Was prohibition a failure?
In 1919, the Volstead Act outlawed alcoholic beverages with an alcoholic content over 0.5 percent. This topic is debated in the book, Taking Sides; there are two opposing sides to the question, “was prohibition a failure?” David E. Kyvig argues that the Volstead act did not specifically prohibit the use or consumption of alcohol beverages and that liquor was still being provided by gangland bootleggers to provide alcohol to the demands of the consumers. Regardless of the efforts to enforce the law the federal government failed to create an acceptable institutional network that insured the obedience of the people. Even though the consumption of alcohol did drop significantly during the 1920s, the legislation failed to eliminate drinking. On the other hand, J. C. Burnham argues that the enforcement of the prohibition laws were effective in certain areas. The enactment of the prohibition laws led to several positive social significances. For example, during the 1920s, there were fewer people arrested for public drunkenness and fewer people being treated for alcohol related diseases. He concludes that the prohibition was more of a success than a failure. Prohibition led to the first and the only time an Amendment of United States Constitution was repealed more than once. Personally, I think that the Volstead Act of 1919 was a failure and the prohibition laws gave rise to speakeasies and organized crime.
David E. Kyvig states that the prohibition was a failure. When the Volstead Act was passed not every American felt obligated to stop drinking alcohol. The consumers were being supplied at first in small amounts but as time progressed they were being supplied in excess amounts of alcoholic beverages. The Volstead Act banned manufacturing of “intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes” but it did not state that they could not transport, sale, import, or export intoxicating liquors, thus making it legal to purchase or use and it was not a crime to do so. It allowed people to continue to possess intoxicant beverages prior to prohibition. The act outlawed all beverages with alcoholic contents over the set amount of 0.5 percent. People in many different parts of the United States voluntarily obeyed the Eighteenth Amendment; citizens elsewhere deliberately chose to ignore it. These kinds of violations seemed to significantly grow in small towns as well as large cities. National prohibition quickly gained an image, not as a law which significantly reduced the use of alcoholic beverages, but relatively as a law that was broadly disobeyed by many. As alcohol became more in demand it created an opportunity for bootleggers to make money off of supplying to the demands made by the people. Crime rates escalated greatly as well as violent outbreaks between those competing for territory. In the 1920s the prisons contained a little over 5,000 inmates, after ten years the number of inmates in prisons contained over 12,000, more than 4,000 of those inmates were incarcerated for liquor violations. The court systems were so overwhelmed by the national prohibition and were overworked with all the trials they had. Prohibition may have reduced the consumption of alcohol in the United States, the law fell substantially short of all expectations it had.
J. C. Burnham counter argues that Prohibition was quite effective in many places. He goes on to say that prohibition began well before 1920, in addition to the local wide spread of the local prohibition laws, federal laws greatly restricted the production and sale of alcoholic beverages mostly in the beginning in 1917. Manufactures of distilled spirits beverages as an example, had been forbidden for more than three months when the congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment. The Eighteenth Amendment was created to prohibit the manufacturing, selling, importing, or transporting of “intoxicating liquors”. It was designed to kill all the liquor businesses and the saloons in particular. The Amendment did not prohibit people from possessing or drinking alcohol. Burnham reinforces his position by stating that the prohibition had a positive impact on society. The prohibition cased a decrease of arrests for public drunkenness, fewer hospitalizations for alcoholism and less incidences of other alcohol related disease, like cirrhosis of the liver from 1918 to 1920-1922. The most substantial evidence that prohibition did not fail was in the mental hospital admission rates. People who had to deal with alcohol related mental diseases were impressed with the recent reviewing of New York state hospitals mental hospital admissions rate was only 1.9 percent for 1920.
With the topic question, Was prohibition a failure? David E. Kyvig made a clear, well defined and easy to understand argument compared to J. C. Burnham. Burnham’s argument was difficult to understand where he stood in his argument. He would say a few reasons how prohibition failed in on aspect but then he would give on reason why it did not. It was hard to keep track when he was defending the side he was on. Kyvig, on the other hand made it very clear how prohibition failed in certain aspects and he explained exactly how it failed. He gave specific reasons as to why people would ignore and break the law to get their alcohol. He explains the negative effects the prohibition had on society. How prohibition created an opportunity for bootleggers to make money by supply what the people were demanding. He clarifies how crime rates went up as well as how violence broke out due to bootleggers fighting for territory. David E. Kyvig gave a more in depth explanation than J. C. Burnham; he was able to support his claims and had provided clear and precise answers. He gave you statistics to prove what he was stating. With all the evidence that he was able present he persuaded me into believing that in reality prohibition did fail.
The question is, was prohibition a failure? I must agree with Kyvig, prohibition did in fact fail in many ways. The prohibition law was not favored by many people and that was proven by the high crime rates, the high amount of court hearings relating to violations of the prohibition law, and the failure of Congress to provide enough enforcement. Even when the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act were passed people never stopped drinking. Physicians were able to legally prescribe alcohol to their patients, 57,000 pharmacists obtained licenses to dispense liquor. As the law enforcements began cracking down on the consumption of alchol it opened a door for bootleggers to come into business and make money off of those who demanded alcohol. Bootleggers like Al Capone became very successful in his dispensing of alcohol. He says that prohibition was just a business to him and he supplied what was being demanded. Violence became evident as more bootleggers began compete with other groups for territory. As these fights over territories became more and more prominent, many people were being killed due to the rival gangs. However I do believe that there were some good out comes from prohibition. There were fewer drunkards out in public, less alcohol incidents and hospitalization due to alcoholism. I think the prohibition laws could have worked if there weren’t so many loop holes for people to get away with things.
So all in all, both sides of this topic had very good, valid point. David E. Kyvig proves that the prohibition law failed. He does acknowledge that the consumption rate of alcohol has decreased but that it was inevitable to stop everyone from drinking alcohol ever. So really this was a noble experiment but evidently failed.