prohibition in 1920





Prohibition in the 1920s


Thirteen Years That Damaged America

I have always taken an interest in the Roaring Twenties and that is why I decided to write my English term paper on an event that occured in the 1920s. What follows is my term paper which concentrates on prohibition and why it was not effective, namely because of lack of enforcement, growth of crime, and the increase in the drinking rate. I hope this may be of some help to you.
“Prohibition did not achieve its goals. Instead, it added to the problems it was intended to solve” (Thorton, 15). On Midnight of January 16, 1920, one of the personal habits and customs of most Americans suddenly came to a halt. The Eighteenth Amendment was put into effect and all importing, exporting, transporting, selling, and manufacturing of intoxicating liquor was put to an end. Shortly following the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment, the National Prohibition Act, or the Volstead Act, as it was called because of its author, Andrew J. Volstead, was put into effect. This determined intoxicating liquor as anything having an alcoholic content of anything more than 0.5 percent, omitting alcohol used for medicinal and sacramental purposes. This act also set up guidelines for enforcement (Bowen, 154). Prohibition was meant to reduce the consumption of alcohol, seen by some as the devil’s advocate, and thereby reduce crime, poverty, death rates, and improve the economy and the quality of life. “National prohibition of alcohol -- the ‘noble experiment’ -- was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America” (Thorton, 1). This, however, was undoubtedly to no avail. The Prohibition amendment of the 1920s was ineffective because it was unenforceable, it caused the explosive growth of crime, and it increased the amount of alcohol consumption.
“It is impossible to tell whether prohibition is a good thing or a bad thing. It has never been enforced in this country” (LaGuardia). After the Volstead 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, these laws were flagrantly violated by bootleggers and commoners alike. Bootleggers smuggled liquor from oversees 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” (Wenburn, 234). With only 1,550 federal agents and over 18,700 miles of (Bowen, 166) “vast and virtually unpoliceable coastline” (Wenburn, 234), “it was clearly impossible to prevent immense quantities of liquor from entering the country” (Behr, 162). Barely five percent of smuggled liquor was hindered from coming into the country in the 1920s. Furthermore, the illegal liquor business fell under the control of organized gangs, which overpowered most of the authorities (Wenburn, 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” (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. Many supporters of prohibition argued that the crime rate decreased. This is true if one is examining only minor crimes, such