Prohibition

Sample essay topic, essay writing: Prohibition - 1133 words

This Paper by Joshua Smith The 1920's were a time of major social change in the United States. The social changes during this period were reflected in the laws and regulations that were brought into play at this time. One of the most prominent examples of this was prohibition. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, also known as the Volsted Act, which got it's name from it's sponsor, Representative Andrew Volsted of Minnesota, was created to eliminate the use of alcohol in the United States. In doing this, the followers of prohibition hoped to end the social problems associated with alcohol such as domestic abuse.

"It was an attempt to promote Protestant middle-class culture as a means of imposing order on a disorderly world"(Dumenil 226). However, this goal of keeping peace by not consuming alcohol, was not reached during the years of prohibition, or even the years following it. Alcohol consumed among Americans did decline, but it was not totally eliminated as hoped to be, and some of the social problems seemed to be even greater then before prohibition was in effect. Therefore prohibition was not successful in its original purpose. To better understand the reasons behind the failure of prohibition, one must have to look at the years before, during, and after prohibition

This will give a better understanding to the implementation of the 18th Amendment, as well as show the trends of Americans' alcohol use and the effects of alcohol on American society. The early 1900's were a time of great prosperity in the United States. America was thriving economically, and big cities were booming. However, some Americans thought that this was not a good thing, because of the social problems that came with the urban culture. The "Dry's", as Prohibitionists were referred to, saw large cities as providing people with readily available alcohol. This in turn led to an increase in crime, poverty and immorality. During the period of 1911-1915 the average per-capita consumption of alcohol of each American was 2.56 gallons (Kyvig 24).

The only solution that was proposed was a national prohibition of alcohol. The goal of this was to eliminate drinking in America, which would result in reducing all of the problems associated with it. "The Prohibitionists thought that the sale of liquor was a social crime, that the drinking of liquor was a racial crime, and that the results of liquor were criminal actions"(Sinclair 220). By making alcohol illegal nationally, such as it would be with prohibition, the social problems of America would be fixed. On January 16, 1920 alcohol became illegal with the passing of the 18th Amendment.

Under the Volsted Act, named after its author, the importing, exporting, transporting, and manufacturing of all intoxicating substances was outlawed. The government defined intoxicating liquor as anything having an alcoholic content of more then.5%. However this excluded alcohol used in religious or medical purposes. With the passing of this Amendment, the temperance movement in the United States had won a major victory. They saw the implementation of prohibition as the key to freeing America from the fiery vices of alcohol. So began the prohibition era. At the onset of prohibition, alcohol use in the United States did decline.

"It did cut alcohol consumption, perhaps by as much as thirty percent, and was more effective in the early years (1919-1922)" (Dumenil 233). However, this reduction in consumption was not permanent or even long lasting. "Seldom has a law been more flagrantly violated. Not only did Americans continue to manufacture, barter, and possess alcohol; they drank more of it"(Bowen 154). One of the reasons for this was because prohibition was so hard to enforce.

This was partly due to the poor wording of the Amendment. The 18th Amendment prohibited the sale, import, export, manufacture, and transport of alcohol, but it failed to specifically make purchasing alcohol or its use a crime. According to David E. Kyvig, "This allowed continued possession of intoxicants obtained prior to prohibition, provided that such beverages were only for personal use in one's own home". This loophole in the Amendment was not on the side of the Prohibitionists, and ultimately led to a decline in prohibition's effectiveness. Another reason that the decline in alcohol sale and usage was not permanent was its increased profitability. After the implementation of prohibition, the price of alcohol went up dramatically.

During prohibition, the price of beer went up 600%, and the price of gin went up 520%. (Kyvig.25). This made the sale of illegal spirits more profitable to bootleggers. The alcohol trade was a very lucrative practice. Bootleggers smuggled alcohol in to the country and sold it at tremendous profits. Therefore, because alcohol was more profitable to sell during prohibition, it was more widely consumed.

The levels of consumption never reached those of pre-prohibition times, but alcohol use in the United States was not totally eliminated. "National prohibition substantially reduced, but did not altogether eliminate, the use of alcoholic beverages"(Kyvig 22). The huge public demand for alcohol led to a soaring business for bootleggers. When prohibition began, people immediately wanted a way to drink. Hence, the extremely profitable bootlegging business was born. Before Prohibition gangs existed, but had little influence. Now, they had gained tremendous power almost overnight. Bootlegging was easy - New York City gangs paid hundreds of poor immigrants to maintain stills in their apartments.

Common citizens, once law abiding, now became criminals by making their own alcohol. However, this posed risks for those who made their own. The rich managed to continue drinking good liquor while less-affluent Americans often consumed homemade alcoholic beverages, which were sometimes made with poisonous wood alcohol. Do to this, many died due to alcohol poisoning. There was very little enforcement to the law, since the government employed few prohibition agents, most of whom could be bribed by the bootleggers. Those in favor of prohibition 'became increasingly dismayed with the efforts of the government to enforce the law.' (Fisher 133) In 1920, the government had fewer than 1,600 low-paid, ill-trained Prohibition agents for the entire country. Speakeasies, who got their name because a password had to be spoken through the door to get in, popped up all over the country. The number of speakeasies in New York was somewhere in the hundreds or even thousands.

It was easy enough for police to close and padlock individual speakeasies, but there were so many it was impossible to keep them shut down. Even with prohibition in effect, the demand for alcohol never gave it a chance to work. One of the biggest gangsters of all time got his name achieved his fame during the times of prohibition. Al Capone used prohibition to build one of the biggest crime empires in United States history. He started as a member of John Torrio's gang in Chicago.

Torrio was a notorious gangster and bootlegger, and af ...

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