In January 1920 prohibition was introduced to the USA by the Volstead Act, which became the 18th amendment to the US constitution. This meant that that the production, transporting and sale of alcoholic liquor were banned. This led the creation of speakeasies and led to many normal citizens turning to gangster life styles. When Prohibition was first introduced it was very popular. It was introduced mostly to do with the moral issues associated with drinking. There were many campaigns to get alcohol banned most of which were successful.
They blamed alcohol for breaking up families, causing unemployment and ill health and suffering for women and children. The campaign against alcohol had its origins in small town America. In the 19th century two major anti-alcohol campaign groups were becoming very effective. These were the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement which was formed in 1872 and the Anti-Saloon League which was formed in 1893. These were very strong in the South and Midwest. They said that men were spending too much money on alcohol as apposed to their families.
There was a lot of propaganda against alcohol at these times which said things such as neglected children outside saloons saying that they don’t know where their father is or pictures of men handing over their weekly wages to the barmen. In their campaign groups such as the Anti-Saloon league got a lot of support from all over the country. I believe that this was the main cause of prohibition being introduced as it was because of the Anti-Saloon League that the cause got so much support.
The second most important reason for prohibition being introduced was that campaigns also sparked a lot of support from major businessmen such as Henry Ford and Edwin Theiss who put a lot of money in to getting it banned. This is for reasons such as people turning up late for work because of alcohol related problems. Edwin Theiss said “Until booze is banished we can never really have efficient workmen. We are not much interested in the moral side of the matter as such. It is purely a question of dollars and cents”.
It really was believed that the banning of alcohol would make the USA a better place. Another example of big businessmen putting money in to the cause was John D. Rockefeller. It was thought that the Rockefellers put at least $350,000 in to the Anti-Saloon League before 1920, plus around $75,000 per year after that. This shows us how strongly people disliked booze. Another way of persuasion by the Anti-Saloon League was that they used to say that it was un-patriotic to buy alcohol as most of the alcohol in America was made in Germany.
In an Anti-Saloon League pamphlet it even went as far as to say “The American’s patriotic duty is to abolish the un-American, pro German, crime producing, food wasting, youth corrupting, home wrecking, treasonable liquor traffic. ” I believe that this wasn’t a very important cause as it was fairly ridiculous. The only people the campaigners had to persuade after that were the politicians but this proved to be easy. The politicians needed votes so they agreed with campaigners and if they didn’t then they were accused of being supporters of crime and immorality.
This meant that by 1919 thirteen states were ‘dry’ of alcohol. At first prohibition seemed to be a success but this soon changed. There were many reasons why it was a failure. Firstly, prohibition failed because it was not supported by the public. The public were the people who liked to drink and were prepared to break the law to do so. This led to the formation of secret bars which were known as speakeasies. These were extremely popular bars which were formed in secret all over America. They were places where alcohol and food was available and speakeasies often contained dancers and live music.
They were so popular that by 1929 there were 32,000 speakeasies in New York alone and it was thought that there were more secret speakeasies after Prohibition then there were bars before the ban. The major criticism of the speakeasies was that all of the alcohol was illegally made and therefore could be lethal. There were many cases of people going blind and even some cases of people dying. The most important reason that prohibition failed was that there were between just 1,500 and 2,000 prohibition officers employed to ensure that the whole of America stopped drinking.
They were also on very low pay so therefore were subject to bribery and this was very common. The gangsters that owned the speakeasies would pay the patrols over twice their pay to not arrest them. This also meant that the gangsters could get away with bootlegging. This was when alcohol was smuggled into the USA mainly from Canada and the West Indies. This is how a lot of the speakeasies got a lot of their alcohol and also how they could never quite cut alcohol out all together.
I believe that the main reason why the government never quite cut out alcohol was because of the gangsters. These were the people that stepped in to supply the demand and they did this because it was so highly paid. Famous gangsters such as Al Capone were supposed to have made $100,000 a year but because there were so many people who were trying to supply the speakeasies there was a lot of rivalry which meant there was no respect for the law. Gangsters fought to control the business and it encouraged a very bad atmosphere around the cities.
This led to around about 200 gang murders between 1929 and 1931. Because there was so much competition it also the gangsters started to get involved in other businesses such as prostitution, drugs, Protection Rackets and Gambling which led to a huge increase in crime. Prohibition made ordinary people into criminals and because of the bribes the police were reluctant to enforce the law. Along with the prohibition officers and the police the gangsters also bribed people such as judges, chief of police and even mayors.
Because of all of the above reasons prohibition was repealed in 1933. It was clearly not working and the depression meant that there was very little money to be spent on enforcing the law and when Roosevelt became president in 1933 he personally didn’t approve of prohibition. I conclude that prohibition was introduced in 1920 for many very good reasons but it was also a very good decision that it was to be repealed in 1933. It proved too impossible to get rid of what proved to be a way of life for some people.