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Why was Prohibition such a controversial issue during the 1920's

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Introduction

Why was Prohibition such a controversial issue during the 1920's? Prohibition was the banning of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. The power to ban the production, export, import, transportation or sale of alcoholic beverages was given by the 18th Amendment, 1917. This was gradually adopted by state governments across America and was followed up in 1919 by the Volstead Act that defined intoxicating liquor as a drink containing 0.5% of alcohol and prescribed penalties for breaking the law. By 1920 Prohibition applied to the whole of the USA. The passing of this law was quite astounding for several reasons, partly because the legal liquor industry was the 7th biggest in the country, where even in the latter part of the 19th century, 'big business' was established and respected as creator of the nations vast wealth. Perhaps more importantly Prohibition appeared to be a violation of the rights and freedom of the individual so treasured by the US constitution and Bill of Rights. I will examine why and how this law came into being, the problems it caused and evaluate why it was such a controversial issue. Prohibition perhaps best illustrates 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 anticipated the role of government expanding in private life to an unparalleled degree. ...read more.

Middle

with the waters just outside US jurisdiction becoming known as "Rum Row" and smuggling from Mexico and Canada abundant. Smuggling was so incredibly successful that in 1925 it was estimated that only 5% of alcohol illegally coming into the country was intercepted (the $40 millions worth they seized in 1924 showing the volume of business. A further reason for Prohibition's failure was that Chemists could sell alcohol on doctor's prescriptions, a flawed system that was widely abused. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the "King of the Bootleggers" George Remus, who bought up many breweries on the eve of prohibition for the manufacture of medicinal alcohol, then arranged for an army of 3000 gangsters to highjack his products and divert them to big cities, it is estimated Remus made $5 million. An additional problem was that industrial alcohol was easily diverted, redistilled and sold on. As might be expected this alcohol was largely unsuitable for consumption and led to the invention of many exotic cocktails to try to mask the taste. Drinking of this Industrial alcohol sometimes led to illness or even death with 34 people dying in New York from alcohol poisoning. A further reason for its failure was the lack of treasury officials to enforce the law. ...read more.

Conclusion

The initial passing of the Prohibition law (the 18th amendment and the Volstead Act) was controversial in itself, firstly for the reason that the legal alcohol industry was the 7th largest industry in America, where big business was established and respected as the main creator of the countries vast wealth. However, more importantly Prohibition appeared to be a violation of the rights and freedom of the individual so treasured by the US constitution and Bill of Rights. Although initially there was relatively little opposition to Prohibition on these grounds, throughout the 1920s the concept of individual freedom came to be regarded by many as of greater importance than individual morality and thus Prohibition came to be seen increasingly as an infringement of this vital principle, especially in the cities. The problems that were perceived to have arisen as a result of Prohibition contributed to it being a controversial issue, it led to mass evasion (especially in urban areas, and gave rise to smuggling and illegal manufacture. It also stimulated organised crime and gangland warfare. However, it should be noted that it was also well supported, especially in rural America and, one could speculate, that without the depression this controversial law might have existed for considerably longer. ...read more.

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