Hard though it may be to believe, there was a time when alcohol was prohibited and to be in possession of it considered a crime in the United States. However, on the sixteenth of January 1920, this became law. The selling, manufacturing and transportation of intoxicating liquids became illegal and a crime. At the time Prohibition was going to be the golden age, it would create a dry world, free of crime and poverty. Instead it created almost the opposite, America sunk to an all time low, eventually falling into a dark age of organised crime and bootlegging. Yet it wasn't all bad, first came the roaring twenties, people were again enjoying themselves and it seemed everyone was happy.
The Roaring Twenties
During the nineteen twenties the American public were having the time of there lives. Everyone was happy. Despite of the law that banned alcohol, people ignored it; they went on like nothing had happened, if anything the public drank more. Throughout the major cities and towns underground saloons or speakeasies were opening. People would be able to go out, have a drink and enjoy themselves. Often the owners of these speakeasies would provide entertainment and music for their guests. They of course were not worried about being caught by the police, as even in these early years corruption was creeping into the ranks of the police force.
During these times it was difficult to enforce the law, as there were not enough police officers to do so. It didn't help that police were needed to police the police due to the inevitable corruption that officers were being drawn to. Many officers were able to earn more in one night from the owner of a speakeasy to keep them covered, than the police force would pay them for a whole month or sometimes even more. It was possible for owner to do this as they were earning enough money to pay a few police officers a little money, to tern the other way as it were. Many did do their jobs with some honour. In 1925 alone, over one million gallons of liquor and over seven million gallons of beer were confiscated. Although these figures seem a lot, at the time it was likely to only be a fraction of the alcohol that was flowing through the cities and towns all across America.
Two of the most famous Prohibition agents of the time were Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith. These agents from New York were given 20% of all the Prohibition cases that that came to trail in New York City. The crime-fighting duo wrote that they arrested nearly 5,000 people. Their methods though were rather unorthodox, they used methods of disguise to obtain their results, and these were later used in a film.
Despite these two noble officers, the corruption had stretched as far as the White House. Even the president's advisers (whom he had employed to enforce prohibition) were being paid off by one organisation or another, it seemed that corruption was now nation wide and there was little authority could do about it, not that authority would have done then being corrupt themselves. It was almost left alone with only a few noble officers, who stood no chance against the rest of the country.
There were many arguments against Prohibition. The way it increased illegal activity, the control it gave the government over peoples personal lives, how it force some cultures to change or ignore their traditions. But the real problem was the failure of Prohibition to be enforced, it was almost an impossible task to do so, and one unpopular law too many.
Many saw that Bootlegging was happening within their community but were powerless against it, some didn't want to do anything about because of their own person drinking habits, or their fears of what other may do to them if they did. Bootleggers were running wild and at the time were earning more than professional Lawyers in the high courts of America, but once again there was nothing they could do about it.
The Bootleggers though were living the life of luxury; they were earning their fortune from there selling of liquor and beer.
A child reported that he remembered when he was young that his father got into the business of bootlegging, he remembered the reward that it brought his family at the time. One morning he woke up find money on the table and plenty of it. He knew that his father was probably bootlegging, but at the time he never saw his own father as a criminal. This is what he thinks looking back was the crucial aspect of Prohibition and it failure, the people didn't see them as criminals, it was not considered wrong even though it was, they simply accepted it.
The Kings of Bootlegging
The King of Bootlegging and probably the most famously known today, is Al Capone (1899-1947) or Scarface, as he was also known. He was born in Brooklyn, New York he moved to Chicago to serve under Johnny Torrio, boss of Chicago crime. By 1925 Capone was boss, and by the end of the decade, Capone controlled all 10,000 speakeasies in Chicago. He also controlled many politicians including the major of Chicago at the time William Thompson. Some claimed he ran all Bootlegging from Canada to Florida. Capone also fought with rival gangs and always came out victorious, with murder always the true victor. Over 400 gang murders took place in Chicago each year, the most famous of these was on Valentines day in 1919, Capone's men went in dressed as cops, and wiped out seven of the O'Banion gang in a garage. This was known as the Valentines Massacre. Despite of all his criminal exploits, he avoided prosecution thanks to corrupt politicians and police.
At the time Bootlegging was an easy business, the consequences were minimal and the reward great. If a person was caught in possession of alcohol it would be smashed and poured away, he/she would then have to pay a $1,000 fine, or if they could not afford this would serve a six month jail sentence. However the odds were not too bad for the bootleggers, it was thought that for every one bottle found one hundred were getting through.
Some of the major players became millionaires over night; some employed over 3,000 people to meet the demand for alcohol. But when was enough, enough, the president was not strong and other leaders were corrupt, they were powerless to stop the exploits of the typical beer baron.
When was enough, enough?
Prohibition went on, and so to did all the situations that came with it. What would it take to stop a nation now full of crime and illegal activity? Something did stop them, and it was big. This one event and the others that followed it halted the people of America. They were forced to look out at what was happening, more important issues came to light, the people realised what prohibition should have done, and for the first time since it's creation they realised they were in the wrong.
The great depression
The depression was mainly to do with the Wall Street crash; it resulted in extremely high unemployment rates. By 1933 more than 14 million people in the U.S were unemployed, businesses were bankrupt and one single job vacancy could attract thousands desperate applicants.
The people needed a new leader, Hoovers experiments and possible solutions had been miss understood and as president was not helping the people get back to their normal, everyday lives. A new president and leader was needed to guide the people out a depression before the situation became worse than it already was.
FDR and the "New Deal"
Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in 1933. He had entered politics early and worked his way to the top, his career and this area was slowed down dramatically when FDR was diagnosed with polio leaving him slightly paralysed and unable to walk. He received from the worst of his illness and, with the help f his family, walked once again. He was a great president for the people, he was able to give them optimism in times of great hardship, and he reformed the nation and led them out of the depression.
The end of Prohibition
In February 1933, congress proposed the 21st Amendment, which was a repel of Prohibition. Utah was the last state to change the ruling, and the nation ban of alcohol was over. He ended it with a famous quote, "Now would be a good time for a beer!"
It would be hard to say whether prohibition was a good, or a bad law to bring to America. The intention of the people who's idea it was to bring the law to the country, were undoubtedly good. However, as was said earlier it was not the failure of Prohibition itself, it was the failure of it to be enforced. A lesson as people we learn from this, is one which we are familiar with today. If you tell a person not to do something, they are likely to go and think about doing it or going one step closer and actually going through with it. In America it took one persons idea to change the opinions of many other people. Another saying we hear often today is, "if one person leads the rest follow" this is in a way what happened with prohibition. It took one person to think of Bootlegging for example and the rest of the people to go and do it also. As the enforcement of Prohibition continued to weaken the gangs and the bootleggers became more confident, tried new and more dangerous things. Eventually they went too far and it took a national depression to stop them.
In today's society we can see that there is no use for laws, if they are not followed or enforced, Prohibition did neither of these effectively, I my opinion I think this is why Prohibition failed as a national law.