The word “Prohibition” as stated in the World Book encyclopaedia “refers to laws that are designed to prevent the drinking of alcoholic beverages.” The enforcement of the Volstead Act in the United States of America (USA) saw the nationwide beginning of the prohibition on the 16th of January 1920. The Prohibition brought about a change in attitude for the people of the United States (USA). It caused an extreme rise in crime; encouraging everyday people to break the law and increased the amount of liquor that was consumed nationwide. Overall this law was a failure because a law can not be enforced on a democratic society with out the support of a majority. The effect of this mistake (prohibition) lingered on American (USA) society for many years to follow.
Before the Prohibition the people of the United States of America had high moral standards, were more conservative and in many ways experienced less freedom both socially and economically. Before the Prohibition period the crime rate was relatively low compared with pre – prohibition figures. There was a “78 percent increase in crime” from those crime rates that were recorded before the Prohibition. Alcohol consumption in pre – prohibition in years had begun to drop since 1910, however this may have been due to the fact that “between 1880 and the beginning World War One in 1914 many states had adopted…state wide Prohibition.”
Before Prohibition occurred nationwide, the economic boom of the 1920’s (also known as the Roaring Twenties) had not yet taken place, therefore the changes in attitude amongst the people of the United states were not yet established, consequently pre – prohibition years were times of less social freedom, more conservatism and some would argue higher moral standards. Due to these higher moral standards some groups believed Prohibition was a necessary measure in the creation of a society free from evils and less tainted in the old ways – meaning a society where crime rates, poverty, and death rates would be considerably reduced, the idea was that this in turn would improve the economy and quality of life for the people of the United States of America.
The Prohibition caused an extreme rise in crime and in many cases it encouraged everyday people to break the law. As moral standards within society declined and prohibited alcohol consumption increased crime rates within society rose considerably. This was because in order for alcoholic needs to be met, everyday people were forced to break the law, going against the honesty and freedom once shared by the democratic nation. Crime rates within the United States of America rose a great deal during the Prohibition years, criminal activity rose to 78 percent above that of pre-prohibition rates as more and more people broke the law, whilst serious crimes such as murder and assault rose to nearly 13 percent above what it had once been. With the Volstead Act running its course a new market was created for “corrupt politicians and gangsters to give the public what they demanded -alcohol and plenty of it.”
One of the main reasons for the increase in crime rates was due to lack of enforcement; this was because there weren’t enough Prohibition agents to enforce the laws which were being broken on such a large scale. “It was assumed that Americans would follow the requirements of the new Prohibition law and so only 1520 Prohibition agents were employed in 1920 … the number climbing to 2836 in 1930.” This rise in the amount of Prohibition agents did not really help matters very much as people continued to rebel against the enforcement of the Prohibition and continued to break the law, finding more creative measures to get away with their violation of the Volstead Act, “many people hid their liquor in hip flasks, false books, hollow canes, and anything else they could find.”
Nationwide liquor consumption increased during Prohibition years. In order for people who wanted to fulfil their alcoholic needs to do so they were forced to break the law. Alcohol consumption considerably increased within the first couple of years of nationwide Prohibition in the United States (USA). “The drinking of alcoholic beverages became an act of rebellion against authority from the beginning of Prohibition, especially among university students and flappers.” Alcohol consumption did increase over Prohibition years, “$40 million of liquor had been smuggled into the United States in 1924” alone and that did not include the amount of alcohol which people made illegally in their own homes, which was most likely consumed that same year as well.
There was a decrease in the consumption of beer, because it had to be transported in large quantities, which made the substance difficult to hide, as a result prices of beer and other alcoholic substances which had to be transported in such large quantities skyrocketed. Once this had happened people began to turn to the more concentrated forms of alcohol or “hard liquors”, which were a lot easier to transport and as a consequence they were cheaper. Due to the increase in consumption of more concentrated forms of alcohol, people got drunk much faster than in pre – prohibition years. Consequently there were more alcohol related deaths during the Prohibition, due to a rise in alcohol consumption, as people were being poisoned by alcohol that was highly concentrated and or poisoned. “Deaths from poisoned liquor rose from 1,064 in 1920 to 4,154 in 1925.”
There are many views as to why the Prohibition failed. One of the main reasons was due to the fact that a law can not be enforced on a democratic society without the support of a majority. During the prohibition there were many people who opposed the alcoholic limitations placed on their lives, as a result of the Prohibition, with many individuals feeling this way more and more people began to rebel against the restrictions which had a hold on them, they began breaking the law in protest to the Volstead Act.
“Prohibition did not achieve its goals. Instead, it added to the problems it was intended to solve.” “The results of the [Prohibition] are clear: …organized crime grew into an empire; …disrespect for the law grew; and the per capita consumption of the prohibited substance … increased dramatically” the prohibition had been a failure. Some believe that perhaps if the Prohibition had have been better organised and powerfully imposed then the Prohibition of the USA would have been more of a success. However this was not the case and due to the mistake made through the enforcement of the Prohibition the moral standards of society were changed forever.
Nationwide Prohibition ended on the 5th of December 1933. However the effect of this mistake (Prohibition) lingered on American (USA) society for many years to follow. “It was hoped that Prohibition would eliminate corrupting influences in society; instead, Prohibition itself became a major source of corruption.” After the Prohibition had ended many people had changed their attitude towards the government, as they believed that the government had become too involved in the personal lives of individuals through their enforcement of the Volstead Act of January 1920. The United States of America would never be the same again, the nation never returned to the way things had been in the years prior to Prohibition.
During the time of Prohibition the great decade of change occurred, which was known as “The Roaring Twenties” with it came Prohibition, one of the gravest mistakes ever made by an American (USA) government, this mistake saw society change in more ways than one. As a whole moral standards declined, disrespect for the law became evident and faith in government policies decreased. After the Prohibition there was a “Midwestern crime wave in 1934 [where], gangsters robbed hundreds of banks, kidnapped and murdered scores of people.” Due to these criminal offences by 1940 people became untrusting of immigrants and under the Smith Act immigrants were to be fingerprinted as people feared that these people may have been gangsters.
Prohibition was a grave mistake which changed the United States. During the Prohibition years the mistake of the Volstead Act caused an extreme rise in crime; encouraging everyday people to break the law and increased the amount of liquor that was consumed nationwide. Within Society moral standards began to drop, people began rebelling against the laws put in place, and breaking the law was no longer regarded as such a heinous act. “The dishonesty and corruption that grew with … [prohibition] made … [US people] lose their respect for the law and for the people who were supposed to enforce it.” American (USA) society has never really recovered from the effects of Prohibition, it has never returned to the moral standards once held as a nation. On a whole the Prohibition was one of the greatest mistakes made in the USA during the 1920’s. Overall the Prohibition was a failure that should not have been enforced at all, let alone in a decade [The Roaring Twenties] where rapid change was taking place on its own.
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