Prohibition The Crimes That Resulted From It

Prohibition: The Crimes That Resulted From It Essay, Research Paper

Prohibition, a time of enlightenment and peace, or so it was hoped to be. The prohibiting of alcohol was the governments attempt to organize society, to try and perfect it, but only led to crime and demoralization. Organized crime, now only in its developing stages, was given a large boost, thanks to the overwhelming desire for alcohol. Organized crime, however, was not the only criminal activity to escalate; the black market also had a surprising boom. The economy itself began to decline, with moral at an overall low, and with crime beginning to reach an all time high. With raised taxes to pay for increased police enforcement, many small businesses were forced to close, leaving many homeless and unable to be self dependant.

Prohibition didn t lead to the perfect society as dreamt, instead it led way to crimes such as bootlegging and places like speakeasies, and bringing down the moral of the common man, prohibition truly was an utter failure.

Where did prohibition come from, why was it ordered? Well, prohibition came from the saloon, which came from the frontier. The work of the frontier, like building the cities and the factories, putting down roads and railroad track created a very large thirst. Many of the men were unmarried, their jobs would not allow it, and it was too

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much of a commitment. There wasn t much too amuse people and they felt life is short. So, almost like today with drugs, they thought drinking would help them get over the pain and strengthen their “camaraderie”.

Saloons could keep up with the growth easily due to their flimsy structures and need for few resources. But this also created a problem, too much competition. The supply of alcohol was much more than the demand. “As the saloons competed for business, they became less and less careful about how they did it. They began to provide prostitutes and drugs. Minors were served without hesitation, if they had ten cents or a quarter to spend. There were even tables strictly for gambling.”(Perret, 166)

The saloon owners were smart though. They would offer free lunches, but they either very salty or dry. People would even be thrown out if they ate more than his money s worth of drinks. Saloons began to go a different way; they would buy of police officers or politicians if necessary. As the communities began to grow though, resistance to the saloon began to grow.

Alcohol was also being “attacked”. At the turn of the century studies were showing that even moderate drinking could be harmful to the liver and kidneys, also that it was a depressant, not a stimulant which it was thought to be, and could even damage the stomach. They said that it itself did not cause diseases, but it did reduce the bodies resistance to other diseases.

Before this alcohol had been for centuries prescribed as a treatment for colds, as

an aid to digestion, and even as a nerve tonic. By WWI though most doctors stopped

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writing prescriptions like these. Hospitals would also refuse to carry it. Pharmacists

would not dispense it. Basically, most of them felt alcohol was a poison.

The group most against saloons, however, was not doctors, it was the Anti-Saloon League. Most of its support came from the evangelical Protestant churches. Episcopalians and Lutherans barely even recognized the ASL s existence. Jews and Catholics wanted the people to exhibit self control, but not prohibition. It was the Baptists, Methodists, and other evangelicals that fully supported the ASL.

The ASL gained more power through the railroad, but so did saloons. Wherever the railroad went, saloons would be built. By 1903 there were thousands of miles of track, thousands of saloons, and also a strengthening outreach of the Anti-Saloon League. The arrival of an ASL “Flying Squad”, a group sent to support small groups of prohibitionists, to back the Prohibitionists crusade of the local churches became almost a party with torchlight parades, brass bands, speakers, singers, and fireworks.

The ASL was not alone though. It had strong support from the Women s Christian Temperance Union, which had hundreds of thousands of members. There was also a Prohibition Party, founded in 1869. It began as a party that was lobbying for business regulation, public education, votes for women, and liberal immigration policies, as well as Prohibition. By 1914 its primary interest was only in prohibition.

Both the Populists and the Progressives, the two major reform movements in America at the turn of the century, supported prohibition. There were important dry

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Republican Progressives such as Borah, and important dry Democratic Progressives

like McAdoo.

Health officials traced venereal disease into the back rooms of over 10,000 saloons. “The man who was liquored up was more likely to sleep with a prostitute than a sober man.

Prohibition was enacted on the sixteenth of January, 1920. While most people believe that prohibition was a law making the consumption of alcohol illegal, it was, in reality, nothing like that. The drinking of alcohol was completely legal, it was the manufacture and selling of alcohol that was a crime. The government still allowed themselves to make loopholes through their own system though. “Any person seen indulging in alcohol was protected by law from being arrested, but the police officer could still put him in a holding cell because of probable cause. Then this person would be questioned as to how he obtained it and who he received it from.”(Sinclair, 223) The probable cause was that the person could have known somebody who manufactured it.

Their was one crime that showed up on the scene that escalated far more than any others, bootlegging, the making of alcohol with common products, usually found at home or bought at the local drug store. “Bootlegging, in short, was like a banana republic-a handful of millionaires at the top, vast numbers of miserable wretches at the bottom, and virtually no middle class.”(Perret, 175)

It wasn t realized by most people at the time, but whiskey, brandy, and rum kept on being distilled legally even after prohibition had come into effect. The “distilleries”

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worked on a smaller but still large scale, supposedly to replenish the stocks in the

bonded warehouses. There were many wineries that were still in operation, supposedly

making sacramental wine. The alcohol was then drawn off, making it into “near beer”. The “near beer” was sent to a cellar the a speakeasy, a club where a password was needed to get in, alcohol was served. When the people at the speakeasy got it, it would be “needled” in with an injection of grain of alcohol and it s normal sate would then be restored.

Every area had it s “specialties” based on whatever local or raw materials could be used. In southern Florida what people would do was take a coconut, make a hole in it, making sure to leave the milk inside, then add a tablespoon of brown sugar, and seal. Then in three weeks they would have a drink known as “cocowhiskey”.

One of the most widely manufactured drinks from that period was bathtub gin. Bathtub gin was not made in a bathtub though, it was made in jugs. They would fill it with one-third grain alcohol, or two-thirds of distilled water. Then they would add a few ounces of juniper extract and a little glycerin.

The prohibition gave people an easy way to break the law and make a profit. The easy manufacturing and simple needs of all of the drinks listed above allowed for normal people to become criminals, which of course meant a big crime boom.

The most popular place for this alcohol to be sent to was the speakeasy. Speakeasies were basically the illegal form of a nightclub. Speakeasies gave out the false idea that they were exclusive. “The more exclusive they pretended to be, the more

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clamorous the howls for admission, and the freer the spending once entry was

gained.”(Perett, 176)

Speakeasies were actually one more step for women s rights. Saloons did not allow women in unless they were performers. The speakeasies welcomed them. The fact that they were owned by gangsters didn t seem bother anyone, as long as they could buy a drink without being bothered by the police.

Prohibition did, however, put strips like Broadway into great decline. Before 1920 Broadway and all of it s surrounding streets were mostly elegant hotels, respectable restaurants, and what is was most known for, it s world famous theatres. In many of these buildings most of their profit was made by the wine and spirits that they sold. Because of prohibition, they couldn t even sell the simplest beer. Many of the countries best hotels and restaurants were closed almost overnight. And others were picked off month by month. By 1927 “Virtually everything that had made Broadway famous was gone, and the amusement area had been turned into a raucous jungle of chop-suey restaurants, hot-dog and hamburger shops, garish night clubs, radio stores equipped with blaring loud-speakers, cheap haberdasheries, fruit-juice stands, dime museums, candy and drug stores, speakeasies, gaudy movie houses, flea circuses, penny arcades, and lunch counters which advertised EATS!”.(Asbury, 190-191)

The common working class were the people who most disliked prohibition.

It got rid of their saloons and bars, their escape from their problems and get entertained. Duncan Currier

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But back then the saloon was more than just a “waterhole” for the workers. “It was

labor exchange, union hall, a place for wedding receptions and neighborhood dances.”(Perret, 177)

Not only was their saloon or bar gone, but pretty much so was their alcohol, which was very expensive to get from bootleggers. But it also had a plus side, arrests for public drunkenness decreased a lot. Articles about alcoholism weren t showing up in medical magazines and books any more. The deaths from alcohol-related sickness also decreased a lot.

The resistance to the Eighteenth Amendment gradually grew stronger. Prohibition had been sent on a steep decline. As it did though, the prohibitionists, backed up by Wheeler, a prohibitionist politician, or “dry lip”, demanded even more strict measures, saying that prohibition wasn t failing, it just had never been done before. “Wheeler agitated for stringer denaturants to be added to industrial alcohol to turn it into poison. If people wanted to commit suicide for the sake of the drink, let them. He remained single-minded to the end, under greater pressure after Prohibition than he had ever been in the days of the saloon. In 1927 he died, aged fifty-six, worn out from his self-appointed struggle to save the nation from booze.”(Merz, 214)

Started by small groups as a good idea, prohibition was hoped to bring about a new era of the country, a golden era. Prohibition might remind one of communism. It was a good idea, and worked in theory, but didn t factor in the fact that they were only human. As people found ways around the law and started rebelling against prohibition,

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the opposite dream of prohibition seemed to show, a social decline rather than a social

peak. Prohibition was hoped to decrease crime, but public drunkenness was the only crime to actually decrease, all others increased. Not only did others though, more were being created, such as bootlegging. Prohibition took a hard stumble backwards, not a brave stride forwards.


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