How alcohol made FDR a legend

A perplexing question to some of us born long after Franklin Roosevelt’s reign as president ended is how a man who enlarged the powers of the federal government beyond anything even considered previously, built up labor unions, slowed long-term economic growth and weakened business was able to acquire such a cult of personality?

Author Mark Thornton says the answer is simple, if counterintuitive to many today: “In (Roosevelt’s) first 30 days, he did more to bring liberty to Americans than any president since Thomas Jefferson repealed the Alien and Sedition Acts.”

Inaugurated on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt dealt with the banking crisis and the budget during his first week on the job.

Then, on March 13, he called on Congress to repeal Prohibition and 1o days later signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized the sale in the United States of beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent.

He embraced Cullen-Harrison with gusto, Thornton writes:

He wasted no time: he signed it one day after Congress passed it. He said with great élan, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

Only then, on March 16, did FDR begin to work on his New Deal agenda. Then he had the wind at his back. It was a dramatic beginning to the end of one of the greatest legal calamities in American history: the hated Prohibition embodied in the 18th Amendment, which had been in effect for 13 violent years.

Later that year, with the full support of the presidency, a new amendment to the Constitution repealed the old one. December 5, 1933, was the day of final liberation, following nine months of frenzy and excitement. FDR successfully claimed credit for this, achieving a reputation as a great liberator. His popularity reached astounding heights. The glow never left.

In other words, once FDR gave Americans back the legal right to get liquored up, it didn’t matter what else he did; he was going to be sitting pretty.

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