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In 1914, the United States of America entered World War I. During that time many resources that were made in America needed for the war were strictly dedicated to the troops more than consumers. During America’s involvement in World War I, Congress passed a “wartime prohibition” which kept farmers from selling grain and corn for the production of alcohol because it was needed for the war. In 1917, when the war was over and the soldiers came home, the “wartime prohibition” became a permanent ban. Congress created and added the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; it was ratified in 1919 and went into effect in 1920, thus started the Prohibition period in America.(Brief History of Prohibition, 1)
The impact on Prohibition in American’s lives were beneficial to the country as a whole during the time period and even after the time period was over and the 18th Amendment was repealed. Prohibition, unfortunately, was also very negative for the country during the years of its term and caused many issues for the country as a whole. When this first was ratified the drinking levels in the country did decrease from pre-Prohibition levels; as the years went on, they went back up and the status of the country and the people’s behaviors towards the movement were not good. The economy changed and suffered drastically. The last years of Prohibition was when organized crime really arose, people started to drink more, and a new generation of Americans who disregarded the law.
Prohibition was a thought way before the 18th Amendment was ratified. The thought of prohibition started back in the 1800’s; in 1893 the Anti-Saloon League was created. The Anti-Saloon League was formed in Ohio and main goal was to close down saloons, believing that shutting down places to drink and purchase alcohol will reduce people’s consumption. The creators and members of the Anti-Saloon League thought American society was declining due to amount of alcohol consumption that went on; they believed people were losing touch with their religious values.(Anti-Saloon League of America, 1) Why did we go through with Prohibition? The leaders of government were very alarmed by Americans’ drinking behavior, and were concerned that culture of drinking was getting too big for a developing world power. Prohibition leaders thought that once businesses were officially removed of liquor licenses and not allowed to sell alcohol, that churches and reform groups would finally have the opportunity to convince Americans to give up drinking.(Why Prohibition?, 1)
The economy during the Prohibition, initially effects were largely negative. Once Prohibition started economists expected sales in clothing and household good would skyrocket; Real estate landlords predicted renting to rise due to all the saloons closing down and the neighborhoods improving. Soft drinks and chewing gum companies also expected massive growth after 1920; even theaters excepted new crowds to come in and people to be more drawn to coming to them because Americans were looking for new ways to entertain themselves without alcohol. None of these things were the case.(Lerner, 1) Restaurants started to fail as they could no longer serve liquor at the establishment and did not make much profit because of the lack of alcohol. Breweries went out of business very quickly also simply because there was nothing for them to produce, sale and transport any longer. This led to thousands of jobs being lost and eliminated including, barrel makers, truckers, waiters, etc., there was no need for those jobs anymore. One of the biggest effects in the economy during this time was on the government tax revenues. Pre-Prohibition many states relied on taxes in liquor sales to fund budgets. For example, In New York, almost 75% of the state’s revenue was derived from liquor taxes; When Prohibition came into effect, that was all lost. Nationally, Prohibition cost the Federal Government a total of $11 billion in lost tax revenue, meanwhile the movement costing over $300 million to enforce on the country.(Lerner, 1)
During this time period there was a vast growing disrespect for the law. People who owned or worked at businesses that served alcohol either had to find a new job or decide to be a criminal in the governments eyes and continue to serve alcohol. Americans did not know how to handle such a dramatic change in a very short period of time. They did not want to be out of jobs and lose their families and homes. Most owners of saloons that still wanted to stay open and make money went underground, these are known as speakeasies. A speakeasy is a term that was created during the time of the Prohibition and they were underground bar areas where you could go to consume alcohol. Usually these speakeasies were underneath a current standing saloon; The saloon would stay open as normal but there would be no liquor served. A person could walk up to a worker and say a certain word or code that would let the worker know they would like to be directed to the bar, usually in the basement, attic, or upper/lower room of the establishment.(Speakeasies of the Prohibition Era, 1) Prohibition brought in the age of Jazz; within these speakeasies there would be jazz musicians playing there newly recognized sound, and women dancing for entertainment. This is one of the first times in American history where “regular” women were easily welcomed into these establishments. This period also opened a new look for women; the “Jazz Age” loosened up the morals. The “flapper” was created; the “flapper” was a woman with very short cut hair, which was not common during that time period, short skirts, powdered faces, bright red lips, bare arms and bare legs, who dared to smoke cigarettes and drink cocktails. Women who were “flappers” usually were considered the “regular” woman; wealthy women looked down on these “regular” women and called them rebellious for wanting to go out dressed how they dressed and “acted” they way they did. This “flapper” look made a huge impact on American culture during this time period.(Speakeasies of the Prohibition Era, 2) Once the Prohibition period set in for Americans, there were way more speakeasies created and organized crime was at an all time high. Organized crime, such as gangs and crime syndicates, was not created by the Prohibition era, they rose to power through the saloons, gambling houses, and brothels. Murders and robbery also rose tremendously at this time. (Sinclair, 221) These gangs and criminals smuggled and sold alcohol illegally all over the country. People who were losing their jobs due to Prohibition joined gangs so they could make money to support their family, even if it put them and their family in danger, American’s were desperate for jobs. The most famous gang is the Torrio gang of Chicago. John Torrio and Jim Colosimo created this gang in Chicago smuggling and selling liquor; combined they made fifty million dollars in just four years. The Chicago Tribune did a article on them which was discovered to be enough evidence to convict Torrio and two of his aides. Torrio handed over the empire to Al Capone.(Sinclair, 222) Many major gangs were established all over the country raising the crime rate tremendously. Prostitution also became big during that time with women.
Due to the rapid rise of organized crime and the disrespect for law, the courts, law enforcement, and jails were very overburdened and overcrowded. In 1923, the U.S. District Attorneys spent 44% of their time on Prohibition related cases. (Lerner, 1) The legal system was failing tremendously to keep up with the inmates. Many waited over a year to be brought to a trial. The judicial system came up with a “plea bargain” to clear hundreds of cases at once.
The goal of the Prohibition was to reduce drinking tremendously, if not, completely, in the country. Unfortunately after a while it did the complete opposite. Given the fact that Americans cannot go out and drink publicly, more people drank in their own homes instead, or when they went out to the speakeasies, it was to get drunk because the alcohol bottle that was purchased had to be finished before returning home that night. Studies have shown that the drinking levels had never went back down to pre-Prohibition levels even after the 18th Amendment was appealed. “Prohibition did not achieve its goals. Instead, it added to the problems it was intended to solve” (Thorton, 15).
The 18th Amendment ratified the Prohibition, which many people in Congress were in favor of, around 1932 are strongly thinking about repeal. Thoughts of repeal are due to the negativity, crime rate, law breaking, and the overflowing of jails that America developed during the time of Prohibition. The Democratic Party platform in the 1932 election included anti-Prohibition and Franklin Roosevelt ran for the Presidency as the Democratic candidate and promise repeal if elected.(The Eighteenth Amendment, 1) Franklin Roosevelt was elected President in 1932 and brings in Democratic views into the White House. His first order of business was repealing Prohibition. In December of 1933, the vote for repeal took place. The popular vote to repeal Prohibition was 74% in favor and 26% in opposition.(The Eighteenth Amendment, 1) In a three to one vote, Prohibition was repealed. The 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933.
The Prohibition had a number of successes also, alcohol abuse decreased, cirrhosis of the liver went down 66% in men, and public drunkenness was reduced by half.(Prohibition: Not Repeatable, But Not a Failure, 1) The crime rate went down tremendously from how high it was during the Prohibition. Prohibition still has an impact on the present day. It is referred to as the “noble experiment” that was taken to reduce crime and social problems, which clearly turned out to be false. What should be learned from the Prohibition that is still important today is rather than completely taking away something from a country, just reduce the access to that product. Today what should be reduced is the easy access to alcohol and tobacco. Journalist Richard Cowan labeled the “Iron Law of Prohibition” as the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes.(Thornton, 2) The issue we struggle with today is the use of illicit drugs in this country, similar to the issue we had in 1920 with alcohol. But, we have learned from the Prohibition how drastic measures can go with people when they want something they used to enjoy and can now no longer have. Prohibition isn’t the answer, but regulation is, and that’s what we can learn from the events in 1920-1933.
Prohibition impacted many Americans, if not all, during that time period in some beneficial ways, but mostly negatively. The economic status of the time period and how the government lost $11 billion dollars alone from New York, the organized crime rate that went up tremendously, disrespect for the law from the people of the country, the overflow and overwhelming of the law enforcement and the jails. The courts not able to keep up with how many criminals they have in the jails for trials. Prohibition was a hard time for America and Americans, but the impact of this taught something and also changed history and culture in the U.S. It also made an impact on present day issues. The Prohibition has had a very big impact on the time during and present day America.
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