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How useful is Source A as evidence for studying the spread of prohibition in the United States?

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Introduction

Josh Evans (1935 words) History coursework assignment: Prohibition Question one: How useful is Source A as evidence for studying the spread of prohibition in the United States? This map of America gives a general overview of where alcohol was banned before midnight January 16th 1920. It has three different pieces of information that it displays; Territories in which the sale of alcohol was forbidden in 1845, States entirely dry by 1915 and States with local prohibition in 1845. But the fact that the map doesn't show specific cities, towns or areas detracts from this last piece of information. As the map is in an American History atlas, its purpose is not specific to prohibition, which is why it has less specific information. This does mean it's more reliable however, as it would not of been subject to government censorship and would have been carefully researched. Also, the map is not complete, it only shows the east coast of America; the west coast is incomplete missing a large proportion of the country, almost a third. Another problem with the map is it has no chronological information, e.g. the fact that Kansas was the first state to go dry, or any order in which the states made alcohol illegal. As this question is specific to the spread of prohibition, the lack of such information is quite important. On it's own this source is not particularly useful. If this source were to be used in conjunction with a number of other related sources, including more detailed chronological information, this map would ...read more.

Middle

Unfortunately, when the law was written, a loophole was left in it; it was still legal to drink liquor. This had to be left open for the times when alcohol was needed for medicinal purposes; it did however make it easier for gangsters and speakeasy owners to get around the law. Source B of the coursework shows that out of the 6902 cases involving breaking these drink laws, 6074 were dropped for "not enough evidence" and only 5 out of the 6902 were ever held trial. This was mainly due to the corruption that went right to the heart of the system. Sources D and E of the coursework assignment show images of a raid on a speakeasy. Although they show prohibition working, it says nothing about how frequently they would take place, and in reality, they took place very rarely. Also, it says nothing about what was about to happen afterwards (mainly source D), because often the agents would take the liquor for either their own recreation, or actually sell it back to the gangsters for their own benefit. Source E shows what the government wants the public to think is happening, but it isn't even a real photo; this act of destroying the liquor would happen so infrequently, a real photograph was unavailable. The government's attempt to reinforce the illegality of the sale of liquor was almost completely ineffective. Before the introduction of prohibition, in New York there were about 15 000 legal saloons, by 1932 there were about 32 000 speakeasies in the city. ...read more.

Conclusion

The government at the time however, may have censored the sources that these statistics have been compiled from, so may not be 100% reliable. The person who compiled them, also, may have tried to make it look more impressive than it really is, so it seems his organisation is not a failure. In conclusion, I think that the central cause for the failures of prohibition is the corruption that existed. This corruption was mainly due to the fact that almost everyone could profit from the illegal sale of liquor, apart from the average person. This meant no one with the power to stop it was going to, and the people that would, weren't capable of it. Source F of the coursework assignment shows a political cartoon showing a row of officials holding out their hand for payment behind their backs. I doubt this would have been done near the time, as government censorship wouldn't of allowed it, but it shows how bribery went right to the top of the political system. The actual number of alcoholics, which could be seen as the real test to whether prohibition was successful, rose dramatically. Figures from the Philadelphia police department (source C) show that from 1920 to 1924, the number of alcoholics went from 33 to 874, that is an increase of over 26 times in just 4 years from when prohibition was introduced. The number of drunks also increased dramatically, going from 14 313 to 51 361 in just 5 years from when prohibition was introduced. So, in my belief, prohibition failed to meet it's aims. ...read more.

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