The 1970’s were a curious time for the National minimum drinking age. Throughout a large part of the 20th century, in times other than the Prohibition era, the drinking age was firm, at age 21, across the country. In 1970, however, a total of 29 states in the country lowered their minimum legal drinking age from 21 to 18 or 19. Perhaps the main reason behind the lowering of the age in the 1970’s was the similar change in the minimum voting age with the passing of the 26th amendment in 1971. The minimum voting age was an important topic at the time, as the justness of the Vietnam War came into question. As many young Americans began to be drafted into the armed forces, as the draft age was 18, a huge amount of backlash rang throughout the country. Student activists began to take charge, protesting the war on campuses and city streets across America, as they were informed of the brutality of the Vietnam War. The New Left and SDS were important figures backing the anti-war movements, as these groups tended to focus more on cultural change than many groups before them, which led to more equal representation of the younger generations and pushed cultural ideals through government action.
The image above shows students protesting for their right to vote, which was an eventually successful move. Many of these young activists saw the window of opportunity gained by the steam of the lowered voting age to extend these rights to also lower the minimum drinking age. These students made the argument that if they were old enough to join the armed forces and now vote, they might as well be able to legally purchase and consume alcohol. After 1974, when the voting age was officially 18 in all 50 states, 29 states had lowered the drinking age to 18 or 19. This change would not last long, however, as “in the mid-1970s, studies emerged showing significant increases in the rate of young drivers’ involvement in traffic accidents.” (DeWitt) One major concern was that many of the accidents were occurring because these newly legal teens would drive to states where the age was lower, wrecking on the way back to their home states. The New Left had successfully worked through protests to pass the 26th amendment, to gain more representation as a result of the Vietnam War, which also led to the short-lived lowering of the legal drinking age.
Ed. Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003. p215-220. COPYRIGHT 2003 Macmillan Reference USA, COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale
Randall, Eric. History For Free. LOWERING THE VOTING AGE AND THE 26TH AMENDMENT. 07.08.2013. Historyforfree.org. Web. Accesses 4.6.2015