Why was Prohibition introduced in the USA in 1919?

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Hayley Batchelor

8th September 04

Why was Prohibition introduced in the USA in 1919?

Prohibition was introduced in 1919; however it is impossible to find one simple reason for why it was introduced. It was not a new idea as the movement had already begun in 1830. By 1914 over half of America’s states were ‘dry’. At one minute past midnight on January 16th 1920 the law against the sale and transportation of alcohol in America became law; however in 1917 the law had been passed by congress due to the eighteenth amendment but was not put into action. The National Prohibition Act, or the Volstead Act, as it was called because of its author, Andrew J. Volstead, was put into effect. It laid down guidelines for the enforcement of the prohibition laws and clarified that anything that contained over 0.5% alcohol was now a liquor and illegal. The government had the ability to prosecute violators of Prohibition. The law carried heavy penalties; fines of up to $1000 were imposed on those defying the Volstead Act. Those who could not afford to pay, had to spent six months in jail. Exceptions were made for alcohol used for medicinal and industrial uses.

America, in 1919, was a very different country compared to what it is today. Crime rates were extremely high and hundreds of thousands of immigrants flocked to the USA in search of job opportunities and with the hope of a new life. However many of the immigrants were Catholics and came from southern and eastern Europe, and brought with them many new modern ideas, different languages and cultures. This was seen as a threat to the traditional ways of America. With the increase in foreigners, ghettos began to form, which encouraged extreme racial behaviour, especially in the south like Virginia. This state was one of the first states that went dry in 1914; it was believed that banning alcohol was another way of taking freedom away from the blacks who had immigrated. They said, "…it was a way of keeping the Negro in his place." Also in America, life was changing fast, with the First World War over, but still fresh in people’s minds, America was on its way to recovery. Old industries like mining had declined, and new industries replaced them. The streets of America were getting increasingly violent, gangs were forming and a lot of money was being consumed by bars and saloons. Throughout the years a small number of organisations began to form, these groups blamed alcohol as the culprit for all America’s problems and had developed well organised campaigns against alcohol. These groups were predominantly Christian and White Anglo Saxon Protestants, other wise known as WASPS. It wasn’t just religious groups that resented alcohol. The American Temperance Campaign was led by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti – Saloon League or ASL.

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The supporters of the ASL and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union lived in rural, small towns of the south and mid-west of America. These people were generally middle class women’s groups who were motivated to reform the working class and abolish their bad habits and drunkards. It was mostly men who got drunk, which set a bad example to their children. Often men would disappear to the saloons and drink away all the family earnings. This left families’ penny less with no money for food and deprived children.  Alcohol seemed to bring out the worst in people and often men ...

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