19th Century History Term Paper

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One of the most conflicted points of United States history is associated with the temperance movement, which culminated into a federal constitutional amendment prohibiting the production, transportation, and sale of all alcoholic beverages. The 18th Amendment to the constitution marked the end of a long and ardent campaign to eliminate all the ills of American society. The root of prohibition is seated in the reality of the alcohol, problem in the Americas stemming almost from the first settlements in the area, alcohol was even a form of currency in some areas of the country. The culmination of the high profit potential and the seemingly endless demand for it, alcohol could be seen as the source of many cultural problems, and it was viewed, by some as the not so hidden but largely tolerated source of countless human and community failings.

In 1920 a 200-year campaign culminated in the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stated that 'the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors ... For beverage purposes, is hereby prohibited'. Prohibition struck a chord with many citizens, who believed it would transform America into 'a law abiding, pure and healthy country' by alleviating alcohol's destructive effects, such as crime, poverty and low productivity. (Bryce 37)

The reasons for the development of the temperance movement are many and the degrees of the demands of temperance were many.

In 1919, the 18th Amendment - making the United States officially "dry" - was ratified and set to take effect in 1920. America's "Noble Experiment" with Prohibition lay on the road ahead like black powder and blasting caps. Not much good would come from it. ("Running Rum Was a" BM4)

Some believed in absolute abstinence while others believed in simply maintaining moderation in consumption that should never result in drunkenness, while still others believed that the most evil of the alcoholic beverages were those with higher concentrations of alcohol, the spirits while bee and wine were fine if consumed in moderation.

When Congress and then the states approved the 18th Amendment, they did so after a century's experience in local regulation and at a time when a majority of the people in a majority of the states wanted this truly national effort to influence national morality. Many people who rejoiced in the triumph of the 18th Amendment did not regard beer and wine as thereby prohibited. Others, to be sure, hoped that all such beverages would in fact be prohibited; and even some of them, were still dedicated and determined drinkers. Their case did not rest on foolishness or prejudice alone. Prominent psychologists and neurologists-more ominous even than Increase Matherhad declared that alcohol in any form was in fact a poison. (Clark 9)

Yet, the extreme nature of acceptance of alcoholic consumption and its effects, coupled with the power of the "dry" rhetoric created a campaign unlike almost any other political movement.

Nevertheless, social acceptance of this drug still remains. These laws have neither crippled nor eliminated the problem. The more a behavior is suppressed, often the more it occurs. The alcoholic prohibition experiment in the United States was very revealing about American culture (Norton, Katzman, Escott, Chudacoff, Paterson & Tuttle, 1990). Prohibition Attempts to prohibit alcohol usage have been made since colonial times. Temperance movements began to gain sizable support by the public and government. The first national temperance society was formed in 1836. The temperance movement led to the adoption of full prohibition, rather than just temperance alone. Since the major parties of the political sphere refused to take a stance on the prohibition issue, a third party known as the Prohibition Party was formed in 1869. Although the party was never successful, their ideas spread throughout the country. (Krohn and Pyc 459)

Prohibition was seen as a solution to all the problems facing a rapidly growing culture. The stress and strain of industrialization determined the need for change, and the era of the progressives was marked by a popular belief that the evolution of change would begin with the creation of social controls. Social controls would take the form of laws, which were believed to eventually be realized in changed perceptions about the need for self-governing constraint to solve social problems. Yet, this did not occur in any region as the demand completely won the day and created even greater profitability and demand.

The prohibition movement reached its peak in the late 19th century, however, it was not until the southwestern states turned to prohibition that the issue gained mass popularity. There were many factors leading to the passage of this ineffective legislation. In order to conserve grain during World War I, federal legislation passed a series of laws to help ration supplies that were needed for the effort. This rationing established the roots for prohibition legislation. The national prohibition amendment was ratified by all but two states on January 16, 1919 and went into effect one year later. Between 1920 and 1933 prohibition was in effect in the United States. Prohibition is the illegality of manufacturing, selling, or transporting any type of alcoholic beverage. (Krohn and Pyc 459)

Yet, the challenge of the progressive ideal was mighty as the cultural acceptance of alcohol was massive, it was consumed at alarming rates, even by today's standards and had seemingly exponential growth potential. The modeling, said to be eminent with the development of social change was largely unsuccessful as the reality of the secondary effects of legal restrictions began to be felt and alternative, illegal forms of trafficking in alcohol began to exponentially expand the illegal activities of any given location with alarming severity.

Even though the prohibition amendment was passed by an overwhelming majority in Congress, it soon became evident that the amendment was unenforceable. The enforcement was minimized because the 1920s saw a revolution in social (1) manners, (2)customs, and (3) habits, which led to mass inclination to ignore existing prohibition legislation. "Prohibition did not achieve its goals. Instead, it added to the problems it was intended to solve" (Thorton, 1991 p.15). Prohibition caused an explosive growth in crime and increased the amount of alcohol consumption. There were also numerous speak-easies which replaced saloons after the start of prohibition. Approximately only five percent of smuggled liquor was hindered from coming into the country in the 1920s. Furthermore, the illegal liquor business fell under the control of organized gangs, which overpowered most of the law enforcement authorities (Wenburn, 1991). As a result of the lack of enforcement of the Prohibition Act and the creation of an illegal industry, an overall increase in crime transpired. The problems prohibition intended to solve, such as crime, grew worse and they never returned to their pre- prohibition levels. (Krohn and Pyc 459)

The revolution for change therefore caused more problems than it solved as the subtext of the culture was forever altered and the infrastructure of illegal activities grew stronger and stronger.

The major goal of the 18th Amendment was to abolish the saloon. By outlawing the manufacturing and sale of alcohol only, the patronage of a bootlegger emerged. The Volstead Act was intended to prohibit intoxicating beverages, regulate the manufacture, production and use of spirits other than beverage purposes, and promote scientific research in the development of lawful purposes. Initially, all of these regulations were left for the Treasury Department to oversee. The ineffectiveness in preventing illegal diversions and arresting bootleggers led to the creation of the Prohibition Bureau. This was another incompetent strategy based on the spoils system which filled positions with men who discredited the enforcement efforts. Prohibition was intended to solve over-consumption of alcohol, but inevitably encouraged consumption. (Krohn and Pyc 459)

Despite the demands of the culture for change the demands of the desire for alcohol and wealth won the day and the Volstead Act produced an almost unenforceable subsystem of home production and storage. So, in hopes to remove such problems from the home the laws actually returned the problem to the family.

A clause in the Volstead Act made search and seizure virtually unobtainable because any warrant issued was dependent on proof that the liquor was for sale. No matter how much alcohol a person had at home, and no matter how it was obtained or used, agents of the bureau had to have positive evidence that a commercial transaction took place (Aaron & Musto, 1981). This requirement inadvertently promoted home and cottage industry manufacturing of liquor. For example, during the first five years of Prohibition, the acreage of vineyards increased 700%, accompanied by insincere warning labeling such as "do not place liquid in bottle away in the cupboard for twenty days, because it would turn into wine" (Binkley, 1930). Although possession of illegally obtained alcohol was prohibited, the act of drinking alcohol was legal. This suggests that even prohibitionists understood the limits of regulating individual behavior. (Krohn and Pyc 459)

The evolution of the prohibition movement from the point of preaching moderation to the point of preaching absolute abstinence from its consumption is visible…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Asbury, Herbert. The Great Illusion An Informal History of Prohibition. 1st ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950.

Bryce, Jenny. "Prohibition in the United States." History Review (2000): 37. Questia. 1 May 2005 .

C., W. Durant, ed. Law Observance: Shall the People of the United States Uphold the Constitution?. New York: Durant Award Office, 1929.

Clark, Norman H. Deliver Us from Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition / . New York: Norton, 1976.

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