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Why Was Prohibition Attempted and Why Did It Fail?

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LAURENCE RAVEN WHY WAS PROHIBITION ATTEMPTED AND WHY DID IT FAIL? Prohibition or the 'Noble Experiment' as it was known, was the banning of the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. 'Intoxicating liqour' as it was known was defined by the Volstead Act of 1920 as any drink containing more than 0.5% alcohol. This prohibited wines, beers and spirits. Until 1919 Prohibition had always been a state rather than a federal issue, the Eighteenth Amendment of that year changed that. Responsibility for enforcement was given to the Treasury. "The law...where it is not obeyed, will be enforced. Liqour will not be hauled in anything on the surface of the earth or under the earth or in the air". It was estimated that $5 million would be enough to fund the task. Instead only $2 million was allocated. Prohibition illustrates well the contradictions in American society and politics during this period. Supported by those who looked to the government for 'moral regulation' - leading the way to ensure that people led clean, wholesome lives - it involved a government interfering in private life to an unprecedented degree, in stark contrast to the concept of laissez-faire. The reasons as to why prohibition was introduced can be illustrated through explanation of the two main influential groups who were involved in the campaign followed by more social and general reasons: The WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union) ...read more.


Prohibition led to a huge growth in crime and gangsterism. To them the manufacture and sale of alcohol was too profitable. To ensure lack of interference of federal and state authorities, gangsters bribed and intimidated officials and politicians. Gangsters created a vast network of associates, who could easily smuggle alcohol into America and sell it on at a huge profit. The most famous gangster was Al Capone, who simply saw himself as embodying the spirit of free competition and enterprise in the USA. During Capone's time there were a number of violent clashes, the most notorious being the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929 in Chicago. They could control politicians with ease. The Mayor of Chicago, for example, allowed organised crime to go on unmolested. When the Mayor was defeated in the election, the gangsters simply moved their headquarters elsewhere until their man was elected again. Even when Capone was arrested and jailed, it wasn't for murder or bootlegging; but for tax evasion. 'If people didn't want beer and wouldn't drink it, a fellow would be crazy for going around trying to sell it'. Al Capone's comments illustrate the key concept that the simple reason as to why prohibition failed was because the majority of the American people didn't support it. Morally speaking, Capone's explanations seem to justify his actions - he was simply acting as supplier to overwhelming consumer demand. ...read more.


It was the saloons that were often shut down not the 'speakeasies', which sold to a wealthier clientele. Historians have argued that Congress didn't want to completely enforce prohibition because it didn't want to alienate influential voters. The financial cost of prohibition also acted as a deterrent to its enforcement. It failed because it attempted to force one moral view on all Americans. It also reduced respect for law and encouraged the involvement of organised crime in politics. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a new amendment of the Constitution, the Twenty-First, which reversed the Eighteenth Amendment. The Beer Act was passed which allowed the production of beer, which in turn created jobs. Roosevelt's campaign song 'Happy Days Are Here Again' welcomed the return of drinking. Since then, prohibition has been a state, not a federal matter. It was a classic case of a law being passed that was unenforceable. Historians have cited prohibition as part of a last-ditch attempt by rural citizens to help keep the USA white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, harking back to the days of pre-20TH Century America. They feared immigrants would shift the racial balance, introduce foreign ideals such as Communism, and overthrow the existing social order. They feared change. However as with all mythologies, the period to which these people yearned to return had never existed. The USA had always been turbulent, violent and racist. However many of its problems came to be concealed by a veneer of optimism, excitement and unparalleled prosperity. ...read more.

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