Somebody needs to write a book about liquor laws.

Liquor laws are what I call real history, not about Historical Inevitability or The Conspiracy, but about real compromises that are so human they are funny.

But never forget that every law on alcohol represents a compromise that was life and death to real, live, active people.

We know that the Eighteenth Amendment, enforced by the Volstead Act, established prohibition. The twenty-first amendment repealed the eighteenth.


In order to get the necessary two-thirds majority in congress for repealing Prohibition, a compromise was required. The twenty first amendment did repeal national prohibition, but it also included a clause almost no one today is really aware of, but which is still active.

National Prohibition was repealed, but local prohibition was specifically sanctioned.

It is specifically stated that, when it comes to alcoholic beverages, state law is sovereign over national law.

I used to ride in trains where this reservation made things VERY confusing. You are going along at sixty miles per hour and the Club Car is open or closed every few minutes or every few hours.

It was interstate transportation, where in all other things the Feds have always been sovereign, but a guy well on his way to a good drunk had the glass snatched out of his hand because they were passing through a dry county.

State law.

On absolutely nothing else could state law override Federal law by declaring COUNTY law to take precedence over FEDERAL law.

Except for that clause on that amendment.

This made for a lot of confusion in the days of propeller aircraft.

Today it is still legally true that serving a drink on board a jet aircraft flying over a dry country is illegal.

And, in fact, if a real person in a real dry county pressed it in court, he would win.

NEVER SAY "ANTI"!!!Liquor Law

One or more of you could break into the publishing biz by writing a book on liquor law.

They are a human comedy.

Because the twenty first amendment repealing Prohibition specifically put the control of alcoholic beverages into state hands, every state was thrown into a major battle.

In South Carolina, each liquor store has a red dot somewhere on its front.

In 1940, South Carolina legalized liquor stores, over enormous opposition. Since each state has absolutely no restrictions on its liquor law, every aspect of the law must be passed by compromise with hard shell Baptists and screaming Methodists who, at the time, made up over ninety percent of the state's population.

So one compromise was that, though liquor stores could exist, they could not advertise.

One Prohibitionist took that to court before the law took effect and obtained a court ruling that that provision prohibited the liquor store having a sign that said "Liquor Store."

As a result of that one person's initiative, none of the new liquor stored could say they sold liquor.

So one new store owner had an idea. He proposed to all the other new store owners that they paint their stores a bright, eye-hurting orange with large red dots on it. Twenty years later it looked like someone on LSD had made it up.

When South Carolina liquor stores opened in 1940 there was no way anyone could fail to know what they were. Eye-hurting orange with three-foot-across red spots became the signal of every such business in the state.

"Sign?" We don't need no steenking SIGN!"

And even today every single liquor store in the state has at least a couple of red dots.

In fact, thinking about it, I don't remember what the sign at the local liquor store actually says.

Liquor Law Again

I was in Mississippi many years ago, and stopped at a liquor store.

Mississippi was a dry state.

But as I said, the twenty-first amendment's blanket declaration that state law is sovereign over Federal law puts terms like "dry state" into the Twilight Zone.

Mississippi law was straight Prohibition. It was officially listed as a dry state.

But who could ENFORCE that law? Mississippi declared that only county authorities could enforce state-wide Prohibition. So if you elected a sheriff who chose not to enforce the law, it could be a very wet county indeed.

Please note that I am not kidding you here.

The only problem with leaving enforcement to the local sheriff was that the state wanted the huge source of revenue represented by the liquor tax.

Once again, I kid you not the slightest: instead of a liquor tax, the state imposed a "Black Market Tax."

When someone sold something, not specifying what it might be, in violation of state law, but state authorities were prohibited from preventing its sale, a tax must be paid to the state on this Black Market Item, whatever it may be.

And if the tax was not paid, the state could enforce it. There was a Black Market Commission for that.

Today the micro breweries for beer are a big thing. Every one of them is gigantic compared to some of the liquor sellers I saw in Mississippi. One half-pint bottle of clear liquid I found in a store had a white label stuck on it with the words, in ink, ".... Smith, Route 3, Hattiesburg, Mississippi."

It had the Federal and Black Market Commission stamps on it, and was as legal as Budweiser.

Some counties were dry. Some were as wet as New Orleans. All in a state which officially had no change in its law since the Coolidge Administration.

A doctor acquaintance of mine had a girl friend from New Orleans. She had lived there all her life. One day when she was visiting him in North Carolina they went to a liquor store.

She had never seen a liquor store before in her entire life.

In New Orleans you bought liquor off the shelf, the same way you bought Campbell's Soup, Every Seven-Eleven had liquor on the shelf.

She had trouble with the concept of a liquor store the way you might have a problem with someone taking you to a Mustard Store.