Prohibition Essay, Research Paper
Prohibition in the 1920 s did not achieve its goals. Instead, it added to the problems it was intended to solve. It was originally meant to reduce the consumption of alcohol and thereby reduce crime, poverty, death rates, and improve the economy and quality of life. This however, failed to succeed. The prohibition amendment of the 1920 s was ineffective because it was unenforceable, it caused the explosive growth of crime, and it increased the amount of alcohol consumption. Not only was prohibition ineffective, but it was also damaging to the people and society it was meant to help.
Prohibition in the United States was a measure designed to reduce drinking by eliminating the businesses that manufactured, distributed, and sold alcoholic beverages. .On Midnight of January 16, 1920, one of the personal habits and customs of most Americans suddenly came to a halt x (Thorton, 15). The Eighteenth Amendment was put into effect and all importing, exporting, transporting, selling, and manufacturing of intoxicating liquor was put to an end (16). The prohibition leaders believed that once license to do business was removed from the liquor traffic, the churches and reform organizations would enjoy an opportunity to persuade Americans to give up drink. .This opportunity would occur unchallenged by the drink businesses (”the liquor traffic”) in whose interests it was to urge more Americans to drink, and to drink more beverage alcohol x (19).
Some prohibition leaders looked forward to an educational campaign that would greatly expand once the drink businesses became illegal, and would eventually, in about thirty years, lead to a .sober nation x (Bowen, 120). Other prohibition leaders looked forward to vigorous enforcement of prohibition in order to eliminate supplies of beverage alcohol. After 1920, neither group of leaders was especially successful. The educators never received the support for the campaign that they dreamed about, and the law enforcers were never able to persuade government officials to mount a wholehearted enforcement campaign against illegal suppliers of beverage alcohol (138).
The Volstead Act passed in October 1920 provided for federal enforcement of the constitutional amendment and defined any beverage containing 0.5 percent alcohol or more as intoxicating (Bowen, 134). After this act was put into place to determine specific laws and methods of enforcement, the Federal Prohibition Bureau was formulated in order to see that the Volstead Act was enforced. Nevertheless, bootleggers and commoners alike flagrantly violated these laws. Bootleggers smuggled liquor from overseas and Canada, stole it from government warehouses, and produced their own. Many people hid their liquor in hip flasks, false books, hollow canes, and anything else they could find (Bowen, 159). There were also illegal speak-easies, which replaced saloons after the start of prohibition. By 1925, there were over 100,000 speak-easies in New York City alone (Bowen, 160). As good as the ideal sounded, . prohibition was far easier to proclaim than to enforce x (Wenburn, 234). With only 1,550 federal agents and over 18,700 miles of .fast and virtually unpoliceable coastline x (Wenburn, 234), .it was clearly impossible to prevent immense quantities of liquor from entering the country x (Kobler, 162). Barely five percent of smuggles liquor was hindered from coming into the country in the 1920 s. Furthermore, the illegal liquor business fell under the control of organized gangs, which overpowered most of the authorities (Wenburm, 234). Many bootleggers secured their business by bribing the authorities, namely federal agents and persons of high political status (Bowen, 160). .No one who is intellectually honest will deny that there has not yet been effective nationwide enforcement x (Behr, 161).
As a result of the lack of enforcement of the Prohibition Act and the creation of an illegal industry, an increase in crime transpired. The Prohibitionists hoped that the Volstead Act would decrease drunkenness in America and thereby decrease the crime rate, especially in large cities. Although towards the beginning of Prohibition this purpose seemed to be fulfilled, the crime rate soon skyrocketed to nearly twice that of the pre-prohibition period. In large cities, the homicide went from 5.6 (per 100,000 population) in the pre-prohibition period, to nearly 10 (per 100,000 population) during prohibition, nearly a 78 percent increase. Serious crimes, such as homicides, assault, and battery, increased nearly 13 percent, while other crimes involving victims increased 9 percent (Encarta). Many supporters of prohibition argued that the crime rate decreased. This is true if one examining only minor crimes, such as swearing, mischief, and vagrancy, which did in fact decrease due to prohibition. The major crimes, however, such as homicides and burglaries, increased 24 percent between 1920 and 1921. In addition, the number of federal convicts over the course of the prohibition period increased 561 percent. .The crime rate increased because prohibition destroyed legal jobs, created black-market violence, diverted resources from enforcement of other laws, and increased prices people had to pay for prohibited goods x (Thorton, 10).
The contributing factor to the sudden increase of felonies was the organization of crime, especially in large cities. Because liquor was no longer legally available, the public turned to gangsters who readily took on the bootlegging industry and supplied them with liquor. On account of the industry being so profitable, more gangsters became involved in the moneymaking business. .Crime became so organized because criminal groups organized around the steady source of income provided by laws against victimless crimes such as consuming alcohol x (Thorton, 13). Rivalry between gangs was great as a result of money involved in the bootlegging industry. The profit motive caused over four hundred gang related murders a year in Chicago alone (Bowen, 175).
Seldom has law been more flagrantly violated. Americans not only continued to manufacture, barter, and possess alcohol, but they drank more of it (Kobler, 175). Prior to criminalization of the use of alcohol, the average annual consumption of alcohol was 142 million gallons. Although the consumption of alcohol fell immediately after the beginning of prohibition, after seven years of prohibition, the use of alcohol skyrocketed to over 285 million gallons (Hardaway, 47). After the start of prohibition, because manufacturing and importing alcohol were illegal, people needed to find ways to avoid being caught. Because beer had to be transported in large quantities, which became difficult, the price of beer went up and thus Americans began to drink less of it. Instead, they began to drink more hard liquor, which was more concentrated and easier to transport and thus less expensive. Because of prohibition, Americans began to drink more potent drinks and so became more drunk by drinking less. Another downfall of prohibition was that the illegally made products had no standards. Deaths from poisoned liquor rose from 1,064 in 1920 to 4,154 in 1925 (Hardaway, 48).
Although one would think that prohibition would enhance the difficulty of obtaining alcohol, liquor was actually very easy to acquire. Customers could easily obtain alcohol by simply walking down almost any street because of the immense bootlegging business. Illegal speak-easies, replacing saloons, were hidden in basements, office buildings, and anywhere that could be found. They admitted only those with membership cards and had the most modern alarm systems to avoid being shut down. Bootleggers, having very profitable businesses, either illegally imported liquor, stole it from government warehouses, or made it their own, making it readily available to customers (Bowen, 170). Many home products were sold to those customers who wanted small quantities of alcohol.
Another factor that proves the increase of alcohol consumption is the increase in deaths and drunkenness. The drop in alcohol related deaths before prohibition quickly rose during prohibition. Arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct increased 41 percent, while arrests for drunk driving increased 81 percent during prohibition (Thorton, 7).
Prohibition distorted the role of alcohol in American life (Encarta). It caused people to drink more rather than less, and it promoted disrespect for the law. It also generated a wave of organized criminal activity, during which the bootlegger, the speakeasy, and the gangster became popular institutions and that the profits available to criminals from illegal alcohol corrupted almost every level of government. It is obvious that this .Noble Experiment x was not so noble but rather a miserable failure on all accounts (Kobler, 343). Reasonable measures were not taken to enforce the laws and so they were practically ignored. The problems prohibition intended to solve, such as crime, grew worse and they never returned to their pre-prohibition levels. Prohibition should not have gone on for the thirteen years it was allowed to damage society.