Causes and Effects Of Prohibition

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Causes and Effects Of the Prohibition Since at least the turn of the century, reformers had been denouncing alcohol as a danger to society as well as to the human body. The true feeling behind this thought was that the use of alcohol was due to the influence of the city. The first American colonists started out with the belief that city life was wicked and evil, whereas country and village life were good (Sinclair 10). Later, during the war, the idea of prohibition was a way of keeping the country patriotic, and thus strong. A common phrase was "A drunk worker is not a productive worker" (McDonnel 394). Throughout history, there were many reasons to push a Prohibition amendment; however, though many of the causes for Prohibition were honorable, most of the effects did more harm for America than good. The first section of the Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, "After one year from the ratification of this article, the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited." What this meant was, it was illegal to make, transport, or sell alcoholic beverages in the United States. Lasting almost fourteen years, the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed in December of 1933, when the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified under Franklin D. Roosevelt. In this short time, America underwent a great transformation due to the new law. There were many causes for the Prohibition movement. One main cause was religious revivalism. Prohibition was a result of the Protestant communities action to assert its dominant position in the nation's culture. They believed that once this was achieved, the whole nation would be under the sway of Protestant moral values. Social reform was another reason Prohibition was supported. "Prohibition was an attempt to reassert what were considered traditional American values" in a time of high immigration -- to "force newer members of the population into a life-style that they were unwilling to accept" (Compton's Living, "Historical Background"). It was enacted because rural, small town Americans, who were attempting to stop what they felt was the corrupting influence of the growing cities, held the highest percentage of the population, and therefore the balance of power in state legislatures and in Washington, DC. The original intention of the reform was pure moderation; however, because there was no way to enforce this, Prohibition resulted. Rural Americans and Protestants weren't the only supporters of the Prohibition. Other religious groups for the act included Baptists and Methodists. There were also many Americans who viewed alcohol as dangerous and destructive. "Prohibitionists, who viewed alcohol as a dangerous drug that destroyed lives and disrupted families and communities, argued that it was the government's responsibility to free citizens from the temptation of drink by barring its sale" (Kerr 1). Many woman fought for the banning of alcohol to protect homes and families, for they believed an alcoholic husband spent the family's entire income on liquor and often abused their wives or children, both sexually and physically. They founded the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1874. This group alone caused 6 states to pass prohibition laws. Other organizations fought for the passage of Prohibition laws. One was the National Prohibition Party, a political group founded in 1869. Another was the Anti-Saloon League. Founded in 1893, it was the strongest organization to fight prohibition. Instead of putting candidates up for office as other groups did, the Anti-Saloon act worked for or against candidates throughout campaigns based on their view on the movement. Politically, opposition to Prohibition became synonymous with the Democratic Party. Those for the amendment typically voted Republican. In 1928, Al Smith was nominated by the Democrats because he opposed the movement to ban alcohol. The party lost the election because of the large numbers of rural Americans voting against Smith. Ideas of prohibition was finally beginning to take hold in American society. Though there were many supporters of Prohibition, there were also many opposers. People believed it was an infringement of their rights, and out of tune with the times of wealth, automobiles, travel, radio, motion pictures, and good times. Soon there was a great split in American society -- the "wets", who believed the law an ineffective and unnecessary restriction on personal choice, generally urban Americans, versus the "drys", rural Americans who supported the amendment. This split made enforcement difficult. Federal agents, in desperate times, often spilled beer and liquor directly into the gutters to prove to opposers that the law would be enforced. To begin enforcement, the Volstead Act was passed. This act defined "intoxicating liquor" as any beverage that contained as much as .5% alcohol. President Coolidge signed legislation that amplified the Prohibition Bureau in 1927. However, the Bureau was severely underfunded and understaffed. There were only 1500-2300 agents and investigators for the whole country. They were underpaid and their jobs were risky. "Corruption was often too tempting to ignore, for they had no training and no coverage by civil service regulations...one-twelfth was dismissed for this cause" (McDonnel 396). Later, in 1929, Herbert Hoover created the National Commission of Law Observance and Enforcement to investigate the enforcement of Prohibition and other related problems. Though many of these attempts to enforce the law seemed to fail, there were successful endeavors. In 1925, the US Treasury Department used US Coast Guard vessels to wage a campaign against rumrunners who had been increasing their scope of their activities along the Atlantic Seaboard. There was, however, one mishap during this campaign. The Coast Guard sunk a Canadian vessel, I'm Alone, 200 miles off the Florida Coast because the crew suspected the ship was being used by rumrunners (Baughman 341). When arrests were finally made, the judicial system seemed to fail. Courts could not keep up with heavily backlogged prohibition cases. Therefore, they instituted "bargain days", when large groups of defendants would plead guilty in exchange for small fines or short jail terms. Most defendants opted for a jury trial, though, for juries were generally sympathetic to the cause, and voted against the prosecution. Another roadblock for enforcement was that there were too many exceptions to the law. For instance, the manufacture of industrial alcohol was permitted if made undrinkable with additives. Also, under the Volstead Act, the consumption of existing supplies of liquor for religious and medicinal purposes was allowed. The greatest exception to the law was that it was never made illegal to buy liquor, only to manufacture, transport, or sell it. Because of these problems in enforcement, the effects were often harmful to the cause. "Though meant to promote moral virtue, Prohibition led to the rise of illegal saloons and an organized black market controlled largely by gangsters" (Kerr 1). Organized crime existed before the 1920's, but it wasn't until the Prohibition that it became hugely profitable, and with money came strength and influence. "One of the worst effects of Prohibition was the power that it gave to gangsters" (McDonnel 400). People were often apathetic towards the violent tendencies of mobsters -- what they didn't realize was that innocent victims were often caught in the violence between agents and bootleggers. In ten years, 286 officers and citizens were killed (401). These crimes often went unpunished, for enormous sums of money enabled mobsters to buy the cooperation of police forces and politicians. "In its practical effects, national prohibition transferred $2 billion a year from the hands of brewers, distillers, and shareholders to the hands of murderers, crooks, and illiterates" (Sinclair ). Prohibition was dangerous to society in other ways, as well. An average of 2,000 people died each year from poisoned liquor made from industrial alcohol that didn't have all of the additives removed (Baughman 234). During the 1920 New Year's celebration, over 100 people were killed from drinking wood alcohol, a highly toxic alcohol made for industrial uses (McDonnel 342). The working class was most at risk. Because they couldn't afford quality liquors, they were more likely to fall victim to amateur moonshine, improperly made home brew, or tainted industrial alcohol. There were other ways around the law, however. Many made their own brews of alcohol. Those who didn't frequented illegal saloons (called speakeasies). Wealthy people bought up as much wine, beer, and spirits as they could while it was still legal and stored it in cellars. A general disregard for the law soon developed among Americans. This led to carefree attitudes about everything. Lower morals swept the social scene. New music, new dances, new feminism, and a general relaxation of standards were all social effects of the law. It seemed to be almost a sign of social status to disregard the law. "Bootleg liquor prices regularly appeared in the 'Talk of the Town' section of The New Yorker" (Baughman 202). The social scene wasn't all fun a

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