The people had suffered this act were brought to a conclusion, but with
the thought of reality of Prohibition in practice the charm was undone, and the
law appeared in its true aspect a monstrous reversion to the bogies of our
National Prohibition, brought about by the Eighteenth Amendment and
enforced through the Volstead Act, lasted for over ten years. Besides a
growing lack of public support for both Prohibition and temperance itself, the
outlaw of alcohol continued throughout the United Statesat least in the law
books. In practice, however, National Prohibition was much less effective
than temperance and Prohibition leaders had hoped, in the end causing more
problems than it solved. Once started, Prohibition led to the rise in crime
during the twenties, the public health problems associated with bootleg liquor
and alcohol substitutes, the problems between religious, racial, and the
political rise in response to its presence.
Prohibition did enjoy some success.
History revealed that alcohol
drinking did drop after the National Prohibition and the Volstead Act. This
lower on a national level was not all that much to the effect of recent
problems in specific areas or communities. Also, after this drop alcohol
drinking continued to rise through Prohibition to the point where it was
thought drinking would actually pass pre-Prohibition levels. The same was
true of alcohol related diseases while lowering, alcoholism and
alcohol-related illness climbed to new heights, all while Prohibition was still
in effect (Thornton, "Failure" 70-71). The initial ideas of Prohibition was
Crime was a problem during Prohibition. Since demand does not generally
lower or at least not greatly alcohol continued to be traded even though laws
exist to stop those kind of problems. The black market increased the crime
rate related to the making and selling of alcohol. "Prohibition creates new
profit opportunities for both criminals and non-criminals," especially for those
previously involved in criminal activities (Thornton, "Failure" 116-117).
During National Prohibition in the 1920's and early 1930'scrime rate
continued to raise as less and less people were willing to quit drinking or to
respect the ideas of prohibition, as shown by the raise in fines given for
Prohibition violations through its time. Crime quickly became "organized" for
the first time, running activities contrary to Prohibition on a never before seen
scale (Thornton, "Failure" 70). In fact, by the end of Prohibition, speakeasies
had actually outnumbered the saloons of pre-Prohibition years, spreading the
influence of alcohol over a much wider range (Thornton, "Failure" 72).Alcohol prices rose greatly due to the troubles of making and selling a
prohibited substance especially among the working classes, to steal alcohol
or to steal other things which could then be sold to pay for alcohol.
Prohibition was first meant to stop the abuses thought to be from
alcohol, main problem was crime. As more and more people began to ignore
Prohibition, new criminal activity associated with alcohol began to start.
response the effort to enforce the Act rose through the twenties and thirties.
Prisons filled to full and beyond most money was spent on enforcement. It's
not surprising then that crime dropped very quickly after the repeal of
While meant to limit the problems connected to the influence of alcohol
industries Prohibition also raised the number of kurupt government officials.The rise of criminal activity in the form of organized crime, speakeasies, and
bootlegging created yet another need to bribe government officials, as the
black market still remained active and profitable (Thornton, Economics 112).
To keep the profits leaders of the illegal alcohol trade needed to keep costs
low to avoid criminal penalties. Bribes became common. Most of New York
City police officers were accepting bribes, bootlegging, drinking, or
gambling themselves, some doing all. The Anti-Saloon League itself said that
they had spent over fifty million dollars on their Prohibition efforts was
accused of using money to keep government officials in support of
Eliminating or at least controlling crime and kuruption was proven
impossible for Prohibition leaders.
Not one person actually had a good plan
for stopping the flow of alcohol into the United States,it would need making
both a naval blockade of the coasts and a patrol of both borders on each side
Not many wanted to pay the high costs of a good police force to stop the
making of alcohol both would be needed to stop the trade of alcohol.Stopping the flow from other countries and the production of alcohol.The
Prohibition Bureau, initially controlled through the Treasury Department,
lacked the budget necessary for proper enforcement (Clark). This large effort
which would have been needed to keep Prohibition in affect was not very
Besides the crime and kuruption brought by Prohibition, the United
States also had many serious health problems involving bootleg liquor and
Because a substance which is considered illegal cannot
even exist in the eyes of government, lest the government be admitting that
the prohibition of that substance is a failure, a prohibited substance is no
longer subject to government regulations (Thornton, "Failure" 71). In the case
of alcohol during Prohibition, those laws which had been placed on the
production and sale of alcohol in the pre-Prohibition time laws which had
been accepted by most of the people no longer stopped the production of
alcohol in the United States. Since few people were willing to accept the
prohibition of alcohol makers of illegal alcohol were free to make even the
most harmful of substances. Bootleg liquor became more stronger and more
dangerous Jackass Brandy caused internal bleeding and Panther Whiskey had
a fuel oil base.
Prohibition also made transporting easier, less strong forms of alcohol
more dangerous and difficult. Beer which had not been widely abused in
pre-Prohibition years, was to much than the more stronger, more compact
While beer drinking lowered through Prohibition drinking of
hard liquor rose because it was the less expensive alcohol. As shipping
alcohol became more difficult and prices rose, some turned to other things
such as marijuana and heroine, as a substitute for alcohol . It's not surprising
that drug and alcohol related illnesses and deaths rose greatly during
Prohibition also aggravated certain preexisting tensions among various
social and cultural groups.
For example, when blacks in Tennessee voted
against Prohibition, white temperance leaders saw them as an obstacle and
decided to favor their disenfranchisement. Playing up the "danger of Negro
violence," these white wets sought to put down black political forces in order
to secure passage of their Amendment. Yet there was also an equal number of
anti-black wets at the time. And while Prohibitionists claimed the law was
never designed to oppress blacks but rather to aid the lower class situation by
removing the corrupting forces of alcohol, Prohibition did contribute to these
racial tensions in the end (Isaac 266).
The largest social conflict over Prohibition occurred with the working
classes and labor unions: central to the support of Prohibition was the idea
that alcohol and alcoholism caused working class poverty.
Labor unions, on
the other hand, tended to think the reversethat alcoholism was a result of
working class poverty. Instead of eliminating alcohol in the hope that it would
improve the conditions of the working, labor forces hoped to improve
working conditions and worker standing to eliminate the "need" for alcohol
(Drescher 36). In addition, labor forces were concerned about the effect of
closing saloons on working class morale, as saloons had been centers of
community for the lower classes. Similarly, labor leaders were upset about
the loss of jobs caused by the closing of the alcohol industry (Drescher 37).To them, the intrusion of Prohibition forces felt more like a threat to union
solidarity than an offer of assistance (Drescher 35)Prohibition seemed little
more than class legislation attempting to once again subvert the working
classes. Needless to say, labor's opposition to Prohibition, although most
likely in the best interests of the worker, did not help labor's image among the
middle and upper classes (Drescher 38).
During the twenties people started in a new era in American history, as
vehicles, mass-media, and mass production gave many a new sense of
individual existence, ready to be protected whether from a previous
generation or a government power. Many believed that Prohibition limited
"the franchise of American liberty" personal and individual freedom and that
it developed only as "a giving play to that ineradicable passion for regulating
and controlling and tyrannizing over the livers of others". While not opposed
necessarily to temperance itself, these anti-Prohibitionists fought against
government enforcement of a moral decision (Monahan 155-157). To them,
Prohibition was, in effect, legal coercionimposing the morals of the
majority on the individual, disregarding his personal freedom (Murphy 68-69)
and punishing those who practiced "wise indulgence" (Monahan 84) by
"inhibiting the natural or harmless appetites" (Monahan 90). Thus, the
Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act seemed little more than another
government attempt to intrude upon the lives of ordinary citizens.
Prohibition did start its share of problems even politically. Many
understood that a moral crusade had to be disruptive to political systems.Prohibitionists, almost by definition, hated politics and compromise, feeling
that any such settlement meant sacrifices of a part or more of any one of their
goals. Thus, many refused to be anything but absolute, and few could find a
Most of the period from 1920 to 1933 saw the Democrats and
Republicans either fighting over the Prohibition issue or attempting to ignore
it. No amendment to the Constitution had ever been repealed, and many were
not even sure if such a thing was possible (Kyvig 137).
And conflict did not
occur exclusively between the two parties, but also within them, and wet and
dry Republicans and Democrats battled over their stand on the issue, swaying
each party back and forth, for and against Prohibition (Kyvig 137). The
Democrats, for instance, tried to gain support in both the anti-Prohibition
urban centers and the pro-Prohibition rural areas (Eaggles 533) effectively
splitting the Democratic party to the point of near collapse in 1928 ("Volstead
Act"). Roosevelt himself waffled on the issue while senator, following with
the tide of political forcesas New York ran strongly for Prohibition, so did
he, and as they changed their minds, he did so too (Kyvig 147). Few who
depended on party support could afford to do anything but the same for fear
of upsetting or alienating half of more of the party.
Local politics also played a role in the Prohibition's effectiveness, or
Local officials were often against Prohibition and refused to enforce it
(Isaac 267): Too many officials were weak, corrupt, or at least not dedicated
to the enforcement of Prohibition. (Isaac 267) As in the case of the New York
City policemen, enforcing Prohibition meant bring charges upon themselves
(Thornton, Economics 133). And policemen were no different than the
general populationas general support for Prohibition faded, so too did the
willingness of the police force to enforce it.
The rise of wet organizations and influence equally led to the repeal of
Prohibition. The increase in media support for anti-Prohibitionist sentiment,
for instance, came in the form of colorful stories of speakeasies and
bootlegging in well-know papers and magazines such as the Chicago Tribune
and World (Sinclair 335). The formation of the Association Against the
Prohibition Amendment (AAPA) successfully turned the away wealthy
support from Prohibition by focusing on the economic benefits of Prohibition
repeal (Sinclair 338) the Act had removed a significant source of government
income previously provided by liquor taxes and alcohol regulations while
simultaneously increasing government spending (Thornton, "Failure" 70),
many hoped repealing Prohibition would give the wealthy some sort of relief
from heavy taxes (Sinclair 338) and restore a number of desperately needed
The end of Prohibition, Prohibitionists were loosing interest in
supporting their reason. According to Joseph Kett, the Great Depression
killed Prohibition, creating a distraction from Prohibition's moral crusade. As
the Depression set in, the economy of the nation became the first concern,
and few wanted to continue to spend large amounts of money on enforcing
the Volstead Act. Alcohol provided an effective and well-welcomed form of
escapism from the harsh conditions the Depression brought. By 1930, the
Progressive reformers of early temperance movements had long ago lost their
influence and few now were willing to maintain the dying cause of Prohibition
The Anti-Saloon League and other pro-Prohibition movements received
continually less support throughout Prohibition. The loss of wealthy support,
both influentially and financially, eventually left the League with a few too
few resources to produce a sturdy effortthe upper classes were no longer
willing to support a cause which was not only a dismal failure but also a
source of restriction and regulation for themselves (Sinclair 339). In the end,
the League was more interested in spending its time and money spreading
propaganda in support of voluntary temperance rather than enforcing
obviously unenforceable Prohibition laws. Soon, the ineffectiveness of the
League made many, especially among the middle classes, lose interest
Prohibition at its end, many thought, was "destroying respect for law
and order throughout the nation" (Clark). Other nations had ended their
experiments in Prohibition long before and continued to smuggle liquor into
the United States (Sinclair 336).
The problems with enforcement and the
disrespect shown toward the Eighteenth Amendment were making the
American government seem an ineffective force, unable to control its own
people. As more and more people, angered by the government's interference
in their personal lives, refused to take Prohibition seriously, Prohibition was
met with failure at nearly every count (Clark).
While Prohibitionists looked to decrease crime, eliminate corruption,
and improve the general health of the population, they were met instead with
an increase in crime, an increase in corruption, and an increase in public
health problems. Efforts to raise up the working classes disregard the
workers' needs as they themselves saw them, and both racial and ethnic
tension ensued. Politicians fought over which stand to take on the issue of
Prohibition, dividing parties and delaying resolution of the issue.
of maintaining Prohibition, both socially and monetarily, was just too high.
Thus, people soon drew away from the support of Prohibition to the
point of utter disrespect for the law. Angered at government interference in
personal choices during the new era of individual freedom and tired of dealing
with Prohibition as an issue with the onset of the Great Depression,
anti-Prohibition forces grew in influence and support. Legislation which had
directly opposed the will of the people had been created and maintained
(Kyvig 138). Yet prohibition's effort to "reduce consumption of a good in
order indirectly to reduce social ills..
. and to promote social goals" had
proved a failurean unenforceable measure (Thornton, Economics 4). "By
. Americans had had enough" (Cooper).
Bibliography and Works Cited
Clark, Norman H. "Prohibition and Temperance.
" The Reader's Companion
to American History (1991): 124-198
Drescher, Nuala McGann. "Labor and Prohibition: The Unappreciated Impact
of the Eighteenth Amendment." Law, Alcohol, and Order. Ed. Kyvig, David
E. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985.
Eagles, Charles W. "Congressional Voting in the 1920's: a Test of
Urban-Rural Conflict." Journal of American History 76 (1989): 528-534.
Isaac, Paul E. Prohibition and Politics. Knoxville: University of Tennessee
Kyvig, David E. Repealing National Prohibition.
Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1979.
Monahan, Michael. Dry America. New York: Nicholas L. Brown, 1921.
Murphy, Paul L. "Societal Morality and Individual Freedom." Law, Alcohol,
and Order. Ed. David E. Kyvig.
Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985. 67-80.
Sinclair, Andrew. Era of Excess.
New York: Harper & Row, 1962.
Thornton, Mark. The Economics of Prohibition. Salt Lake City: University of
Utah Press, 1991.
Thornton, Mark. "Prohibition's Failure: Lessons for Today.
" USA Today
Magazine 120 (1992): 70-74.