US II Honors
September 26th, 2013
Did Prohibition Fail?
The “Roaring Twenties” marked the change in American culture forever. Between the new inventions, upbeat jazz music, parties and theatres, America had adopted a newfound racy culture. Life’s possibilities and leisure freedoms had been greatly broadened, that is until the 18th amendment passed. On January 17th, 1920, the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol were prohibited across the nation. Referred to as prohibition, the American government used this amendment as an experiment to see if alcohol was truly at blame for the rising problems in the nation. However, 13 years after enacted, the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st. The repeal of the 18th amendment proves the prohibition experiment was a failure; it had negative effects on the American economy, crime rates rose and failed to ban consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The economic consequences regarding prohibition were unforeseen by the government, ultimately contributing to its failure. Enforcement funding of the 18th amendment wasn't expected as much as it was needed to be by the government. Many officials of the time felt that “neither federal nor state officials initially felt a need for a large special force to carry out this one task” (Kyvig). When people found ways around the law, the government wasn't prepared financially to hire special forces to enforce the law. Breweries and saloons began to shut down, because their profit thrives off the sale of alcoholic beverages. The prohibition experiment eliminated thousands of jobs across the nation, leaving thousands of Americans unemployed. Additionally, the government wasn’t receiving tax revenue from the tax on liquor; "At the national level, prohibition cost the federal government a total of $11 billion in lost tax revenue, while costing over $300 million to enforce" (Lerner). The consequences of prohibition begin to outweigh the benefits on the government, leading the movement closer in the direction of failure. The main purpose of prohibition was to decline American crime rates, however, ironically it did the opposite. Since the 18th amendment failed to ban consumption of alcohol, organized crime became evident- especially in large cities. Gangsters and bootleggers illegally sold alcohol amongst other civilians wishing to obtain the illegal substance. Now, both the alcohol distributed and the victims are now federal criminals; however, the flaw in the law “allowed the purchaser and consumer of alcoholic beverages to defend his own behavior” (Kyvig). If charged under violation of the 18th amendment, the criminal was sent to court. Prison populations rapidly rose; "By 1932, the federal prison population increased 361%" (Alcohol). In addition, the amount of reported thefts and fights increased as well. Gangsters fought the bootleggers in hope to obtain more supply, since the two groups both made profit off the illegal liquor. The government thought prohibition would significantly decline US crime rates, when in reality it did the complete opposite. Although the 18th amendment banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol, it neglected to ban the leading cause of prohibition’s failure- consumption. As long as people found a way to obtain alcohol, technically under the law they weren't forbidden from consuming it. The statistical numbers of pharmacists increased during the prohibition experiment; people were desperate for alcohol. As mentioned by Kyvig, “Physicians could legally prescribe “medicinal” spirits or beer for their patients, and before prohibition was six months old, more than fifteen thousand, along with over fifty-seven thousand pharmacists, obtained licenses to dispense liquor” (Kyvig). Speakeasies, secret nightclubs in which illegally sold alcohol, became a hotspot for people to obtain alcohol as well. Wine could legally be obtained for religious purposes, so many Americans enrolled in church in hope to obtain wine from their "holy place". Home stills were installed in people's houses to produce alcohol, much of which wasn't sanitary and contributed to a health decline. By prohibition failing to address the consumption of alcohol was illegal, other problems stemmed from it and led to the repeal of the 18th amendment. Whenever the population of a nation is told they can't have or can't do something, it's a human instinct to want it more. This became evident in the 1920's with prohibition, and still is seen in modern-day America. America enacted the 18th amendment to decline the United States crime rates and alcohol consumption, but made the problems even worse. The government began to financially suffer because of this, ultimately leading to its failure. The prohibition experiment drew to a close when the 21st amendment was enacted on December 5th, 1933, repealing the 18th amendment. Prohibitions good intentions for the greatest nation in the world resulted in unforeseen consequences, drastically weighing out its benefits.
"Alcohol Prohibition Was a Failure | Cato Institute." Cato Institute | Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. . Kyvig David E., from Repealing National Prohibition, 2d ed. (The University of Chicago Press, 1979) Lerner, Michael. "Prohibition: Unintended Consequences | PBS." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. .