The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution

Amendment XVIII

Section 1.

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2.

The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.


The 18th amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by Congress on 18 December 1917. About thirteen months later, on 16 January 1919, Nebraska signed on as the 36th state approving the amendment, thus ratifying it as law. For the next 14 years, the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol was illegal in the United States.

The calls for prohibition and temperence were nothing new. In fact, Massachusetts already had experience dealing with prohibitory laws. In 1855, a law passed that forbade the sale of all intoxicating liquors (including beer, wine, and cider) as a drink or medicine, except when sold by certain agents of the State. Appeals for a more lenient license law were constant until 1875 when the new Governor Gaston recommended repeal of the law. As it turns out, not everyone was strictly abiding by the law while it was in place, a problem that was endemic during the national prohibition decades later

Here at the MHS, we have documents relating to these issues going back a century before the 18th amendment became law. Much of the material here is in support of prohibition and is pro-temperance. In some cases, women involved in the suffrage movement tried to combine forces with the temperance movement, encouraging suffrage so that the temperance movement could have more votes. Francis Parkman, a temperance advocate, disagreed with the strategy:


However, among all the 19th century voices condemning the consumption of alcohol, there were still those opposed to full prohibition, even some that were members of the clergy:


After just a few years, there were claims that Prohibition and the 18th amendment were already failing. One such example comes from Joseph Curtis who wrote a pamphlet simply titled Prohibition is a Failure in 1924. Prompted by an article stating that stricter enforcement of the law was soon to come (embodied in the Volstead Act), Curtis recounts reading a statement by Dr. C.W. Eliot calling for such enhanced enforcement and how he felt that his "life, liberty and happiness, and that of every other american citizen was going to be imperiled if Dr. Eliot's views should prevail. For without liberty and happiness, life isn't worth living..." 

To find out what else the MHS has regarding temperance and prohibition, try searching the terms in our online catalog, ABIGAIL. Then raise a glass to the liberty and happiness of Mr. Curtis which make life worth living!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 January, 2015, 4:17 PM

Learning the Ropes: High School Students Research at MHS

As our teaching collegues head into the second half of the school year, I paused to reflect back on all the Education Department accomplished this fall. In doing so, I realized that November was a busy month for student workshops at the Society. Two programs in particular highlight the ways in which education and library staff members collaborate to make our collections accessible to audiences beyond academics. On November 10, students from Needham High School returned to the MHS for a program on the coming of the American Revolution in Boston. They analyzed propaganda from the 1760s and the 1770s, including this entertaining newspaper article encouraging colonists to boycott goods imported from Britain. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of Needham teachers and MHS staff, students were able to search for and request specific items to view during their visit. For many students, this was their first opportunity to examine original manuscripts and rare printed materials in a research library setting! 

On November 19, we welcomed students from Concord Academy. This excited group of young researchers examined documents related to slavery, abolition, and the African Americans in the Civil War in order to help select topics for an upcoming project. Students then discussed the messages promoted in abolitionist propaganda such as these cotton banners from the 1840s, and considered the role that African Americans like the men of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment  played in securing an end to slavery. Since these students were just beginning their research efforts, they also took a tour of the library and learned more about specific research tools like ABIGAIL and our collections guides.

If you would like to learn more about field trip opportunities for K-12 classes, please contact our education department!



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 15 January, 2015, 8:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is the return of the seminars this week at the MHS. Up first, on Tuesday, 13 January, from the Environmental History series is "The Rise and Fall of the Texas Longhorn." This talk, given by Joshua Specht of Harvard University, explores the crossroads of economics and biology in the evolution of the cattle ranching industry. Comment provided by Beth LaDow, author of The Medicine Line: Life and Death on a North American Borderland. The talk begins at 5:15PM. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

On Wednesday, 14 January, stop by at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk given by Kate Culkin of Bronx Community College, CUNY. "The Emerson Sisters' Correspondence: A Record of Daily Life in the Emerson Home and Nineteenth-Century Concord" explores the changing world of the nineteenth century through the correspondence of two daughters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. This event is free and open to the public. 

Another seminar takes place on Thursday, 15 January, this time from the Biography series. The panel, moderated by Caroly Bundy, will discuss "Biography, the Visual Artist, and the Story Behind Public Art." This seminar begins at 5:30PM. Please RSVPSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Finally, once again there is a free tour taking place on Saturday, 17 January, at 10:00AM. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led tour through the public spaces of the Society's home at 1154 Boylston Street. The tour is open to the public at no charge. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 13 January, 2015, 8:25 AM

Homegrown Gifts: George Washington’s Locks

Our exhibition Father of His Country Returns to Boston closes today as the holiday season wraps up. The exhibition commemorates the 225th anniversary of President George Washington’s month-long tour of New England in October 1789. One of the most interesting items on display as part of this exhibition is a lock of hair that George Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton worked closely with Washington throughout the American Revolution and their political careers. Hamilton was born the second illegitimate child of James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett Lavien on 11 January 1755 or 1757 in Charlestown on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. He worked as a clerk until he traveled to the British North American colonies for education. In New York, Hamilton became increasingly involved in the rumblings of Revolution during his studies at King’s College before responding to a call for recruits in 1776. Washington appointed Hamilton to the position of aide-de-camp at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on 1 March 1777. Washington mentored Hamilton as he did with all his aides-de-camp until a parting of ways in February 1781 when Hamilton resigned from Washington’s staff position over insult. However, their working relationship did not end there. Washington later appointed Hamilton as first Secretary of the Treasury in  September 1789 just before the President’s tour of New England commenced in October.  The circumstances surrounding the gift of Washington’s hair to Hamilton however remain undocumented.

The practice of gifting hair seems particularly strange to the 21st century observer. Nowadays people share photographs of themselves and their families in holiday cards or digitally through social media. Portraiture remained the primary way individuals shared images of themselves prior to the invention of the daguerreotype by Louis Daguerre in the late 1830s. But the gift of hair also held considerable value. Hair was often woven and incorporated into rings, bracelets, and other jewelry throughout the 18th century. Lovers, friends, and family often exchanged locks of hair as mementos.   Vestiges of hair traditions remain even today when parents save locks of their children’s hair.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has not just one but two separate locks of hair that George Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton. Mrs. Charles Mason donated the first singular lock to the Society on 11 May 1876. The second lock of Washington’s hair is framed together with a lock of Hamilton’s own hair. The son of Alexander Hamilton, James A. Hamilton of Nevis, gave these locks to Eliza Andrew, wife of Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew, on 27 October 1865. The Society later received the locks from Andrew’s children, Edith and Henry Hersey Andrew in December 1920.

The text of the frame states:

“The above is the hair of my Father
Alexander Hamilton, presented
by me to Mrs. Andrew
Octo. 27 1865
James A. Hamilton”

“The above is the Hair of “The Father
of his Country” Geo. Washington pre=
sent to his friend Mrs Andrew by
James A. Hamilton
Oct 27 1865”

Marble bust of Alexander Hamilton by Giuseppe Ceracchi, 1794

Their working relationship tempered by respect endured any snarls. Washington’s death on 11 December 1799 came as a great loss not only to the country he fathered but also to his former mentee. In a letter to Washington’s personal secretary Tobias Lear on 2 January 1800, Hamilton wrote, “Perhaps no man in this community has equal cause with myself to deplore the loss. I have been much indebted to the kindness of the General, and he was an Aegis very essential to me.”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 9 January, 2015, 1:00 AM

Hacking John Adams

At the end of 2014, the hack into Sony Pictures and the subsequent publication of the private communications of Sony employees drew massive public interest. While many decried the methods, and resentful of foreign meddling, many people were still deeply interested in the revelations about the executives’ opinions on various celebrities.

John Adams faced a “hack” of his own in the summer of 1775 when private letters he had written to his wife, Abigail Adams, and to his friend James Warren were intercepted by the British and subsequently published in Boston and London. Adams, participating in the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, was growing increasingly frustrated at the reluctance of some of the members to take strong measures of resistance against Great Britain and took to his letters to vent his frustration, in particular against John Dickinson, a member from Pennsylvania who believed that even with hostilities ongoing, reconciliation with Great Britain was still possible and should be pursued. John Adams fed up with this, vented to Warren: “In Confidence,—I am determined to write freely to you this Time. —A certain great Fortune and piddling Genius whose Fame has been trumpeted so loudly, has given a silly Cast to our whole Doings—We are between Hawk and Buzzard.” To Abigail he alluded to his fellow congressmen: “I wish I had given you a compleat History from the Beginning to the End of the Journey, of the Behaviour of my Compatriots.——No Mortal Tale could equal it.——I will tell you in Future, but you shall keep it secret.——The Fidgets, the Whims, the Caprice, the Vanity, the Superstition, the Irritability of some of us, is enough to——” and there broke it off.

Entrusting these private thoughts to Benjamin Hichborn, a young lawyer, making his way back to Boston, Adams had no idea that he had just penned words that would bring him more fame than anything he had written to that point. While at a ferry crossing in Rhode Island, a British naval vessel captured the ferry and took possession of the letters Hichborn carried. Unsurprisingly they found the contents very interesting. The British officers made several copies, some of which were sent off to London, and the letters were also quickly printed in the Massachusetts Gazette and other Boston papers, trying to create division within the patriot cause.

The breach deepened the rift between Adams and Dickinson and occasioned a great deal of gossip on both sides of the Atlantic; however it had no long term effect on John Adams’ reputation in the Congress, continuing to be an influential member, nor did it influence British policy. Still, just as many were fascinated to know what executives really thought about Angelina Jolie, there were many Americans in 1775 fascinated to hear such candid opinions about congressional members.

To read more about the incident and the subsequent reaction see the complete coverage.

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 7 January, 2015, 1:00 AM

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