To what extent was the failure of prohibition due to the involvement of organized crime?

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To what extent was the failure of prohibition due to the involvement of organized crime?

In 1920 the 18th Amendment was passed by the American government, which banned the sale, production and consumption of alcohol. Prohibition was not only introduced as a result of WW1 and various temperance movements, but it was also passed as an attempt to reduce alcohol related crime and to improve health of the American people. Referred to as “the greatest social experiment” by modern historians, Prohibition was abolished in 1933 by President Roosevelt. There is evidence to suggest that multiple factors were significant in bringing about its abolition. The Wall Street Crash in 1929 is an important reason which helped to end prohibition. In addition, enforcing this measure effectively proved extremely difficult in a country like America, due to its large population as well as complex geography. The support of prohibition also altered throughout the years, becoming less popular. However, the main reason for the failure of Prohibition was the increase in organized crime as it affected almost all sections of the population.


The reason why organized crime was the most significant reason for the failure of Prohibition is not only because it influenced political and economic conditions of the country, but also turned a large section of the population into criminals. The rising number of gangs was not just preoccupied with the sale of alcohol, but also other illegal trade in drugs, prostitution and firearms. Murphy argues that gangsterism in cities contributed largely to failure of Prohibition. The number of bars known as “speakeasies” in towns like Chicago and New York was much greater after the 18th Amendment has been introduced. Large gangs started to form in big cities providing American citizens with the opportunity to drink alcohol and therefore break the law. Jones in “History of America” argues that by 1929 New York had 32,000 speakeasies, which is double the original number it had before prohibition and suggests this contributed largely to government’s decision to abolish the 18th Amendment. Smugglers of alcohol, known as “bootleggers” were contributing to the large amounts of illegal alcohol in the US. As a result of prohibition the number of arrests for drunken drivers, thefts, burglaries and assaults increased but also the federal prison population rose by 31%. Gangs became organized and were able to control the political makeup of the government through their supplies as well as voting support. Bill Thomson was known for allowing gangsters to function in the cities. In 1923 Thompson lost the election after being accused of losing $1 million of public funds despite the fact that Chicago officials attempted to enforce Prohibition more effectively, the gangs moved their headquarters and in 1927 Al Capone’s support helped Thomson to return to office. Parrish is another modern historian that recognizes the strength of gangster mobs in towns and their influence on the public. However in his interpretation he suggests that it was the “ethnic Americans” that “became beneficiaries of the very laws”, which implies that organized crime only affected a part of the population. Gangsters were mainly popular in large cities like New York and Chicago, and although they did cause a lot of problems and concern, it was not the same in rural areas of America. On the other hand, the evidence indicates that towards the end of the 20s the urban population was increasing drastically, and as Clements suggests more that half of the population was starting to live in cities. Hence, a bigger section of the population was being affected by organized crime. The rise in organized crime resulted in high corruption among politicians as well as local authorities. Large gangs were manipulating American society at all levels and the only way to stop it, was it ban Prohibition. Gangsterism heavily contributed to government’s decision to abolish Prohibition, but the situation was also influenced by other changes in the society during the time.

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The Wall Street Crash in 1929 transformed the economic situation in the country and affected society’s attitude towards consumption of alcohol. The collapse of the stock market caused the ongoing depression, which changed people’s opinion of the extent of government’s involvement in private issues like alcohol consumption. In addition, reintroduction of the alcohol sale would facilitate creation of new businesses and improve the economy, which is what the population needed at the time. Although, M.Jones, recognizes that organized crime was important he argues that the depression caused by the economic crisis ended Prohibition. He explains further that banning ...

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