Prohibition and Organized Crime

Topics: Prohibition in the United States, Al Capone, Volstead Act Pages: 6 (2238 words) Published: November 3, 2008
Prohibition and Organized Crime
In 1919, America was torn with the decision of prohibiting liquor from being sold. There were many incentives to do so. However, political officials did not take into account that people would get what they wanted at all costs. With prohibition, America was set for an untamed drinking binge that would last thirteen years, five months, and nine days (Behr 91). Prohibition, though it was dignified, was a great failure that taught the United States valuable lessons about crime and corruption. Many Americans wanted to do away with liquor altogether. The liquor industry had been proved a major factor in political corruption and was tied in with prostitution, gambling, and other associations (Morison 900). Congress provided for an amendment that would make the entire country prohibition territory. The amendment was as follows: 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 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 (“Prohibition”). Congress passed the Prohibition amendment in 1917, thirty-six states had ratified it by January 16, 1919, and it went into effect a year later. The eighteenth amendment provided no machinery for enforcement or penalties for violations, so Congress passed the Volstead Act in 1919, over President Wilson’s veto. The Volstead act provided the laws and the machinery to help enforce the Eighteenth Amendment (United States History Society 851). Soon after prohibition went into effect, bootlegging started. This was necessary, because if gangsters, bootleggers, and speakeasies were to thrive, the liquor had to come from somewhere (Behr 92). Small boats easily transported cargoes from Cuba into Florida and the Gulf states (Morison 900). Off every port from Maine to Miami, outside the three-mile limit, a fleet of ships waited with every variety of wine and liquor (Morison 900). Motor launches, fast enough to evade coast guard and enforcement agents, ran these cargoes ashore, where they were transferred to cars and trucks owned by bootleggers; but the truckloads often got “hijacked” by other smugglers, and usually the liquor was diluted with water before being sold to the public (Morison 900). Even though millions of gallons of illegal liquor reached the shores of America, “rum-running” trips frequently came to grief as a result of incompetence, communication failures, greed, and mutual mistrust (Behr 134). Alcohol that was not smuggled into the country was usually “converted” from something else by unconventional methods. Millions of gallons of industrial alcohol, manufacture of which was permitted, were converted into bootleg whisky or gin, and bottled under counterfeit labels. Liquor and wine licensed for “medicinal purposes” often wound up in the hands and stomachs of healthy citizens. For a citizen to easily get the alcohol, the majority of cities had speakeasies to replace the local saloon. In Rhode Island, one of the states that refused to ratify the Eighteenth Amendment or help enforce it, one could buy British gin by the bottle right off the shelves for ten dollars. Those who did not wish to support bootleggers and thus contribute to their crime and political corruption made their own “bathtub” gin at home or acquired home-brewed beer and cider. The...

Cited: Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America. New York, Arcade Publishing, 1996
Coffey, Thomas M. The Long Thirst. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1975
Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Oxford History of the American People. New York, New American Library, 1985
Readers Digest Editors. The Story of America. New York, Random House, 1975
The World Book Encyclopedia. “Prohibition” Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corp., 1958
Thornton, Mark. “Policy Analysis: Alcohol Prohibition was a Failure” 17 July 1991. 27 March 2003
United States History Society, Inc. The Pictorial Encyclopedia of American History: Years 1915 to 1920. Chicago, Davco Publishing, 1962
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