The 18th Amendment and the 21st Amendment.
The account of prohibition in the United States commenced much earlier before 1920 due to the increased rate of alcohol consumption among the country’s residents. Prohibition aimed at reducing alcohol intake among the people by eliminating brewing industries that manufactured, distributed, and sold the alcoholic drinks. In the early 19th century, the brewing sector was among the most successful industries because of the profitability levels. The continuous prosperity of the brewing industries led to the entrance in the retail sector; whereby people could now access alcoholic beverages by the glass which was later termed as “saloon.” The retail businesses selling alcohol expanded the sum of saloons so that they could be accessible by a majority of the American population. Consequently, these pubs led to increased vices within the society such as gambling and immoral sexual activities. The increased level of alcoholism among the entire populace was alarming since the epidemic threatened the stability of the society; as a significant number of the alcoholics neglected their families and abused them physically and emotionally. Besides, most employers reported reduced productivity among the workers who were consuming alcohol which led to the rising number of unemployment in the country. Due to the vices as mentioned earlier and impact of alcohol intake on the people, several prohibition movements arose with the aim of eliminating the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages. By eradicating the brewing industries (Hamm and F 90), the prohibition leaders believed that they would reform the American population by encouraging them to quit drinking alcoholic beverages. The legal ban on alcohol came into effect when the 18th amendment was approved. However, the prohibition did not last long enough due to challenges that emerged later leading to the ratification of the 21st amendment.
The 18th Amendment
As cited by (Hamm and F 19), the 18th amendment was ratified by the Congress in December 1917; however, it came into effect in 1920 when the appropriate number of states within America sanctioned it. The prohibition was a legal ban on the manufacture, distribution and the sale of alcoholic drinks by the brewing industry. The prohibition movement was as a result of the temperance crusade that was against alcohol consumption and attempted to convince the population to quit alcoholism. The leaders of this movement wrote several journals, reports and gave public speeches regarding the harmful effects of alcohol consumption such as health issues, psychological and social consequences. Besides, the prohibition was propelled by the Anti-Saloon League in collaboration with religious groups in the country such as the Protestants and Lutherans who believed that alcoholism would lead to increased poverty levels and social vices such as crimes among the residents. According to (Miron, Jeffrey and Zwiebel 115) the social reform groups such as the Anti-Saloon League and religious organizations supported temperance; nevertheless, they advocated for legal actions to be taken against the saloon proprietors thereby limiting their privileges and rights.
Prohibition came into existence as a result of persistent efforts demonstrated by various social reform organizations and religious denominations that perceived alcoholism as the root of social depravities. According to the reformers and devout Christians, the working class men would spend a significant amount of their take-home pay at the saloons drinking alcohol in which the money could have otherwise been used to cater for their family needs (Miron, Jeffrey and Zwiebel 115). Besides, men extremely abused alcohol to an extent they neglected the media frequently reported their responsibilities of providing security to their families since incidences of spousal and children abuse. Also, the reformers such as the Anti-Saloon League were advocating for the legal ban of the sale of alcohol since a significant number of the entire working class men who abused alcohol were found to be unproductive in their areas of specialization hence threatening their employment and careers which would lead to increased levels of poverty. Also, liquor consumption was considered a contributing factor towards ill health, therefore, disabling people to work and earn a living. A significant number of women strongly advocated for the ban of alcohol as they deemed it necessary to protect and preserve the family unit which was threatened by the excessive intake of liquor by the men. The women became vocal about the harmful effects of alcohol consumption and formed movements such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The women exercised their rights freely due to the privileges bestowed on them such as the right to vote during the progressive era.
The 21st Amendment
(Nielson and Aaron 81) state that the 18th Amendment was fruitful in reducing the level of alcohol consumption among the American population. However, the scholars go on to indicate that the prohibition stimulated the expansion of underground cartels that practiced “bootlegging”; which was the illegal manufacture of liquor. Also, these underground, structured gangs operated “speakeasies,” smuggling alcohol across the states in the country as well as illegally producing alcoholic beverages in their residential homes. Besides, Prohibition failed due to the lack of sufficient resources by the Federal government to enforce the Volstead Act. For instance, the federal agents were overloaded with numerous cases involving “bootlegging” and “speakeasies” but with limited resources to enforce the Volstead Act. The legal ban on alcohol increased the rates of corruption in the country since the underground smugglers bribed law enforcement agents as well as the political leaders to continue practicing their illegal activities. Several physicians were against the legal ban on alcohol since they prescribed medicinal liquor for their patients. Prohibition underwent a major blow during the Great Depression; whereby the economy of the United States suffered tremendously due to the increased unemployment rate and reduced revenue from taxes. As such, the nation’s policymakers deemed it necessary to repeal the 18th Amendment to obtain sufficient income to assist the struggling nation.
Social reactions concerning increased crime rates following the 18th Amendment led to a significant number of people protesting against the Prohibition. The citizens were worried by the increasing number of violent crimes reported by the media after Prohibition which was contrary to their expectation of peace and stability in the country (Nielson and Aaron 215). The growing protests against prohibition led to the alcohol supporters advocating for their need of personal freedom, a new source of revenue as a result of alcohol taxation as well as reduced number of underground organized criminal gangs. As a result, the Congress approved the legalization of the manufacture, distribution, and the sale of alcoholic beverages which was signed into law by the then President Franklin Roosevelt. As cited by (Nielson and Aaron 310), the 21st Amendment was ratified on February 1933 by the Congress. The United States approved the 21st Amendment in December 1933 after it had been sanctioned by the state treaties, therefore, leading to the annulment of the 18th Amendment. According to (Miron, Jeffrey and Zwiebel 309), the signing into law the 21st Amendment did not deter the local states from regulating the manufacture, distribution, and sale of liquor. Nonetheless, a significant number of the states in the United States enacted several policies that were aimed at regulating alcohol production, the required age for alcohol consumption, as well as the appropriate time for operating saloons.
In as much as the 18th Amendment aimed at reducing the level of alcohol consumption in the United States, its success was short-lived leading to its repeal in 1933 and simultaneously resulting in the 21st Amendment. In the event the Federal government had allocated sufficient resources to implement the Volstead Act, the Prohibition would have become a success. However, the limitations present in the 18th Amendment led to increased debates that were against the Prohibition as such making the Congress ratifying the 21st Amendment leading to the annulment of the 18th Amendment (Nielson and Aaron 319).
Hamm, Richard F. Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment: Temperance Reform, Legal Culture, and the Polity, 1880-1920. Univ of North Carolina Press, 1995.
Miron, Jeffrey A., and Jeffrey Zwiebel. Alcohol consumption during prohibition. No. w3675. National Bureau of Economic Research, 1991.
Nielson, Aaron. “No More Cherry Picking’: The Real History of the 21st Amendment’s 2.” (2004): 281.
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