Julian Phillips GCSE History Coursework
Why did prohibition fail?
There was once a time when an individual could not sit down and have a beer or mixed alcoholic drink legally after a long days work. At this time the American Government felt they needed to reduce drinking by eliminating the businesses that manufactured, distributed, imported, exported and sold intoxicating liquor. This was called Prohibition. Political and religious leaders were beginning to associate alcohol consumption with the rising coincidence of crime, poverty, and violence. They believed the only way to protect society from this threat was to eliminate the "drunkard-making business." No one can really say whether Prohibition worked or not, or if it helped or not, but this paper will outline some of the reasons why prohibition was started, and why it was reversed.
Soon after the 18th Amendment came the National Prohibition Act, better known as the Volstead Act. It was called the Volstead act because it was introduced by Andrew Volstead of Minnesota in 1919. The Volstead Act was enacted on October, 28 1919. Officially the liquor drought was to begin on January 17, 1920. The Volstead act made any alcoholic product that had an alcohol content over .5% illegal, unless it was intended for medical or religious uses. This act also set up guidelines for enforcement. Prohibition was meant to stop the consumption of alcohol; thereby reducing crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden, and improve the economy and the quality of life.
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People said the law was not able to be enforced during the continuing demand for alcohol, therefore an illegal trade developed from the point of manufacture to consumption. Organized gangs controlled most of the liquor trade during Prohibition. They established "speakeasies" which replaced saloons. These businesses were hidden in businesses, office buildings, and anywhere that could be found. Estimates of the number of speakeasies in the entire United States ranged from 200,000 to 500,000 there were over 100,000 speakeasies in New York City alone. There were twice as many speakeasies in Rochester, New York, as saloons closed by Prohibition. Large cities were the main location for organized gangs. It is said that the most notorious gangster and bootlegger was Al Capone. During this time Capone, along with Johnny Torrio, "Bugs Moran", and the O'Banions, established many speakeasies in Chicago, Illinois. Bootleggers smuggled liquor from overseas and Canada, stole it from government warehouses, and produced their own. With only 1,550 federal agents to cover 18,700 miles of "vast and virtually un-policeable coastline", it was clearly impossible to prevent mass quantities of liquor from entering the country. Only 5 percent of smuggled liquor was stopped from coming into the country in the 1920s.
The exception under the Volstead Act for wine being used for sacramental purposes was also abused. In 1925, the Department of Research and Education of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ reported that: "The withdrawal of wine on permit from bonded warehouses for sacramental purposes amounted in round figures to 2,139,000 gallons in the fiscal year 1922; 2,503,500 gallons in 1923; and 2,944,700 gallons in 1924. The demand for sacramental purposes rose 800,000 gallons in two years. The rum runners would bring liquor into the country across seas from Belgium and Holland. In 1923, there were 134 seizures of these vessels. In 1924 there were 236 apprehended. The Department of Commerce estimated that, as of 1924, liquor valued at approximately $40 million was entering the United States annually. Things such as "near-
Why did prohibition fail? (cont.)
beer" and industrial alcohol also provided sources of liquor. Near-beer was legally produced because it had less than 0.5 percent alcohol. When added to yeast, this product quickly turned into a more potent alcoholic beverage. Section 29 of the Volstead Act authorized the home production of fermented fruit juices. The grape growers of this time introduced grapes called "Vine-go" which with the addition of water produced a strong wine within two months.
The major change in United States citizens' opinions about alcohol became noticed at the beginning of the Great Depression. Citizens persuasive arguments stated that Prohibition took away once legal jobs, took away government revenue, and added to economic stagnation. The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA), an organization of wealthy, "wet", influential citizens greatly inspired the campaign for repeal. The AAPA believed that thru Prohibition our Government might "permanently compromise the tradition of individual freedom". The goal of the AAPA was to get Congress to submit a 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which would repeal the 18th Amendment. They wanted to present this in a way in which "dry" legislators could not present a challenge to ratification. Congress then for the first time since the Constitution was ratified called for ratifying conventions in each of the states. Delegates were elected strictly by their answer of "yes", or "no" to the 21st Amendment. The elections of the delegates in 1933 ended up in a repeal vote of almost 73%.
I still have mixed feelings about Prohibition because I couldn't imagine it actually taking place. I would have to see it to believe it. From what I have read and learned during researching to write this paper, I would say it did not work because the unwanted results outnumbered the benefits. There was more crime during Prohibition than ever before and not many changes in overall society except that they had to deal with organized gangs and the illegal liquor traders to obtain the once legal product.