Essay Sample on Prohibition in the 1920s

Published: 2022-12-30
Essay Sample on Prohibition in the 1920s
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  United States Substance abuse American history
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1829 words
16 min read

The prohibition era was one of the epical periods in the history of the United States of America. Different authors have divergent opinions on whether the prohibition was successful or not, but the fundamental understanding is that the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which culminated into ban had many social and economic implications in the country as well as exposed some of the effects of ambiguous, unclear and non-actionable government policies. The amendment which ostensibly banned the manufacture, distribution, and sale of intoxicating liquor was a culmination of a long period of temperance movement which advocated for the illegalization of all forms of intoxicating liquor. Even though the temperance movement won in championing for such illegalization of intoxicating liquor with the passage of Volstead act as the prohibition enforcement legislation, such a move resulted in black market production and sale of the drinks, gang violence and various other crimes which necessitated the repeal of the18th Amendment. Using the perspectives advanced by various historians about the prohibition era, it is crucial to understand the intended and unintended consequences of critical government legislation such as the 18th Amendment and its accompanying Volstead Act. Based on the various points of view by the historians, it is possible to assess, comprehend and forestall potential policy implementation backlashes to attain successful enforcement.

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The intended versus unintended consequences of the Prohibition of the 1920s

The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead act resulted from activism by the Anti-Saloon League and temperance movements which sought to establish a perfectionist society. According to these two social organizations and other underground civil movements, of the time, alcohol was perceived as being a destructive force in families and marriages. The anti-saloon movements also used the argument that alcohol had adverse health effects of advancing their stance that it should be abolished. Levine and Reinarman (1991) contend that the temperance ideology which resulted in prohibition had a firm stand that alcohol was the primary cause of virtually every social problem. The temperance and prohibition movements can be framed as being part of a broader public health and welfare movement (Blocker Jr 236). The Prohibition gained momentum in the late 1800s and early 1900s when the anti-Saloon League gained the support from several other quarters. Ideally, the Anti-Saloon League was a reaction to urban grown and established in the rising evangelical Protestantism which viewed saloon culture as not only being ungodly but also a source of corruption (Blocker Jr 234). Various other support groups such as factory owners also supported the abolition of intoxicating drinks. The factory owners believed that prohibition was necessary for preventing accidents and increasing the efficiency of their workers in the era which was defied with aggressive industrial production and extended working hours.

According to Blocker Jr (2006), there is no doubt that prohibition failed to meet its primary objective of preventing the culture of drinking intoxicating liquor. He characterizes the Eighteenth Amendment which resulted in the prohibition era as being a noble experiment with myriads of unanticipated social and economic effects on the then American society. The prohibition also had adverse impacts on the economy, contributed to the proliferation of crime and the black market for the illegalized drinks. As the author notes, the prohibition era in the United States started on the 19th of January 1920 after previous earlier attempts to illegalize the consumption of alcohol In the United States of America had proven futile. In 1844 when Massachusetts town banned the sale of alcohol which was a thriving industry then, it resulted in resentment among the urban workers and the other inhabitants who perceived such a move as not only a threat to the employment industry but also an overreach on the part of the government in controlling the social life of its citizens. The Massachusetts prohibition on the sale of alcohol was followed by a deadly Portland riot which necessitated its repeal. Based on this historical fact, it was likely that the implementation of prohibition at a national level would be disastrous. Especially if its application was not well thought out. The fact that the Eighteenth amendment enshrined ban in the constitution and being implemented at a national level, it was a typical noble experiment which resulted in many unintended consequences.

On the economics of prohibition, Blocker Jr (2006) points out that the illegalization of the manufacture, distribution, and consumption of intoxicating liquor negatively affected the economy of the United States of America. The supporters of the prohibition initially thought that banning intoxicating drinks would have a ripple effect of increasing the performance of other industries such as clothing and household commodities. The real estate developers and landlords thought that rents would rise, saloons would close and neighborhoods improved. The sectors that manufactured non-alcoholic beverages such as soft drinks expected a growth which was not attained even with the prohibition. The reality was that the ban resulted in a decline in the entertainment industry, restaurants reported losses and the government lost revenue that it would otherwise generate from the legal sale of liquor. All the revenue was diverted to the black market production and sale of such drinks. It created superrich private people such as Al Capote who significantly controlled the illicit alcohol syndicate in Mexico, and the United States of America. The entire process of prohibition had negative implications on the economy. The closing down of breweries, saloons, and distilleries meant the loss of several jobs. Equally, it led to the loss of employment for the sellers and transporters of the banned drinks. These people became dangerous in the community and joined the black market syndicate of intoxicating liquor. The prohibition significantly affected government tax revenues. Before the ban, many states in the US depended on the liquor industry as a significant source of income. For instance, New York generated almost 75% of its revenue from liquor taxes. This revenue was immediately lost when the prohibition took effect. Nationally, probation led to a loss of a total of $11 billion in tax revenue, while at the same time costing the government more than $300 million to enforce (Blocker Jr 236). This was an untenable intervention. It forced the federal government to overly rely on income tax revenue as the primary source of revenue to fund budgets.

According to Edge (1923), the Volstead Act which was the implementation too for the prohibition was fundamentally ineffective thus resulting into a failed attempt by the then United States government to ban the manufacture, distribution, and sale of intoxicating liquor. The author notes that the act was not deterrent as it did not prohibit the consumption of alcohol itself. The target seemed to be more focused on the industry side of such drinks without a similar emphasis on the use. Therefore, the illegal distillers operated in utmost secrecy and home breweries thrived unabated (Burnham 62). As the historian illustrates, the prohibition Department reported widespread arrests under the Volstead Act which showed that the law was not deterrent. With such an increase in arrests, it was clear that the law was being treated by contempt among the target population.

Just like Blocker Jr (2006), Edge (1923) agrees that the prohibition was set to fail. He characterizes the implementation of the ban as being a "cat and mouse" affair since the Volstead Act, and the Eighteenth amendment alike had various inefficiencies thus rendering them practically unenforceable. For instance, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating beverages but it failed to outlaw their possession and consumption in the US (Burnham 55). The Volstead Act which offered the implementation framework for the Eighteenth Amendment also had various loopholes which set the prohibition for failure. The failure of the ban is highly attributable to the gaps and quirks in the Volstead act which made it possible for illegal distillers to evade the dry mandate. For instance, the Volstead Act permitted the medical use of intoxicating drinks. The law allowed the pharmacists to use controlled dosages of whiskey for treating various ailments including anxiety and influenza. As a result, the bootleggers who were the controllers of the concealed liquor industry ding the prohibition realized that operating a pharmacy was a lucrative ground through which they would successfully operate liquor business undetected. During the period, the aggregate number of pharmacies registered in states such as New York tripled. The Act also permitted the use of alcoholic drinks for religious purposes resulting in increased enrolment of churches as well as synagogues. Many cities in the United States registered a high number of religious congregations who operated the liquor business in disguise. Furthermore, the Volstead act did not attain the desired clarity for such landmark legislation. For instance, it did not clarify on the issue of making wine at home. Therefore, the Bootleggers again took advantage of this loophole, and the grape industry ballooned (Burnham 62). Technically, home distillers were illegal, but still, they were being operated since monitoring such private operation posed a logistical challenge to prohibition enforcement officers. Due to these loopholes and difficulties in enforcement of prohibition, a lot of health complications were recorded among drinkers in the United States of America. The ban had made illegal alcohol attractive which then resulted in a thriving black market which manufactured low-quality alcohol. The result of this is that more Americans died annually from the consumption of illegal liquor that was the case before the passage of prohibition law.

Rapacz (1933) also agrees with Edgar that the implementation of prohibition was burdensome. He points out that the United States Congress and Senate have a critical mandate to think through every piece of legislation presented before them. This is the only guarantee that the laws would gain buy-in and acceptance by the people so that their implementation if effective. In the case where they are faced with a critical need for encompassing policies such as the prohibition, they can seek popular support by subjecting the amendments for voting by the people. Due to the complications and difficulties in implementing the ban, various social vices such as corruption, violence and alcohol abuse become so entrenched. In fact, during the dry era, corruption involving the prohibition enforcement officers and illegal distillers became lucrative. The bootleggers often bribed the police officers and the federal Bureau of prohibition officials. Furthermore, prohibition created law evaders and many inmates than before. The cost of maintaining people incarcerated for offenses related to bootlegging became higher as jails overflowed and the judicial system failed to cope up with the pressure (Chamberlain 394). Cases resulting from prohibition waited for too long to be prosecuted which became a common occurrence in the then American judicial system due to a large number of arrests. At the center of understanding, prohibition is the need to understand the backlash that is associated with the inherent weaknesses in the Volstead Act and the Eighteenth Amendment. The laws which were intended to foster temperance resulted in great intemperance and excesses.

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