Absolut Failure

This essay has a total of 1703 words and 7 pages.

Absolut Failure

The 1920's was a time of major social change in the United States. The social changes
during this period are reflected in the laws and regulations that were implemented. One of
the most prominent examples of this was prohibition. The 18th Amendment to the
Constitution, or the Volsted act as it is also know, was implemented to eliminate the use
of alcohol in the United States. In doing this, the advocates of prohibition hoped to also
eradicate the social problems associated with alcohol. "It was an attempt to promote
Protestant middle-class culture as a means of imposing order on a disorderly
world"(Dumenil 226). However, this goal of keeping social order through not consuming
alcohol, was not reached during the years of prohibition, or even the years following it.
Alcohol use among Americans did decline, but it was not totally eliminated, and some of
the social problems were even greater then before prohibition. Therefore prohibition was
not successful in its original purpose. To best understand the reasons behind the failure
of prohibition, we have to look at the years before, during, and after prohibition. This
will give context to the implementation of the 18th Amendment, as well as show the trends
of Americans' alcohol use and the effects of alcohol on American society.

The early 1900's were a time of great prosperity in the United States. America was
thriving economically, and big cities were booming. However, some Americans thought that
this was not a good thing, because of the social problems that came with the urban
culture. The "Dry's", as Prohibitionists were referred to, saw large cities as providing
people with readily available alcohol. This in turn led to an increase in crime, poverty
and immorality. During the period of 1911-1915 the average per-capita consumption of
alcohol of each American was 2.56 gallons (Kyvig 24). The solution that was proposed was a
national prohibition of alcohol. The goal of this was to eliminate drinking in America
thus reducing all of the problems associated with it. "The Prohibitionists thought that
the sale of liquor was a social crime, that the drinking of liquor was a racial crime, and
that the results of liquor were criminal actions"(Sinclair 220). By making alcohol illegal
nationally, such as it would be with prohibition, the social problems of America would be

On January 16, 1920 alcohol became illegal with the passing of the 18th Amendment. Under
the Volsted Act, named after its author, the importing, exporting, transporting, and
manufacturing of all intoxicating substances was outlawed. The government defined
intoxicating liquor as anything having an alcoholic content of more then .5%. However this
excluded alcohol used in religious or medical purposes. With the passing of this
Amendment, the temperance movement in the United States had won a major victory. They saw
the implementation of prohibition as the key to freeing American from the fiery vices of
alcohol. So began the prohibition era.

At the onset of prohibition, alcohol use in the United States did decline. "It did cut
alcohol consumption, perhaps by as much as thirty percent, and was more effective in the
early years (1919-1922)" (Dumenil 233). However, this reduction in consumption was not
long lasting. "Seldom has a law been more flagrantly violated. Not only did Americans
continue to manufacture, barter, and possess alcohol; they drank more of it"(Bowen 154).
One of the reasons for this was because prohibition was so hard to enforce. Partly this
was because of the poor wording of the Amendment. The 18th Amendment prohibited the sale,
import, export, manufacture, and transport of alcohol, but it failed to specifically make
purchasing alcohol or its use a crime. According to David E. Kyvig, "This allowed
continued possession of intoxicants obtained prior to prohibition, provided that such
beverages were only for personal use in one's own home"(22). This loophole in the
Amendment was not on the side of the Prohibitionists, and ultimately led to a decline in
prohibition's effectiveness.

Another reason that the decline in alcohol sale and usage was not permanent was its
increased profitability. After the implementation of prohibition, the price of alcohol
went up dramatically. During prohibition, the price of beer went up 600%, and the price of
gin went up 520%(Kyvig Pg.25). This made the sale of illegal spirits more profitable to
bootleggers. The alcohol trade was a very lucrative practice. Bootleggers smuggled alcohol
in to the country and sold it at tremendous profits. Therefore, because alcohol was more
profitable to sell during prohibition, it was more widely consumed. The levels of
consumption never reached those of pre-prohibition times, but alcohol use in the United
States was not totally eliminated. "National prohibition substantially reduced, but did
not altogether eliminate, the use of alcoholic beverages"(Kyvig 22).

During prohibition, the social ills of America that the prohibitionists had hoped to cure
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