To Drink or Not To Drink
The Impact of Prohibition
“Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky. It is the prohibition that makes anything precious”- Mark Twain. Here to explore the concept and impact of Prohibition in the United States, Perspectoverse's Avani Raj.
Prohibition is the legal prevention of the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States from 1920 to 1933 under the terms of the Eighteenth Amendment. The question arises, what exactly was the Eighteenth Amendment? The Eighteenth Amendment emerged from the organized efforts of the temperance movement and Anti-Saloon League, which attributed alcohol virtually to all of society’s ills and led campaigns at the local, state, and national levels to combat its manufacture, sale, distribution, and consumption. Most of the organized efforts supporting prohibition involved religious coalitions that linked alcohol to immorality, criminality, and, with the advent of World War I, unpatriotic citizenship. The amendment passed both chambers of the U.S. Congress in December 1917 and was ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states in January 1919.
However, the public appetite for alcohol remained and was only intensified with the stock market crash of 1929. In March 1933, shortly after taking office, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which amended the Volstead Act, permitting the manufacturing and sale of low-alcohol beer and wines (up to 3.2 percent alcohol by volume). Nine months later, on December 5, 1933, federal prohibition was repealed with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment (which allowed prohibition to be maintained at the state and local levels). The Eighteenth Amendment is the only amendment to have secured ratification and later been repealed.
How exactly did the prohibition lead to an increase in crime and organised crime? Though the advocates of prohibition had argued that banning sales of alcohol would reduce criminal activity, it in fact directly contributed to the rise of organized crime. After the Eighteenth Amendment went into force, bootlegging, or the illegal distillation and sale of alcoholic beverages, became widespread. Al Capone was the most notorious of the prohibition-era gangsters who made their fortunes from the illegal distillation and sale of alcohol. Capone also became a member of the James Street Boys gang during this period, which was run by Johnny Torrio, the man that would become his lifelong mentor, and associated with the Five Points gang. At age 16 Capone became a member of the Five Points gang and served aspiring mobster Francesco Ioele (Torrio’s associate, more commonly known as Frankie Yale) as a bartender in Yale’s brothel-saloon, the Harvard Inn. Many law enforcement agencies simply lacked the resources to consistently and effectively enforce prohibition.
Lastly, the question that arises is, how exactly did the prohibition lead to the great depression? This is perhaps one of the most important questions, when it comes to this issue. As mentioned, prohibition created a vast illegal market for the production, trafficking and sale of alcohol. In turn, the economy took a major hit, thanks to lost tax revenue and legal jobs, and the start of the Great Depression (1929-1939) caused a huge change in American opinion about Prohibition. On the whole, the initial economic effects of prohibition were largely negative. The closing of breweries, distilleries and saloons led to the elimination of thousands of jobs, and in turn thousands more jobs were eliminated for barrel makers, truckers, waiters, and other related trades.
Written by Avani Raj
Illustrated by Rishita Banerjee