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Why did prohibition fail?

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Introduction

Why did prohibition fail? - Gangsters, Widespread illegal drinking, lack of support, impossibility of enforcement, corruption.. In January 1919 the 18th Amendment forbade the manufacture, transportation and sale of liquor, backed up by the Volstead Act which defined liquor as any drink which contained 0.5% alcohol or more. Different groups backed this new law but it was also opposed by many. Prohibition, the Noble Experiment never really succeeded for a variety of reasons. Both presidential candidates in 1932 were 'wet' so on 5th December 1933 Prohibition was finally abolished by means of the 21st Amendment - 14 years after it had been introduced. In the words of Mrs Johnny Torio, Prohibition gave the forces of organised crime "one long unclouded honeymoon", but was organised crime and the gangsters the only reason why Prohibition failed? The campaign in favour of Prohibition was started many years before it was actually introduced and a major group that influenced this campaign was the Anti-Saloon League (ASL). They used propaganda, such as advertisements, magazines, pamphlets, meetings and posters, to try and encourage the public to share their beliefs. Obviously this propaganda was very biased, but it showed that the ASL was both well organised and well funded. Apart from this group and the Women's' Christian Temperance Union, Prohibition was supported by some big businessmen such as John D. Rockafeller, whose' arguments were that the companies and the country's economy would improve without alcohol, as their employees would be sober and be able to work more effectively. These businessmen contributed financially to the campaign, pouring at least $350,000 into the ASL before 1920 plus an estimated $75,000 per year thereafter. Methodist and Baptist churches also supported Prohibition and used arguments to do with fights between different races in the south - they blamed this on drunken behaviour. The arguments for Prohibition came from people in rural areas, businessmen and religious groups - all of these being minority groups but with strong, powerful arguments backed with propaganda and cash. ...read more.

Middle

Often the place where alcohol was stored was so out of the way, that even the owner of the land did not know about it. For instance, a large still, producing 130 gallons was found going at full blast in Texas on the farm of Senator Morris Sheppard, who had been the proposer of the 18th Amendment! One in twelve agents was dismissed for corruption as many accepted bribes, as their jobs were so badly paid. There were so many dishonest agents that the honest ones became famous, one of the most famous being Izzy Einstein. He did not accept bribes and often fooled speakeasy owners with elaborate disguises and clever contraptions. He made 4392 arrests in all. Izzy devised his own alcohol collecting contraptions so he would have evidence, which shows that the agents were poorly funded. He said "I'd have died if it hadn't have been for that little funnel and bottle...Most of the stuff I got in those places was terrible." This shows another dangerous aspect of the job, Einstein was probably slightly over-exaggerating to make himself sound better. Prohibition Agents carried out many raids on speakeasies, and pictures in history books show them smashing bottles against walls violently, to get rid of the alcohol, so it couldn't be consumed, but raids could not be carried out on all speakeasies as there were not enough agents. 'The Untouchables' video, with Eliot Ness and his gang of agents also showed evidence of bribery and the excitement they felt when they thought they had evidence of gangsters bribing the police. Lack of government funding and enforcement of the law is also a major reason why Prohibition failed, as this meant that 'ordinary' citizens could get away with breaking the law, as well as the people who were in the illegal alcohol trade for the big money that could be made - the gangsters. The gangsters turned Prohibition into a multi-million dollar industry. The 1920's saw a rapid increase in the American crime rate. ...read more.

Conclusion

However this theory also works the other way round - if the majority public had have agreed with the law being passed in the first place then they wouldn't have taken the opportunity to break it, therefore the Prohibition agents would have been needed and the law wouldn't have required any more enforcement than the other laws of the land, although I still feel that the government should have allocated more money to the scheme, especially when they knew it wasn't working. I think that the nature of the law made it very hard to enforce, as it was very hard to capture and punish law breakers. But the group who contributed most to this difficulty along side the general public, in my opinion, were the gangsters. The gangsters took control of the whole industry and made alcohol readily available to any American citizen who wanted it, although this part of the reason does combine closely with the lack of public support. I think that if it weren't for the gangsters then the problem would never have been as severe, as many members of the public would have had to go without alcohol and the Prohibition Agents' time could have been used more effectively and devoted to 'ordinary' US citizens, as opposed to gangsters, who were in the business for the money. The gangsters controlled the public, the bootleggers, the speakeasy owners and many members of the polic force, government and the courts - hindering the law enforcement greatly. The problem was the great power that the gangsters had. Overall, I think that the gangsters were the main reason why Prohibition failed, followed closely by (and linked closely to) the lack of public support. My reasoning behind this opinion is that the demand by the public for alcohol could not have been met without the powerful gangsters and once they had started to meet this demand they could not be stopped as the gangsters controlled and influenced many people who should have had influence over the gangsters and stopped them providing alcohol to the public. ...read more.

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