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American Prohibition Essay

: Also known as the Volstead Act, named after Republican Senator Andrew J. Volstead, the National Prohibition Act was designed to improve the morality of the nation. However, prohibition, the “Noble Experiment,” failed miserably in this respect. Focus/Argument: Prohibition in fact failed to bolster morals as hoped, but instead led to an increase in violent crime and caused morals to slip due to reactionary protest from the people. Paper should focus on the major cities of the twenties such as Chicago, New York, and St. Louis.

Special attention should be focused on the mafia, gangland violence, and bootlegging, as well as the spread of speakeasies and the resulting Jazz culture (flappers, corruption, etc). Introduction: “The so-called Temperance movement, which in fact opposed temperate and responsible enjoyment of alcohol beverages, proposed that to defeat the disease of alcohol dependency among the few allegedly required abstinence from the many. ”1 This was the rationale which enabled the 18th amendment to the U. S. Constitution to be passed.

Also known as the Volstead Act, named after its author the Republican senator Andrew J. Volstead, the National Prohibition Act was designed to improve the morality of the nation. However, prohibition, the “Noble Experiment,” failed miserably in this respect. 2 In fact, it caused an increase in crime and gave impetus to violence on a scale not seen since the days of the old west. Morality also became increasingly lax as speakeasies, Jazz, sexual promiscuity, and flappers mushroomed across the nation, giving full meaning to the term, “The Roaring Twenties.

” Coupled with post-war prosperity with people having more money and time off than ever before, they looked for things to spend their earnings on as well as for ways to blow off steam. 3 The rise of popular legend stemming from the Prohibition years in the form of movies, books, and people such as mobster Al Capone and Treasury agent Elliott Ness, have had a lasting impact on popular culture through modern times. The Prohibition decade was more than a prohibition on alcohol consumption; it was a prohibition on morals which never has been repealed.

American Prohibition: Moral Decay and Corruption in the Roaring Twenties The 1920s went by various monikers such as the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. It was a time of prosperity for most Americans. Scientific and technological improvements increased industrial production. The automobile, electric appliances, chemical and construction industries expanded tremendously during the 1920s. People were generally able to afford luxuries. The 1920s was also an era of wild gaiety for part of the population. Novels of the period stressed the rebellion of the youth against the traditional values of their parents.

These groups from the urban areas came to seem typical of the 1920s though actually many more people were leading conservative lives. Women had been given the right to vote in 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. For the first time, women wore their dresses short and bobbed their hair; many wore make-up and smoked cigarette’s. They became regulars in the dance scenes in clubs and cabarets where jazz was played. They were called flappers. Some imitated the movie stars they saw in silent files like the glamorous Gloria Swanson and Norma Talmadge and swooned over Rudolf Valentino.

Talking pictures were first introduced in 1927 featuring the Jazz Singer. Jazz music was played everywhere and was most popular in the urban area of New York as it seemed to embody the vitality of the city. Speakeasies sprouted everywhere. Its name bespoke secrecy as these private clubs admonish its customers to speak easy or softly or the police might herar. Charles A. Lindbergh was a completely different type of national hero. In May 27, this young man from the Midwest became the first person to fly alone, nonstop, across the Atlantic Ocean. 4 Prohibition was partly responsible for the daring, reckless spirit of the twenties.

An amendment to the Constitution was submitted to the states on December 18, 1917 and on January 29, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was declared ratified, to wit: Section 1. 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. 5 On January 16, 1920, the National Prohibition Act or, otherwise known as the Volstead Act, went into effect.

The conservatives had long been calling for temperance arguing that alcohol is the source of all ills. Science was used to give evidence that alcohol was linked to vices, diseases, suicide and leads to early death. The employers encouraged total abstinence so as to minimize industrial accidents and at the same time increase productivity. The religious community associated alcohol with evil. The women’s group proclaimed it detrimental to family relations. 6 With the entry of the United States in World War I, they quickly gained supporters due to the growing resentment against anything German which included beer.

Moreover, patriotism called for self-sacrifice and anyone who did not remain sober and defend the country were met with hostility. During the war, the manufacture of beer and liquor had been prohibited to conserve grain and by July 1919, the sale of liquor had been stopped. With such public sentiment, the prohibitionists gained ground and the amendment was passed. 7 The day before the Volstead Act was to take effect, the Anti-Saloon League of New York made an optimistic prediction by stating that, “Tonight, John Barleycorn makes his last will and testament. Now for an era of clean thinking and clean living!

” 8 Instead, the opposite took place. Almost immediately, violations across the country were being reported. Police were carrying out raids of establishments who persisted in selling liquor. The law was observed mostly in the Midwest where the “dry” movement had begun, but in the large eastern cities the laws were flagrantly broken. As well, there were not enough Federal and state agents to enforce prohibition. In fact, now that is was illegal, more people began to drink more than ever. Such circumstances made Al Capone self-righteous enough to proclaim that:

I make my money by supplying a public need. If I break the law, my customers, who number hundreds of the best people in Chicago, are as guilty as I am. The only difference between us is that I sell and they buy. 9 Fortunes were made in bootlegging or the manufacture and sale of liquor illegally. Criminals organized “mobs” or “syndicates” to operate in certain areas. Al Capone was one of these of bosses. He held sway in Chicago and Cicero, Illinois, with an estimated 750 paid gunmen. Crime became big business in other large cities, too. There were many kidnappings for ransom.

Among them was Charles Lindbergh’s son who in 1932, was not only kidnapped but was also murdered. When prohibition ended in February 16, 1933 with the passing of the Twenty-first Amendment to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment, the mobs turned to protection rackets, slot machines and other gambling and the distribution of narcotics. 10 To be fair, the prohibition did manifest benefits though only for a short period. This could probably be because liquor was still relatively hard to find and when one did find it, the price of violation was high.

This does not refer to the penalties to be imposed when caught but that the cost of liquor had become so prohibitive that the average American earner could not afford a glass of cocktail. The prohibition had no effect on the rich, however, as they continued to drink well while the poor drank badly. This led to further divisiveness as it was becoming classifies as a class legislation. 11 In 1920, the year the law came into effect, there was a significant drop in the arrests for drunkenness which was even lower than 1918 and 1919 when Americans were voluntary abstaining from liquor due to wartime restrictions and patriotism.

By 1921, however, arrests for drunkenness had once again risen with no indications of declining. This data can be seen in a 1926 survey of 384 municipalities that was prepared by Stanley Shirk, the research director of The Moderation League, Inc. The results as it was presented to the Senate Committee Hearing were as follows: 12 Year Number of Arrests for Intoxication in 384 Communities Year Number of Arrests for Intoxication in 384 Communities 1914 523,049 1920 233,837 1915 528,347 1921 317,492 1916 557,634 1922 425,353 1917 542,039 1923 499,322 1918 423,048 1924 515,199 1919 309,760 1925 533,483

The World League against Alcoholism likewise presented its own survey results in the same Senate Committee Hearing which compiled the records of 514 cities and towns. 13 Year Arrests for Drunkenness per 10,000 Population Year Arrests for Drunkenness per 10,000 Population 1914 169 1920 60 1915 165 1921 84 1916 176 1922 111 1917 169 1923 126 1918 124 1924 127 1919 97 These figures also showed an increase in arrests after 1920, the bone-dry year, but it was contended that this was more due to increased police activity. The anti-Alcoholism League, at that time, can merely give a forecast that arrests will go down in 1925 and beyond.

They pointed out that compared with the figures from 1914 to 1917 of the pre-prohibition years, recorded arrests after 1920 were still much lower. Regardless, whether we look at it from the “wet” or “dry” statistics, the data showed that the number of arrests for drunkenness was not receding. This gave evidence that for the primary objective of the National Prohibition Act was not met and could not be met. The numbers from 1918 to 1921 are also quite notable as it implied a change in the attitudes of the general population towards alcohol.

By the time prohibition was put in effect, the wartime fervor seems to have already waned, abstinence had overstayed its welcome, drinking was no longer met with social disapproval and people were clamoring for a drink notwithstanding the law. Institutions and agencies were likewise fairly tolerant of transgressions of the law and would accept any loophole around it. In courtrooms of Wyoming and San Francisco, judges and jury gave much leeway to the defense to the point of allowing the evidence to be drunk which led to the technicality of lack of evidence against the bootlegger defendant and the cases were thrown out.

Doctors could and did prescribe up to three pints of vitamin-enhanced whiskey which was in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling. Government beer was prescribed by the gallons for medicinal purposes. 14 As a result, it had soon become a law that nobody wanted to obey thus making it harder to enforce. Thereupon, a general perception followed that crime was prevalent. Foremost among these are convictions for crime which did not used to be treated as criminal before the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment.

This perception of lawlessness was compounded by the sensational publicity given to prohibition violations which had become daily news stories in the papers. In an age where cinema was most influential, many movies were produced that depicted a lot of drinking not by the villains but by the heroes and heroines. 15 Prominent people have likewise testified before the Senate to express their opinion against the Volstead Act and argue for revision. They aimed to prove that lawlessness had in fact increase since it was passed.

One of these opponents of prohibition was Michigan politician Charles S. Wood who contended that the statistics for the arrests on drunkenness would actually have been much greater except that people were doing their drinking inside homes and hotels rather than in saloons hence there is little chance for them to be caught drunk in the streets. 16 This can be corroborated by the increasing number of deaths recorded for cirrhosis of the liver. Alcoholic admissions in one New York hospital as recorded in the 1930s were over 1000 a year. Apparently, they became alcoholics during prohibition. 17

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