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Assess the View That National Prohibition

By emilyclaire89 Feb 24, 2011 1102 Words
Emily Tracey

Assess the view that the policy of National Prohibition (1919-1933) created more problems than it solved.

Prohibition introduced to America in the January of 1919, then passed through the Volstead Act in the January of 1920, prohibited the consumption of alcohol that contained more than 0.5 per cent, unless given by health care professionals as medication. It was believed by some that the banning of alcohol would help to improve the lives of American people. It was hoped that public spending on alcohol would be cut and the crime rate would be lowered. However, there is the argument to whether National Prohibition did actually solve any of these problems. Historians such as Michael Woodwiss believe that prohibition actually caused more problems than it solved and made the situation in America worse. On the other hand historians such as Norman H. Clark believe that prohibition brought about good change to American society. Historians Michael Woodwiss and David E. Kyvig both support the argument that prohibition created more problems than it solved. Michael Woodwiss describes how crime in America increased in this particular period and how corrupt groups made the law practically impossible to enforce. David E. Kyvig believed that prohibition did not stop the people of America from consuming alcohol and that it saw a rise of gangs in the big northern cities. The main aim of introducing prohibition was to stop people drinking, but really the consumption of alcohol grew in this time. In 1919 0.8 gallons of alcoholic beverages were consumed whereas in 1925, five years after the act had come in to place, the number of gallons had risen to 1.25[1]. This shows that people were still willing and wanting to drink alcohol even though it was illegal under the law. People were not just consuming the alcohol leisurely, but in the big cities especially drunken arrests hit the roof. In 1925 in Boston there were 37944 arrests for drunk and disorderly, and Chicago had 92,888. On a bigger scale all the big cities across the country had their number of arrests totalling 147,931 the year the Volstead act was implemented and 411,607 arrests 5 years on.[2] This shows that people across America were willing to commit a crime and that prohibition was doing very little in preventing the American people from drinking, if anything it may have encouraged more people to start drinking. Historian C P Hill supports this statement as he described 'Drinking, largely because it was forbidden became fashionable' [3] This shows that the American people may have turned to drinking, just because at the time, it was what many were doing. David E. Kyvig also supports this as in he states 'within a few months it became apparent that not every American felt obliged to stop drinking the moment constitutional prohibition began.'[4]. Throughout the Prohibition era it is said that crime and organized crime became a major problem. Woodwiss, believed that 'prohibition immediately made the problem of crime and corruption worse.'[5] Figures show that the number of arrests in America had increased to 561 per cent and the prison population had risen by 366 per cent, mainly relating to alcohol related incidents.[6] During the years of Prohibition in America the homicide rate grew from 6.8 per cent to 9 per cent.[7] Some may argue that this may be related to the consumption of illegal alcohol and gangs as Woodwiss states that 'prohibition created a vast new market for illegal goods and services and a brand new illegal industry.'[8] The uprising of organized crime was also a major issue in America during the time of Prohibition. Historian John Smith described Prohibition as 'not the end of organized crime in America but only its beginning'[9] Prohibition bought about more gangs in the big cities than ever before, and people who were willing to supply the public with illegal alcohol, these were often known as Bootleggers. One of the main people doing this in this period was Al Capone, he argued that ' I make my money by supplying a public demand. If I break the law, my customers, who number hundreds of people in Chicago, are as guilty as I am.'.[10] Here he is saying that although he is supplying illegal alcohol, the people consuming it are also breaking the law, neither is more in the wrong. This shows that Prohibition helped to create masses of illegal activity, where ordinary citizens began resorting to crime to get what they want. Another example of this would be American citizens giving up their stable jobs to join in with this activity. Micheal Woodwiss describes ' Along the coasts, rivers and the Great Lakes, fisherman, tugboat operators, shippers and dockworkers gave up their normal occupations and entered the smuggling trade'[11]. However, not only was it the American people involved in this illegal activity. Prohibition saw a rise in corruption within the system, 'corrupt networks, often including police and politicians ensured that prohibited activities continued'[12] The prohibition law was practically impossible to enforce and this lead to people within the system, secretly disobeying it to benefit themselves. A good example of this would be that in Philadelphia in 1928 the average policeman would be earning a salary of $4,000 a year, however their bank accounts told a different story with figures ranging from $40,412 to $193,553[13] Although not a lot of evidence could be given to why these bank balances were so high it was clear to see that some corrupt behaviour was taking place especially when in the first four years of Prohibition '141 agents were jailed'.[14]

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[ 1 ]. http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1017&full=1 [ 2 ]. http://www.druglibrary.org/prohibitionresults2.htm
[ 3 ]. A History of the United States, C P Hill, 1974.
[ 4 ]. Repealing National Prohibition,America Sobers Up, David E. Kyvig, pg21 [ 5 ]. Crime Crusades and Corruption, Prohibition in the United States 1900-1987, Making Crime Pay, Micheal Woodwiss ,1988, pg11. [ 6 ]. http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1017&full=1 [ 7 ]. http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/homrate1.htm [ 8 ]. Crime Crusades and Corruption, Prohibition in the United States 1900-1987, Making Crime Pay, Michael Woodwiss pg 13. [ 9 ]. Prohibition: Thirteen years that changed America. Pg 39 [ 10 ]. Crime Crusades and Corruption, Michael Woodwiss, pg 24. [ 11 ]. Crime Crusades and Corruption , Michael Woodwiss pg 13. [ 12 ]. Crime Crusades and Cor, Michael Woodwiss pg1.

[ 13 ]. Herbert Asbury, op.cit, pg 185; (ccc)
[ 14 ]. Crime Crusades and Corruption pg 14

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