The Eighteen Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is significant for two reasons: it banned the sale, manufacture, and transport of alcohol in the United States, and it was the only amendment to ever be repealed. That’s right, only 13 years after it went into effect in 1920, it was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. At the start of those 13 years, alcohol consumption did go down and there was generally wide-range support for the movement. But as time went on, support went down, consumption went up, and organized crime syndicates that illegally transported and sold alcohol popped up. In this article, we’ll look at the causes of prohibition, what it did, and what happened afterward.
Causes of Prohibition
Prohibition was pushed for a number of reasons. It was a large part due to Christian advocates who associated alcoholic consumption with disorderly behavior. It also was associated with the Women’s Suffrage movement, which passed with the 19th Amendment right after prohibition. The reason for this is that many advocates pursued both amendments passing, seeing both as necessary to increase civility in American Society at the time, hence their slogan: “Improve the National Character”.
The Simpsons parodied this extreme reaction in this clip.
Other major advocates for prohibition include Captains of Industry, like John D. Rockefeller, who thought alcohol reduced their workers’ output, and xenophobic and racist organizations like the KKK, who linked alcoholic consumption to recent immigrants from Europe.
Whatever the reasoning was, Prohibition got enough support to pass Congress and 46 States and be enacted by 1920.
Problems with Prohibition
Prohibition did lower alcohol consumption, but many of its other goals, including lowering crime, did not work. Al Capone and other gangsters like him took advantage of the new demand for alcohol by the Americans who were still drinking. Bootlegging, as it became to be known, was the practice of smuggling alcohol into the country to be sold illegally. To do this, bootleggers would bribe cops and federal agents to look the other way as they sold alcohol openly. In this scene from The Untouchables, a police officer shows his partner where the alcohol is smuggled, claiming it’s an open fact in the city.
Even worse, many of these bootleggers would commit massive acts of violence against other bootleggers as they battled it out for the territory. Acts of violence like this, including the infamous St. Valentines Massacre, became the new normal. Prohibition was supposed to limit crime, but in reality, it only increased it.
For information on the rise of organized crime during Prohibition, watch this clip: History Channel: How Prohibition Helped the Mafia
And for another The Untouchables scene regarding Prohibition, watch this clip: The Untouchables
Effects of Repeal of Prohibition
By 1933, Prohibition was tremendously unpopular. Crime rates had skyrocketed, alcoholic consumption was almost back to its pre-prohibition levels, and the economic depression that had occurred due to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 made a greater need for economic benefits of alcohol. This is why Franklin Roosevelt rang his presidential campaign partially on a platform of repealing prohibition.
With the passing of the 21st Amendment, prohibition was repealed. Some states would continue the prohibition, with the last state to repeal it being Mississippi in 1966. Even today, a lot of “dry counties” still exist in the United States where the sale of alcohol is banned or partially banned.
The organized crime that was created out of prohibition continued to exist, as many of them transitioned to other outlawed acts like loansharking and drug trafficking.