Massachusetts Drinking Age History

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  • 0:03 The Drinking Age
  • 0:51 Massachusetts Through…
  • 2:10 The Drinking Age After…
  • 2:47 The Drinking Age Since…
  • 3:51 Drinking in…
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The minimum drinking age has been a topic of debate throughout history, but what this means changes from state to state. In this lesson, we'll look at the history of the drinking age in the state of Massachusetts.

The Drinking Age

There are some things that American society will probably never fully agree on. Is Manhattan really the center of the known universe? Is barbeque better in Texas or Georgia? Which state is really the sunniest place in the country? Here's one for you: what should be the legal drinking age? Considering that for the first full century of this country's existence people were very concerned about the federal government telling them what to do and that they were pretty fond of alcohol, this has been a tricky question for a long time. Over the last 200-some odd years of America's history, every state has handled this a little bit differently. For Massachusetts, it's been a question of supporting the government or supporting Massachusettsians. Are these two goals mutually exclusive? Let's find out.

Massachusetts Through Prohibition

As one of the original 13 colonies, Massachusetts has had to deal with the question of alcohol for as long as any state in the modern United States. For a long time, there was no federal drinking age because people didn't want the federal government telling them what to do. However, there was also very little push for any sort of alcohol control because booze was important to early Americans. It was a central part of many celebrations and traditions, and home-brewing and distilling were deeply respected traditions amongst many families. This began to change in the mid 1800s as new moral values swept over society, and alcohol was targeted as a moral vice.

Temperance movements, or those movements pushing to abolish alcohol, spread. It's worth noting that these were still movements trying to create change within the states, not at the federal level. Massachusetts had several temperance societies and advocacy groups and even passed its own voluntary prohibition laws on a state level, not all of which were successful. The movement grew and grew, until finally Congress passed the 18th Amendment in 1917, banning the production and sale of alcohol, thus kicking off a nation-wide era of Prohibition. Massachusetts was the 11th state to ratify the amendment, which it did in April of 1918. Prohibition went into effect in 1920.

The Drinking Age After Prohibition

For the next 13 years, there was no drinking age anywhere because no one was supposed to be creating or buying alcohol anyway. However, prohibition was unpopular and was repealed in 1933 via the 21st Amendment as a way to ease up the hardships of the Great Depression. This gave every state the right to mandate its own alcohol consumption laws, and for the first time, it became the widespread practice to establish a minimum drinking age at the state level. Massachusetts, like most other states, elected to set the minimum legal drinking age at 21. Why? Because in 1933, 21 was the legal voting age.

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