olmstead) Investigation, 1931 – 1935; Investigative Case Files, compiled 1924 – 1933; General Records of the Department of the Treasury, 1775 – 2005; Record Group 56; National Archives, Seattle.
  7. A. Brown, “Prohibition in Colorado,” Western History & Genealogy Blog ( : accessed 5 Dec 2012).
  8. Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records, 1916-1924; Western Reserve Historical Society; Cleveland, Ohio.
  9. Virginia Prohibition Commission Records, 1916-1934, Accession No. 42740; State Records Collection; Library of Virginia, Richmond.
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