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Abstinance Makes The Drink Get Stronger: A Look At The Failed Experiment Of Prohibition

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Autor:   •  May 27, 2011  •  3,419 Words (14 Pages)  •  902 Views

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"Prohibition" of alcohol became the law of the United States in 1920 via the 18th Amendment of the Constitution. The amendment restricted the sale, export, import and transport of any alcoholic beverage. In fact, it essentially banned everything but the possession and consumption of alcohol. By the time the amendment was repealed in 1933, 75% of voters supported reform and repeal ( The goal of Prohibition was to decrease consumption of alcohol leading to an increase in "public virtue" in the United States. Instead, Prohibition increased the consumption of alcohol and other drugs while fostering: public hostility toward the government; an environment that encouraged normally law-abiding citizens to break the law; the growth and influence of organized crime with the resultant increases in levels of corruption and violent crime; the sacrifice of public health through substance abuse, addiction and actual poisoning; and, the degradation of the American family.

The Temperance Movement was part of and the result of a long series of reform movements. These included: the Second Great Awakening (1820s - 1830s), a religious revival that argued against pre-destination saying instead that it was the duty of people to obtain salvation through their own efforts and "spiritual purity" (Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey); the Abolitionist Movement (1830s - 1870), calling for the end of slavery, also contributed to the development of prohibitionist fervor; mental health treatment reform; and the very beginning of what would become the Women's Suffrage Movement (Travel & History). Women were outspoken proponents of the Temperance Movement. Alcohol was deemed poisonous to families and marriages as men would spend time and money in saloons leaving women with no financial or parental support to raise their children (Baughman). Brothels were often attached to saloons, and the men who visited these brothels would often contract syphilis and other venereal diseases, bringing them home to their wives. Thus inflamed by the injustice known as "Syphilis of the Innocent" (Okrent), women came together to fight even harder to end what seemed to be the source of, if not all, then at least the vast majority of all their woes. The American Temperance Society was founded in 1826 to convince people to abstain from drinking followed by the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1874, which pledged not only to ban alcohol and drugs, but to improve public morals. The anti-Saloon League was formed in 1893 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). Led by the ax-wielding, larger-than-life, Carrie A. Nation, it eventually became a powerful political force in passing prohibition legislation (Okrent). Progressive reformers also took to Prohibition, for they saw it as a continuation of their efforts to improve society in general. Temperance societies and Progressives argued for more governmental control and involvement in citizens' lives. Together, they were successful in passing a series of local laws that prohibited the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages (Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey). The Women's Suffrage Movement in the early 20th century contributed significantly to the passage of the 18th Amendment. In a reciprocal manner, the Prohibitionists voices were crucial in the passage of the 19th Amendment that granted women suffrage (McWilliams).

The 18th Amendment was sent out to the states for ratification beginning in early 1918. Only Connecticut and Rhode Island rejected the amendment (Kennedy, Cohen, and Bailey). The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and went into effect the following year, restricting all but the possession and consumption of alcohol.

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative 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 hereof to the States by the Congress.

To define the language used in the Amendment, Congress enacted enabling legislation called the National Prohibition Act, better known as the Volstead Act, on October 28, 1919 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). President Wilson vetoed the bill, but the House voted to override the veto and the Senate voted similarly the next day ( The Volstead Act set the date for nationwide prohibition on January 17, 1920 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration).

The Volstead Act was the enacting legislation associated with the Amendment, however, the Act was riddled with loopholes "big enough to drive a beer truck through" (Okrent) beginning with permitting individuals to "manufacture, sell, purchase, transport, or prescribe any liquor" after "obtaining a permit from the commissioner so to do" (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). These loopholes were to significantly contribute to the chaos that ensued.

The thirteen years of Prohibition are amongst the most "colorful" in US history. Much of our language has been influenced by terms and phrases that emerged during this period. "Temperance" refers to the responsible use of alcohol while "prohibition" advocated total abstinence (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). Enforcement of the Volstead Act led to the closure of the public "saloon" and the rise of the "speakeasy." The term "speakeasy" comes from the practice of a potential "guest" who would attempt to "speakeasy" to the doormen of the private or "underground" establishments that were still serving liquor. The doorman would decide who would be allowed in and who would not. This would include keeping police from entering because they were not permitted to force their entry (Baughman). The phrase, "going on the wagon," refers to parades led by temperance advocates who would lead parades through small towns in a wagon carrying a barrel of water. Community members were invited to climb aboard the wagon as a demonstration of their commitment to drinking water rather than alcohol (Travel & History).

The "Speakeasy" was just a symptom of the greater problem that included an actual increase in the consumption of alcohol and


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