OUTLINE Thesis: National Prohibition in the United States was doomed to fail from the beginning. I. Introduction: Prohibition in the United States was doomed to fail from the beginning. There are many reasons why Prohibition was a failure and in the following pages I would like to explore those reasons. Although the intentions were “noble”, not only did Prohibition not achieve its goals it subsequently added to many of the problems that it intended to solve. II. Reasons behind Prohibition: a. In 1673, Increase Mather, a Puritan leader, stated, “Wine is from God, but the drunkard is from the devil” (Hill, 7). . In 1836, The American Temperance Union was established. Originally temperance concentrated on getting people to drink in moderation. c. The Civil War put temperance and Prohibition on the back burner. III. Enforcement of Prohibition: a. Enforcement of Prohibition proved to be extremely overwhelming. b. Even the law itself was elusive. c. It didn’t occur to anyone that a Constitutional Mandate would be ignored. d. This was the biggest endeavor ever attempted to alter the social habits of the American people. IV. Crime and Corruption: . Organizing organized crime took a giant step forward when Johnny Torrio took over “Big Jim Colosimon’s” gang. b. Organized crime peaked during the Prohibition era. c. In New York, Charles “Lucky” Luciano was making a name for himself. V. The Demise of Prohibition: a. As prohibition helped organized crime flourish, organized crime helped with the demise of Prohibition. b. The obstacles and complications of the Eighteenth Amendment and the National Prohibition Enforcement Act became quite obvious in a short period of time. c.
When Hoover took over office he established the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement. d. When Roosevelt took office “Resolutions supporting repeal were introduced in the House and Senate” (Hintz, 79). VI. Conclusion: National Prohibition of alcohol in the United States was doomed to fail from the beginning. By 1931 most people realized that Prohibition had been a mistake. There are many reasons why the “Noble Experiment” failed. But the number one reason was because Americans still wanted to drink. Whenever something is in high demand, there will always be someone willing to supply it.
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Many people thought that Prohibition would be good for mankind and end corruption. Unfortunately Prohibition became a major source of crime and corruption. Although I can certainly understand the reasons behind the movement and commend society for trying to improve their circumstances, passing laws to regulate habits of society is not an easy undertaking. “Prohibition proved conclusively that it takes more than legislation to bring about a fundamental change in the way Americans live” (Hill, 95). PROHIBITION IN THE 1920’S Prohibition in the United States was doomed to fail from the beginning.
There are many reasons why Prohibition was a failure and in the following pages I would like to explore those reasons. Although the intentions were “noble”, not only did Prohibition not achieve its goals it subsequently added to many of the problems that it intended to solve. To understand why Prohibition failed you need first to understand why and how it began. The reasons leading up to Prohibition began long before National Prohibition took effect in 1920. Many drinking laws were put into place in the colonial days. In the late 1600’s most of these laws limited but did not outlaw drinking altogether.
The laws were mostly put into place to ensure that excessive drinking did not interfere with working and other daily activities. However, it wasn’t long before religious leaders were preaching temperance and more laws limiting drinking were put into effect such as saloons and other drinking establishments being closed on Sundays in order to worship the Bible. However, drinking was widely accepted as a part of every day life and even the Puritans did not attempt to outlaw it (Hill, 6). In 1673 Increase Mather, a Puritan leader stated that “Wine is from God, but the drunkard is from the devil” (Hill, 7).
Although religious leaders did not expect society to give up alcohol completely, they did suggest that those who drank excessively were not god-fearing people. In the late 1700’s medical authorities began to realize and vocalize that alcohol did not “promote good health” as previously believed, that it actually had very little medicinal value and caused various health issues. Although much of these beliefs were untrue they were instrumental in the temperance movement (Hill,8). In 1836 the American Temperance Union was established. However, instead of preaching temperance they began urging people to abstain from alcohol completely.
Reverends Justin Edwards and Lyman Beecher began a religious movement stating “drinking was a sin that doomed people to hell” (Hill, 9). Legislation also helped the temperance movement. By the mid 1800’s many states passed laws “prohibiting the sale and manufacturing of alcoholic beverages throughout the state” (Hill, 9). The Civil War temporarily put temperance and prohibition on the back burner, but by the late 1800’s with the coming of the Women’s Christian Temperance Unit (WCTU) and the Anti-Saloon League (ASL), the temperance and prohibition movements were back in full swing.
In the early 1900’s Minister Bill Sunday was quoted saying “The saloon comes as near to being a rat hole for the working class man to drop his wages in as anything I know of. To know what the devil will do, find out what the saloon is doing” (Hintz, 20). By the time National Prohibition took effect in 1920 more than half of the country was already dry. The language of the Eighteenth Amendment and the National Prohibition Enforcement Act (Volstead Act) didn’t make all aspects of alcoholic beverages illegal. What the Eighteenth Amendment did say was, 1.
After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation there of into, or the exportation there of from the United States, and all territory subject to the jurisdiction there of for beverage purposes is here by prohibited. 2. The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 3. The article shall be imperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states.
As provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission here of to the states by the congress. While the eighteenth amendment did prohibit the manufacturing, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors, it did not define intoxicating liquors nor did it prohibit the possession or consumption of intoxicating liquors. The Volstead Act, which was enacted to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment, did define intoxicating liquors, however it did allow for the manufacturing of alcohol for industrial, religious, and medicinal purposes. Near Beer”, cider, and fruit juices (which were easily made into alcohol) were also allowed for personal consumption (McWilliams). So at midnight on January 16, 1920 National Prohibition took effect. “The following morning the New York Times reported, “John Barleycorn Died Peacefully At The Toll Of 12”, Had Mr. Barleycorn been in a position to reply, he might have chosen Mark Twains famous response, “The reports of my death have greatly exaggerated”” (Kyvig, 19). Enforcing National Prohibition proved to be extremely overwhelming.
The law was evaded in numerous ways from smuggling and bootlegging to robbing warehouses, medical prescriptions from doctors, and home breweries. Although Prohibition was to last for almost fourteen years, America did not stay dry for even one day (Hintz, 32). The law could not and did not stop the supply and demand for alcohol, so where legal businesses could no longer meet societies needs illegal enterprises developed to fill the needs and wants of society and they did. Almost immediately government warehouses were being robbed, stills and illegal breweries were popping up everywhere.
Consequently the speakeasy replaced the saloon. Even the law itself was slippery. Raids in New York City were shut down when some of the cities more prominent citizens got caught in a round up. “By 1925, half a dozen states including New York, passed laws banning local police from investigating violations. Prohibition had little support in the cities of the northwest and Midwest” (digitalhistory). In the early stages of Prohibition it was assumed that existing state and federal enforcement agencies would be capable of policing the new law (Kyvig).
It certainly did not occur to anyone that a Constitutional Mandate would be ignored. However that is exactly what happened. Originally the enforcement of Prohibition and the Volstead Act was the responsibility of a special unit inside the Department of The Internal Revenue Service named the Bureau of Prohibition. Then on April 1st, 1927 (April Fools Day, ironically) the Bureau of Prohibition became part of the Department of Treasury with the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Treasury to supervise the Bureau of Prohibition, the Coast Guard, and Customs (Border Patrol).
However it was treated as a separate unit. Eventually in July of 1930 the Bureau of Prohibition was transferred to the Department of Justice and finally in 1933 for a short time it became part of the Division of Investigation (currently the Federal Bureau of Investigation). They were renamed the Alcohol Beverage Unit until the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed and then returned to the Treasury Department. In the end it returned to the Internal Revenue Service where it finally evolved into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) (Wickersham).
When the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act was introduced it was the biggest endeavor ever attempted to alter the social habits of the American people. You would have thought that in order to enforce such an endeavor, there would have been a plan in place with a well trained and well paid police force or agency specifically dedicated to uphold this new law. However, the states felt that since this was a Federal Law, then the Federal Government should bare the responsibility of upholding the law.
In order to even consider being successful in such a huge task, it would have taken cooperation from all parties involved. Unfortunately that did not happen. When the Bureau of the Internal Revenue Service began to organize enforcement agencies the pay was low and the mob paid better. Some who became agents only did so because they knew how much money could be made just in bribes. Accordingly, staffing these agencies was not an easy task. “Law-abiding officials received little support”. In the late 1920’s corrupt officials controlled the areas liquor trade in Pottawatomie County,
Oklahoma. One police officer was fired for giving federal agents information about bootleggers (Hintz, 62). A Marine General was hired by the Mayor of Philadelphia and was appointed head of Public Safety. His task was to clean up the city. “Butler and his men made 2000 arrests during the first week on the job. But the cops and judges released the offenders as fast as Butler brought them in” (Hintz, 63). Accusations of bribery and corruption began early and many agents were charged with numerous crimes (Wickersham). A letter written by General Lincoln C.
Andrews, who was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury at the time, stated, “eight hundred and seventy five employees had been separated from service for cause, from the commencement of prohibition to February 1, 1926 and of that number six hundred and fifty eight separations had been effected since June 11, 1921. During substantially the same period, one hundred forty eight officers and employees, including enforcement agents, inspectors, attorneys, clerks, etc. were convicted on charges of criminality, including drunkenness disorderly conduct (Wickersham).
Corruption didn’t discriminate. It wasn’t just the enforcement agents or attorneys; it was evident in many politicians who advocated for the release of convicted mobsters who had these politicians in their pockets by paying bribes for protection to operate their illicit alcohol enterprises. This type of conduct went all the way to the President of the United States. President Warren G. Harding was known for surrounding himself with his “cronies”. Harding’s buddy Jess Smith was given an office in the Justice Department for the unofficial purpose of accepting bribes from bootleggers.
Although Harding was not known to be involved in these illegal activities, “he is often cited as one of the worst Presidents in U. S. history” (Hill, 111). Because of the actions of his administration, the lawlessness that accompanied Prohibition was adopted as accepted behavior to many (Hill, 111). However not all agencies and politicians were corrupt. There were more than a few straight cops and they certainly had their work cut out for them. Organizing organized crime began with “Johnny Torrio” taking over “Big Jim Colosimon’s” gang.
Torrio thought that if Chicago was split up among the different gangs there would be less competition and more profit. Torrio’s plan was supported by a crooked mayor by the name of Bill Thompson, and lasted for almost three years. After an attempt was made on Torrio’s life he fled to Italy and left his Lieutenant, Al Capone in charge (Hill, 70). Organized crime peaked during the Prohibition era. According to Jeff Hill, the author of “Defining Moments of Prohibition”, Al Capone stated, “If I break the law, my customers, who number hundreds of the best people in Chicago, are as guilty as I am.
The only difference between us is that I sell and they buy. Everybody calls me a racketeer. I call myself a businessman. When I sell liquor, it’s bootlegging. When my patron serves it on a silver tray on Lake Shore Drive its hospitality” (Hill, 69). In the beginning it was thought that Prohibition would reduce the crime rate and empty the prisons. This was not the case at all, quite the opposite actually. Prohibition did not create organized crime, nor did organized crime disappear when Prohibition was repealed. However, organized crime certainly flourished during the Prohibition years and helped the organizations to become more developed.
Not only did organized crime flourish but also it was the first time that so many law-abiding people intentionally broke the law. Even the people who did not go so far as breaking the law didn’t entirely disapprove or discourage those who did, and the mob was glamorized to a certain extent (Hill, 98). During Prohibition mobsters were present in all the major cities. “They came to dominate the bootlegging industry because they were well organized, had well developed protection arrangements with the authorities and were willing to eliminate anyone who challenged them” (Hill, 75).
Competition among themselves ended up being their biggest downfall. According to Nikolas Kazmers, Chicago’s crime and corruption got worse right about the same time that Capone took over Torrio’s gang and Prohibition became law. “Capone had a brilliant criminal mind, and he focused it on organizing and international bootlegging, He coordinated the importation of alcohol from different locations, including other states and even Canada, as well as the operation of hundreds of breweries and distilleries, many of which resided in Chicago.
Capone also devised a system to distribute his alcohol, which involved delivery truck drivers, salespeople, speakeasies, and of course heavily-armed bodyguards to protect these investments” (nkazmers). With Prohibition came the fight for power among mobsters. There was much bloodshed and many innocent people got caught in the crossfire. “Because of their ruthlessness, Mafia leaders gradually gained more power” (Hintz, 46). According to Hintz in “Farewell to John Barleycorn”, Al Capone invited three men to dinner who were plotting against him.
After dinner Capone informed the three that he knew of their plans and then preceded to beat them to death with a baseball bat. It wasn’t long before everyone knew, at least in Chicago, that Capone, otherwise known as Scar face, was in charge (49). While in New York, Charles “Lucky” Luciano was making a name for himself. He earned his nickname “Lucky” by surviving the abduction and torture of a rival New York gang. In the early 1930’s Luciano, like Johnny Torrio, “instituted a new corporate style of mob-management.
Each local group was allowed autonomy to run its own alcohol-related operations and other affairs, but a national commission made up of the large bosses and chaired by Luciano coordinated relations between the different groups. During this time, Luciano consistently emphasized the importance of cooperation and efficiency to the various syndicates. Luciano said, “I told’em jealousy was our biggest enemy. In our kind of business there was so much money to be made that nobody had the right to be jealous of nobody else” (Hill, 116). Eventually Capone and Luciano were brought down on charges not related to alcohol prohibition.
As prohibition helped organized crime to flourish, organized crime helped with the demise of Prohibition. By the late 1920’s the American people were disgusted with the mobs fight for power and the crime and corruption accompanied by Prohibition. The St. Valentines Day Massacre in which members of Capone’s gang dressed as cops gunned down seven members of Bugs Moran’s gang in a mock raid. “The carnage increased calls for authorities to do something about the situation in Chicago” (Hill, 74). The obstacles and complications of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act became quite obvious in a very short period of time.
The law was being broken constantly, it wasn’t being enforced, at least not very well, and it was causing corruption on many different levels. In 1929 Senator James Reed stated “The saloon is still here, and more people are engaged in the business than in pre-Volstead days. You did not exterminate the brewery. You made millions of little breweries and installed them in the homes of the people” (Hill, 79). When Hoover took office in 1929, he established the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement also known as the Wickersham Commission. There were eleven members on the commission with George W.
Wickersham as chairman. The commission began to conduct an analysis of the Eighteenth Amendment. This analysis took two years and the results were not what many people had hoped for. It was against repeal (Clark, 202). However, while the commission was busy doing their research, other events took place. On “Black Tuesday”, October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed and great depression followed. All of a sudden nobody seemed to care about Prohibition; they had more important problems (Hintz, 75). The idea that repeal was a way to get the economy moving began to take hold. The wets pointed out that taxes on legal alcohol sales would boost the cash-strapped treasury and could help finance government assistant and job creation programs. Legalizing alcohol would create new jobs at breweries, distilleries, whole sale companies, liquor stores, and bars” (Hill, 89). Also on their side were the facts that the death rate from poisoned alcohol increased during Prohibition, the crime rate increased, and the prison population increased due to alcohol related incidents (Thornton). Soon after Roosevelt took office “Resolutions supporting repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment were quickly introduced in the House and Senate.
They passed overwhelmingly. After much discussion, the proposed Twenty-first Amendment won support” (Hintz, 79). While waiting for the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, Roosevelt urged Congress to modify the Volstead Act to increase the percentage of alcohol allowed in beer. Alcohol in beer was increased to 3. 2 percent. It took less than one year for the Twenty-first Amendment to be approved, and this is how it read: 1. The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed. 2.
The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited. 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an Amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress. National Prohibition of alcohol in the United States was doomed to fail from the beginning. By 1931 most people realized that Prohibition had been a mistake.
There are many reasons why the “Noble Experiment” failed for many reasons. But the number one reason was because Americans still wanted to drink. Whenever something is in high demand, there will always be someone willing to supply it. Many people thought that Prohibition would be good for mankind and end corruption. Unfortunately Prohibition became a major source of crime and corruption. Although I can certainly understand the reasons behind the movement and commend society for trying to improve their circumstances, passing laws to regulate habits of society is not an easy undertaking. Prohibition proved conclusively that it takes more than legislation to bring about a fundamental change in the way Americans live” (Hill, 95). Works Cited Clark, Norman H. Deliver Us From Evil. New York London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1976. Hill, Jeff. Defining Moments Prohibition. Detroit: Peter E. Ruffner, 2004. Hintz, Martin. Farewell, John Barleycorn. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1996. Kyvig, David E. Repealing National Prohibition. 2nd ed. Kent, Ohio, & London: The Kent State UP, 2000. McWilliams, Peter. Ain’T Nobody’s Business If You Do.
Peter McWilliams & Prelude P, 1996. 18 Sept. 2007 http://www. mcwilliams. com/books/aint/402. htm. “The Jazz Age: The American 1920’s”. DigitalHistory. 25 Sept 2007. 25 Sept 2007. http://www. digitalhistory. uh. edu/database/article_display_printable. CFM? HHID-441. “The Wickersham Commission Report on Alcohol Prohibition. ” Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. 07 Jan 1931. 25 Sept 2007. http://www. druglibrary. org/schaffer/library/studies/wick/wick1a. html. Thornton, Mark. Policy Analysis. Cato. 20 Sept. 2007 http://www. cato. org/pubs/pas/pq-157. html.