Prohibition in the roaring twenties Essay

This essay has a total of 2165 words and 10 pages.

prohibition in the roaring twenties

Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties can be described as a period of American history during which people
crossed the line, smashed tradition, and broke boundaries. A brand new culture was created
during this period, with jazz, money, the flapper, gangster wars, loose morals,
speakeasies, and last but not least, an abundance of liquor. The decade was also called
the New Era, the New Freedom, the Jazz Age, the Golden Era, the Lawless Decade, or the Dry
Decade. The last title was a joke- the twenties were far from dry. This is the reason why
the 1920's were given names that described America's lax view of the 18th amendment and
the Volstead Act. The laws were literally ignored for the 13 years that they were in
effect. Prohibition was meant to cause a nationwide revolution in morality. In actuality,
it did quite the opposite. Prohibition law itself had the greatest effect on the culture
of the "roaring twenties," and the carefree lifestyle and feeling of rebellion and
invincibility can both be connected to prohibition.

The change in American lifestyle began even before the prohibition law was passed. Several
months prior to January 16, 1920 (when the 18th amendment and the Volstead Act were
scheduled to go into effect), there were warehouse robberies, stocking up of cellars with
liquor, and burglaries of these cellars. Some called it the beginning of the age of
hijacking. (Chidsey 73) However, the law affected neither alcohol consumption nor the
brewing and distilling companies. At the close of the nineteenth century, the annual per
capita consumption of distilled liquors in America was more than one gallon, of wine
slightly less than half a gallon, and of malt liquors more than sixteen gallons. At the
time of Prohibition there were 177, 790 saloons in the United States, 1217 legal breweries
, 507 legal distilleries, and countless illegal ones. Together the brewers and distillers
made up almost a billion- dollar industry- the fifth largest in the country. (Chidsey
58-59)

In the early 1900's when Prohibition was imminent, brewers supported the saloonkeepers as
much as customers did. A beer company would finance a saloonkeeper if he agreed to only
sell his sponsor's beer. Problems arose, however, when other saloons began to stay open on
Sundays and after closing hours to make more money. If the first saloonkeeper wanted to
stay open, he would be force to pay off the cops. If he didn't stay open late, he would go
out of business. (Chidsey 59-60) During Prohibition, the same ideology applied to the
speakeasies.

Generally, Americans had always been viewed as a law abiding people (Chidsey 79). This
changed with the advent of Prohibition. Take for example Speakeasies. These illegal
saloons were the cause of much crime, and a newfound immorality in people. As these
speakeasies competed for business, they began to provide prostitutes and drugs. They
served minors if the minors had money to spend, and there were gambling tables. This was
new corrupt thinking in American society, and it contributed to the carefree behavior of
the roaring twenties, as is explained later.

Bootleggers were also common during Prohibition. These criminals seemed like normal men,
because they had the idea that lawbreaking, in this case, was okay to do. (Chidsey 80) The
rest of the nation shortly adopted the same thinking. They found breaking the Prohibition
law (and eventually, other laws) to be painless, comfortable, and exciting. People
including women and teenagers, began visiting their homey neighborhood speakeasy
regularly. The population of cities grew at 1.5% each year due to "country boys and girls
leaving the farm for the excitement of Sodom." (Chidsey 63)

Women had been barred from drinking places before Prohibition, so they went without
encouragement to the speakeasies. They were curious, and as eager to break the law and try
out their new freedom as the men were. Prohibition helped the advancement of women's
rights in two ways. First, the drys (members of the Prohibition movement or party) tried
to help women in their quest for suffrage because they believed that women would vote
overwhelmingly dry. (Perrett 177)

Second, speakeasies welcomed women equally with men, as long as they paid the same price for a drink.
With this new freedom came the flapper and her unrestricted morals. Women began to drink
and participate in wild behavior. Their appearance changed: they wore silk in place of
cotton, rolled their hose, wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, and applied more makeup.
They were slender and boyish. Due to their freedom in drinking, with a little push from
Freud's writing, they loosened their sexual morals as well. Petting parties were not
uncommon. Perrett describes a couple in a speakeasy: " The sheik [young male] carried a
hip flask, his sheba [girlfriend] a cigarette holder…" (Perrett 152)

Women who came into the speakeasies with their boyfriend or husband were nto the only
girls that populated the bars. There were also less respectable women who sometimes rented
rooms attached to the speakeasies and advertised their sales inside the saloons. The
prostitution in the speakeasies sometimes was condemned more than the selling and buying
of liquor (Sann 195). Speakeasies purposely had girls for the use of their lonely
customers. They were known as "cigaret" (sic) girls or checkroom girls.

Not only the women and the youth were defying Prohibition with their rebellious ways, but
middle-aged and reputable people were also taking parting flouting the law. On November
22, 1926, Time published a formula for making gin that was decent tasting (Perett 175).
Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the wife of the speaker of the House of Representatives, humbly
admitted, " We had a small still…" (Perett 175). The fact that police disobeyed
Prohibition and overlooked speakeasies should not be forgotten either.

As the wet (anti-Prohibition) ignored Prohibition, so too they abandoned the traditional
churches that backed temperance or the Anti Saloon League. Throughout the twenties there
was a steady decline in the spirit of religious belief. Individual gifts to religious
charities dropped by 40 percent. Churches in the cities and countries reported declining
attendance. (Perett 205) Ernest Gordon said in his 1943 book The Wrecking of the
Eighteenth Amendment that the anti-clerical image of the ministry found in the twenties
was due to the wet interests: "The Protestant ministers have for years been the ones to
clean up after the distillers and brewers. They have helped the alcohol-sick at their own
doors and in little missions," and for this they have suffered "an attack… unparalleled
in American history, in movie and theatre, in novel, and magazine and newspaper." (Carter
94-95) United Mine Workers president Tom L. Lewis said, "There is no easier way possible
to make the unfortunate man, or the oppressed worker, content with his misfortune that
couple of glasses of beer." (Carter 90) Carter also postulates that " If the working man
in America of that period had largely left the church, as the statistics indicate that he
had, then perhaps religion had been displaced by a more powerful - or at least more
cognenial - opiate for the people!" (Carter 90) It was true that the religious faiths
seemed increasingly out of place in the new lifestyle and behaviors of the American
people.

The new vivacity of the twenties constantly being fueled by the illegal booze, which was
acquired in many ways. Some prescription alcohol was stolen out of government warehouses
to satisfy the need, although, near the end of Prohibition, it was poisoned to prevent
such happenings. Many people concocted their own "bathtub gin" in glass gallon jugs or
bottles, filled with one-third grain alcohol (bought from the neighborhood bootlegger), a
few drops of glycerin and juniper juice, and bathtub tap water to fill the rest of the
bottle (Chidsey 111-112 and Perett 175-176). Viniculturists were also doing business with
their grapes. Wine greapes were selling at twenty dollars a ton at the beginning of the
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