- The Nineteenth Amendment
- 1920s urbanization and immigration
- The reemergence of the KKK
- Republican ascendancy: politics in the 1920s
- The presidency of Calvin Coolidge
- 1920s consumption
- Movies, radio, and sports in the 1920s
- American culture in the 1920s
- Nativism and fundamentalism in the 1920s
- America in the 1920s
In 1920, the United States banned the sale and import of alcoholic beverages.
- Prohibition was a nationwide ban on the sale and import of alcoholic beverages that lasted from 1920 to 1933.
- Protestants, Progressives, and women all spearheaded the drive to institute Prohibition.
- Prohibition led directly to the rise of organized crime.
- The Twenty-first Amendment, ratified in December 1933, repealed Prohibition.
The temperance movement
The roots of the temperance movement stretch all the way back to the early nineteenth century. The American Temperance Society, founded in 1826, encouraged voluntary abstinence from alcohol, and influenced many successor organizations, which advocated mandatory prohibition on the sale and import of alcoholic beverages. Many religious sects and denominations, and especially Methodists, became active in the temperance movement. Women were especially influential. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1873, was one of the leading advocates of prohibition.
During the Progressive Era, calls for prohibition became more strident. In many ways, temperance activists were seeking to ameliorate the negative social effects of rapid industrialization. Saloons and the heavy drinking culture they fostered were associated with immigrants and members of the working class, and were seen as detrimental to the values of a Christian society. The Anti-Saloon League, with strong support from Protestants and other Christian denominations, spearheaded the drive for nationwide prohibition. In fact, the Anti-Saloon League was the most powerful political pressure group in US history—no other organization had ever managed to alter the nation’s Constitution.
Photograph of men dumping barrels of alcohol outside of a warehouse.
Enacting Prohibition: the Eighteenth Amendment
The Eighteenth Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919, and went into effect one year later, on January 17, 1920. The Eighteenth Amendment reflected the Progressives’ faith in the federal government’s ability to fix social problems. Because the law did not specifically outlaw the consumption of alcohol, however, many US citizens stockpiled personal reserves of beer, wine, and liquor before the ban took effect.
Though the advocates of prohibition had argued that banning sales of alcohol would reduce criminal activity, it in fact directly contributed to the rise of organized crime. After the Eighteenth Amendment went into force, bootlegging, or the illegal distillation and sale of alcoholic beverages, became widespread. Al Capone was the most notorious of the prohibition-era gangsters who made their fortunes from the illegal distillation and sale of alcohol. Many law enforcement agencies simply lacked the resources to consistently and effectively enforce prohibition.
Photograph of Al Capone.
Repealing Prohibition: the Twenty-first Amendment
Women were just as active in the anti-prohibition campaign as they had been in the campaign to enact prohibition. The Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform led the drive for repeal. The organization framed its campaign in moral terms, arguing that the effects of prohibition—the rise of a criminal class, the corruption of public officials, and a widespread disrespect for the rule of law—represented a serious threat to American homes and families.
Another factor militating in favor of repeal was the onset of the Great Depression. Given the dire economic situation facing the nation, the federal government could not afford to forego the tax revenues from the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, was ratified on December 5, 1933, conclusively ending the nation’s ban on the manufacture and distribution of alcohol. Prohibition was a social experiment that had nurtured the very ills that it sought to ameliorate—criminal activity, public corruption, and a casual disregard for the rule of law.
What do you think?
Why did Progressives, and especially women, support the ban on alcohol sales?
Do you think prohibition was an effective solution to the ills of a rapidly industrializing society? Why or why not?
What were the positive and negative consequences of prohibition?
Want to join the conversation?
- Why did women and religious groups want alcohol to be banned?(3 votes)
- Many religious groups (especially Protestants) wanted alcohol to be banned because they felt it lead to moral depravity. As the article says, people often associated saloons with poor immigrants, among whom many were Irish Catholics. That would give the Protestants even more reason to discourage alcohol.
For women, they had the same religious reasons, but alcoholism contributed to abuse, too. Imagine you're a woman in this time period with 8 kids and no way of providing for them because nobody wants to give a woman a job. Your husband drinks away all the family's money, then comes home drunk to beat you and the kids. You might want to ban alcohol, right?(19 votes)
- Is there a modern example to compare to Prohibition, like the '80s "War on Drugs?"(5 votes)
- The "War on Drugs" is kinda a modern example but it is not the same(3 votes)
- Were any alcoholic available during Prohibition that was not illegal.(1 vote)
- Churches and religious figure could purchase alcohol without consequence. Because of freedom of religion, the government could not stop religious figures such as priests from buying wine for sacrament. As you could imagine, priests would buy legal alcohol and sell it illegally for a lot more.(2 votes)
- In many churches, wine is used to represent the blood of Christ. Since wine is an alcoholic beverage, would that mean that it was outlawed as well?! If so, then wouldn't there be some exception for wine or something?(3 votes)
- Alcohol could be legally used for cosmetic, medical, and religious purposes even during the Prohibition.(4 votes)
- How did the gangster come out?(0 votes)
- When something is made illegal, people who care little for the law will do it (citizens who continued to buy liquor). When there's money involved, criminals (people who smuggled liquor) will get involved. When there's a LOT of money (lots of citizens drank a lot of liquor), the criminals organize into groups (or gangs).(7 votes)
- In many churches, wine is used to represent the blood of Christ. Since wine is an alcoholic beverage, would that mean that it was outlawed as well?! If so, then wouldn't there be some exception for wine or something?(1 vote)
- From the author:Yes, there was an exception for communion wine and for sickness if doctors prescribed it.(7 votes)
- what are some examples of prohibition for a project(2 votes)
- You could find out how to make low-alcohol beer.
You could run a survey of what different church groups did about communiion wine.
You could make a map, showing the many routes by which alcoholic beverages were brought into the US from Canada.
You could research what saloon owners did with their facilities. If you live in or near a city where some of the buildings are "pre-prohibition" and housed bars or saloons that had to close down, you could do a photography project on what they are now, or whatr buildings have replaced them.
When barley and other grains used for making beer were no longer valued for that purpose, what did the farmers do?(2 votes)
- Progressives thought it would make society better in general. Some for religious reasons. I think slowing it down was good but just for economic reasons it was bad. Positive outcomes, a slightly healthier society, equal society too. Negative: Economy change that affects all people in some way.(2 votes)
- Which action banned the production, distribution, and consumption of alcohol in America?(1 vote)
- Posting homework questions is against KA guidelines.(2 votes)
- Two things:
1.) Was there a specific reason that Prohibition was started? Was it one of the cases that more and more people were seeing the effects of alcohol, and they thought that banning the sale of it was the best way to get it out of hands of the public?
2.) The article makes it sound like the only thing illegal about the alcohol was the selling of it, if this is true, couldn't the creators of the substance have given it away, but highly encouraged donations?(2 votes)
- Production along with sale of alcohol was banned. So nobody in the country could legally create alcohol, but the was an instance similar to the situation you mentioned above. People would make a substance with a warning label saying that if you dissolve into water and wait a long time, you will create alcohol. That was basically the instructions disguised so that they could not be incriminated.(0 votes)