Prohibition

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The Eighteenth Amendment

The Volstead Act.
Ratified January 1919.
Enforced January 1920.
Abolished Dember 1933.
Banned the sale, transportation and manufacture of liquor.
Defined intoxicating liquor as anything with an alcohol content of +0.5%.

Reasons for Approval

  • The impact of war:
    • The Lever Act banned the use of grain in drinks.
    • Brewers tended to be of German origin, and following the war, there was a very anti-German feeling.
    • Felt that alcohol led young soldiers into temptation and sinful ways.
  • Disorganisation of opposition:
    • There was little protest against the idea of prohibition.
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Support and effects on organised crime

Support

  • Many women saw alcohol as a means by which men oppressed them.
  • Businesses thought that alcohol could lead to danger and inefficiency in the work place.
  • Religious groups believed alcohol to be the work of the devil and therefore a sin.

Effects on Organised Crime

  • There was a huge growth in crime and incredible rivalries between crime gangs/familes.
    • Enforcers could be bribed by these criminals, which therefore allowed criminals to carry on with their activities.
  • St. Valentine's day massacre:
    • 14 Febuary 1929. Five of Al Capone's men dressed as police and "arrested" seven of the rival "Bugs Moran" gang and shot over 100 bullets into them.
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Why Prohibition failed.

  • Geographical difficulties
    • There are 18,700 miles of coastline and land border, so it wasn't too difficult smuggling liquor into the country. Only 5% of bootleggers were actually intercepted.
  • Bootleggers
    • Alcohol could still be used for medicinal purposes, and via a doctor's perscription. This meant it was clearly open for abuse.
  • Industrial alcohol
    • Alcohol still required for industrial use could be easily re-distilled. This liquor was also known as "moonshine" and could even blind or kill the consumer.
  • Treasury agents
    • Treasury agents employed to enforce prohibition were poorly paid. They were given $2500 a year to shut down an illegal industry with profits of $2 billion annually.
    • These agents therefore were likely to accept bribes to turn a blind eye.
  • Popularity of "speakeasies"
    • Gangster-run speakeasies became very popular with many fashionable city-dwellers.
  • The role of the government
    • Did not do more to enforce prohibition as it didn't want to alienate or offend influential voters who enjoyed a drink.
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