On midnight of January 16, 1920, American went dry. One of the personal habits and everyday practices of most Americans suddenly diminished. The Eighteenth Amendment was passed, and all importing, exporting, transporting, selling, and manufacturing of intoxicating liquor was put to an end. The Congress passed the Amendment on January 16,1919, but it only went into effect a year later. The Volstead Act was passed with the Eighteenth Amendment on October 23, 1919. The Act was named after Andrew Volstead, a Republican representative from Minnesota. The Volstead Act, also known as the "National Prohibition Act", determined intoxicating liquor as anything having an alcoholic content of more than 0.5 percent, excluding alcohol used for medicinal and sacramental purposes. The act also set up guidelines for enforcement. Prohibition was meant to reduce the consumption of alcohol, therefore reducing the rates of crime, death rates and poverty (Poholek, 2). However, some of the United States' communities had already prepared for Prohibition. In the three months before the Eighteenth Amendment became effective, liquor worth half a million dollars was stolen from Government warehouses. Prohibition was actually a backlash because it actually mad breaking the law a common event for people, because people would bootleg and make their own liquor, and then get sent to jail. It also was the reason for the rise of organized crime. "In 1921, 95,933 illicit distilleries, stills, still works and fermentors were seized. In 1925, the total jumped to 172,537 and up to 282,122 in 1930. In connection with these seizures, 34,175 persons were arrested in 1921; by 1925, the number had risen to 62,747 and to a high in 1928 of 75,307. Concurrently, convictions for liquor offenses in federal courts rose from 35,000 in 1923 to 61,383 in 1932" (McGrew, 6).
After the Volstead Act was passed, the Federal Prohibition Bureau was created in order to see that it was enforced. However, bootleggers and "moonshiners" soon emerged. Bootleggers smuggled liquor from oversees and Canada, and stole it from government warehouses. Barely five percent of smuggled liquor was hindered from coming into the country in the 1920s. Moonshining was when people actually made alcoholic products. People started concealing their liquor in hip flasks, false books, hollow canes, and anything else they could find (Poholek, 3). There were also illegal speak-easies which replaced saloons after the start of prohibition. The speak-easy era was pretty outrageous, according to 20s jazz singer Hoagy Carmicheal. "A bang of bad booze, flappers with bare legs, jangled morals and wild weekends" is what how he described it (Pick, 1:4). By 1925, there were over 100,000 speak-easies in New York City alone (Thornton, 5). Furthermore, the illegal liquor business fell under the control of organized gangs, which overpowered most of the authorities. Many bootleggers secured their business by bribing the authorities, namely federal agents and persons of high political status. Mob bosses opened plush nightclubs with exotic floor shows and the hottest bands. It was as if Prohibition was a joke in the United States. People were drinking more than ever, and more people were dying from alcohol-related diseases (Pick, 5).
Resulting from the lack of enforcement of the Prohibition Act and the creation of an illegal industry, there was an increase in crime. Prohibitionists expected the Volstead Act to decrease intoxication in America, and then the crime rate would decrease. At the start of Prohibition this purpose seemed to be fulfilled, but the crime rate soon skyrocketed to nearly twice that of the pre-prohibition period. In large cities the homicide went from 5.6 (per 100,000 population) in the pre-prohibition period, to nearly 10 (per 100,000 population) during prohibition, nearly a 78 percent increase (Stack, 2). Serious crimes, such as homicides, assault, and battery, increased nearly 13 percent, while other...
Bibliography: "Al Capone." Crime Library. 2001. Access date: 10 April 2005.
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