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Abstract

This research seeks to investigate the historical repeal of prohibition in the United States. The National prohibition of alcohol happened between 1920 and 1933. It was an experiment aimed at reducing corruption, crime, the tax burden (as a result of poorhouses and prisons), solve social issues, and improve health and hygiene in the United States. The study is important because it takes a general view on what happened during that period? Was the experiment successful? If not, how were the economy and the American citizen, as an individual, affected? The lessons that were learnt from the noble experiment are very important in dealing with a number of issues that affect most Americans today, such as drugs. There have been other researches carried out by individuals and institutions on this topic.

The scholars have more or less agreed about my topic, and my paper argues for a better interpretation. Notably, the 18th Amendment was ratified to the Federal Constitution in 1919 that enabled prohibition a year later. Many women were instrumental in enforcing this prohibition for they held the belief that their families would be safe from alcohol abuse. However, numerous reports point to the fact that the prohibition was a failure. None of the objectives were achieved; people continued to drink alcohol as crime actually increased. This study takes a look into what happened. Who were to blame for its failure? What are the lessons to be learnt from the experiment?

Methodology

As a methodology, this study has utilized the use of a comparative case study. It utilizes the benefits of using comparative case studies in the topic of discussion; Repeal of Prohibition. How was the prohibition enacted? The methodology used is effective because information dealing with the research topic is in abundance. By looking on previous researches and studies, this research ascertains on the circumstances that led to the repeal of Prohibition. For a better understanding of the topic of discussion, it is informative to note that, there was a ratification in the year 1933, which then repealed the 18th Amendment. By this time, the prohibition era had lasted for about fourteen years. During this period, it was illegal to manufacture, sell, and transport alcohol and its related products. Its proponents had previously blamed alcohol for the rise in crime levels and murder, as well as, an increase in adultery and saloons.

Research findings

This study first takes a look at the historical events that led to the prohibition in the United States, which was also referred to as The Noble Experiment. During this period, the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol were banned. The 18th Amendment was approved by thirty six states in 1919 and came into effect in 1920. The Congress then established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor and penalties given to those who produced it. However, despite all these, the federal government seemed to have done little in enforcing it.

This study has found out that, the Prohibition succeeded in reducing the amount of alcohol consumed. However, organized criminal activity increased and became widespread. While it was thought to be working, Prohibition started to become unpopular in large cities, especially during the Great Depression. During this time, women in the community looked at drunkenness as an abuse of a God-given gift; abuse of alcohol was not acceptable. Those who were very much in favor of Prohibition included the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Methodists, Quakers, Presbyterians and many more. Moreover, soda fountain manufacturers, as well as, tea merchants supported Prohibition hoping that it would increase sales for their products.

Notably, prohibition caused a conflict between rural and urban values in the United States; rural communities were in favor of Prohibition while urban folks refuted it. After Prohibition came into effect on the January of 1920, about 1520 police officers were given the mandate to enforce the law. They were referred to as Federal Prohibition agents. Progressives, women, African-Americans and southerners were in favor of Prohibition believing that it would improve moral standards in the society. They even became confident that it would not be repealed.

This study has also found out that, the Prohibition issue became very controversial among medical practitioners, as alcohol was used for therapeutic purposes. It is then that physicians began lobbying for its repeal as it applied to medicinal liquors. It is important to note that, Section 29 of Volstead Act did allow wine and cider to be made from fruit, but not beer. In addition to this, the act had an anomaly in that; it did not prohibit the consumption of alcohol. With this in mind, many Americans stored wines and liquors for their use at home before the sale of alcohol became illegal. On the negative aspect, the Prohibition made breweries and distilleries in other neighboring countries (Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean) flourish, as their products were imported to the United States illegally or consumed by visiting Americans in large quantities. 

During this time underground criminal activity flourished as gang members embarked on selling alcohol illegally. Groups like Bugs Moran and Al Capone benefitted a lot from illegal sell of alcohol. Contrary to its expectations, Prohibition actually made crime increase as many individuals and groups violated the law. Gang groups controlled speakeasies and the bootlegging business across the United States. Murder and theft cases were a direct link to a number of criminal activities in most urban centers. However, there were a few groups which opposed Prohibition from the start, for example, the Woman's Organization for Prohibition Reform. They fought against it with a few others.

After some time, 'Repeal' was eagerly expected as Prohibition gained unpopularity in major cities. It was in March, 1933, that an amendment to the Volstead Act came into effect, which allowed the manufacture and sale of small amounts of alcohol content in beers (4%), and light wines. Initially, the Volstead Act did not permit the sale of anything above 0.5% in alcohol content. The whole 18th Amendment came to be repealed in 1933, December.

There are a number of reasons as to why the enforcement of prohibition did not succeed. Firstly, the means used to enforce the law were insufficient. The law lacked legitimacy among the masses who had been drinkers for a long time. People referred to the law as unnecessary and arbitrary, and hence were willing to break them. Law enforcement agents found themselves overwhelmed by the number of cases related to violation in the prohibition law. It is important to note that, the wide scale breaking of the law had not been anticipated, so there were shortages in resources to be used in pursuing the law breakers. There was also lack of a centralized authority to deal with the implementation of the law. This contributed to a lack of transparency between state and federal government officials. Moreover, the United States is a big country; the terrain and massive borders along Mexico and Canada made it difficult to implement the law. With the repeal, it was then realized that the legislature did not match the general opinion of the public. 

Another finding of the study is that, prohibition dealt a major blow to the alcohol industry. A repeal of the law was the only step towards improving a sector of the economy. Cities like St. Louis were totally dependent on the production of alcohol before the start of Prohibition. After the repeal, it became the first to refill the market with alcohol. Thousands of workers regained their lost jobs once again after beer production started all over again.

Prohibition was the cause of a black market that competed with the formal economy. It is important to note that, the formal economy came under pressure as a result of the great depression. Roosevelt came into office on the promise of improving the economy. This was only possible if there was a successful competition between the formal economies against other economic forces like the black market created by the prohibition. This was the reason as to why Roosevelt supported the 21st amendment that repealed the prohibition. However, in the 21st amendment, states had rights to ban or restrict the sale and purchase of alcohol. There are other states that kept on enforcing the prohibition laws even after the repeal.

This study has also ascertained that, there arose many societal problems due to the prohibition. Mafia groups and other gangs involved themselves in organized bootlegging during the prohibition era. The black market for alcohol became profitable as it flourished; however, it became very violent as many people were murdered. Law enforcement agencies became corrupted by powerful gangs. In a critical view, it seems that prohibition actually increased crime. Many cities turned into battlegrounds for violent gangs. Reports state that crime increased by twenty four percent in addition to theft, burglaries, homicide, assaults, and drug addiction.

All these were as a result of the violence involved in the black market sell of alcohol. Social condition worsened during this period, more than before prohibition, as more lethal forms of alcohol were produced, crime rates increased and criminal organizations dominated the black market. Taking a critical look into the increase in crime during the prohibition era, this study has ascertained that, crime became more organized than before. Criminal gangs got their income from the sale of alcohol. However, in the event of buying and selling of alcohol, these gangs got involved in real crimes in defending their brands and territories. There was a dramatic reverse in the rates of murder, robbery, assault, and burglary when there was a repeal of prohibition in 1933. This is a very important lesson to take into account from the repeal. 

The research has established that, strong liquor became popular as its potency became profitable. It is intriguing to note that, the government gave an order for the poisoning of industrial alcohols with the aim of preventing bootleggers from using it in making illegal alcohol. However, the bootleggers responded by hiring chemists who renatured the poisoned alcohols and made it drinkable. Many people died of poisoning as they drunk denatured alcohol. It is for this reason that medical examiners opposed policies aimed at increasing the poison levels of industrial alcohols.

Another common feature during the prohibition era was the making of alcohol at home. Notably, there were drug stores that sold medical wine, with about 22 percent alcohol content, to the masses. It was disguised as medicine by adding a medical taste into it. Due to the fact that private selling of distilled alcohol had become a crime, bootleggers created their own fast cars with the aim of outrunning the law enforcement officials. It was hard to control the making of illegal alcohol because ingredients for liquors were being sold legally, for example, scotch mash, ethyl alcohol, Benedictine, and vermouth.

This study has ascertained that, prohibition largely affected the music industry in the United States, especially jazz. Speakeasies popularized as the effects of migration led to a huge dispersal of Jazz music. As a result, different cities developed different style of music. Jazz gained popularity fast due to the popularity involved in speakeasies and advanced recording equipment. On a positive aspect, Jazz and speakeasies contributed to integration efforts between black musicians and white crowds.

Another important fact to note is that, there was an increase in government spending towards enforcement efforts of the prohibition. The yearly budget of the Bureau of Prohibition jumped to about $13 million in the 1920s. This excludes the same amount spent by the Coast Guard on prohibition, as well as, the local and state governments' expenditures. After the repeal of Prohibition, organized crime lost most of its profits in black market widely. This is because competition was high with legal sales of alcohol in liquors stores, which were low-priced.

Moreover, prohibition affected the alcohol brewing industry significantly. This is because even after the end of prohibition, only half of the breweries re-opened. This is when the American lager was introduced; prohibition had destroyed the wine industry. Lower quality vines replaced the high quality ones that had existed before. It seems that winemakers left their businesses or migrated to other countries. After the repeal, many supporters of the prohibition acknowledged its failures.

Advancements that had been made by industrialization were reversed when prohibition came into effect. This is because large scale production of alcohol was shut down, as individual Americans started producing alcohol illegally. The government happened to be shutting down an entire industry instead of building it. Alcohol drinkers sought to new venues of drinking alcohol. Alcoholics and drunkards were adversely affected as it became hard to find liquor.   

The study has ascertained that, prohibition actually increased the levels of corruption. While it was thought that the law would eliminate corruption, it only gained ground as major source of corruption. Many people took bribes; including crime bosses, major politicians, moonshiners, cops, and speakeasies owners. The Bureau of Prohibition became a target of deals involving corruption. There was a widespread public corruption as people purchased official protection for illegal traffic of alcohol. The entire justice system was adversely affected as they were overwhelmed with cases involving violation of the law.

Instead of prisons being empty, the numbers of prisoners actually increased as a result of the prohibition law. Reports show that, the number of federal convicts increased by a whooping 561 percent, while the population in federal prison increased by 366 percent. About two thirds of prisoners by 1930 were as a result of alcohol related offenses. This dramatically led to overcrowding as expenditure on prison departments increased. The figures involving violations of prohibition laws increased continuously throughout prohibition. There was also an increase in homicides; however, all these were reversed in 1933 after the laws were repealed.

This study has established that, the prohibition experiment was not a healthy move. There was neither improvement in health nor hygiene. While cirrhosis of liver affects health of an individual, a small number of people die of it as a result of alcohol consumption. It is important to note that there have been cases of people developing cirrhosis despite the fact that they do not drink alcohol. Moreover, a majority of alcohol drinkers never develop it. Taking keen considerations, there seem to be no benefits in health acquired from prohibition. Alcohol related deaths increased due to people consuming illegal wines and spirits that had been poisoned or substandard. Contrary to this idea of death in consuming alcohol, there have been studies showing that moderate drinking can actually be beneficial to an individual.  

Towards the end of prohibition laws, this study has made two conclusions. Most people were opposed to the Eighteenth amendment as the government was not willing to doo anything. With elections around the corner, it became clear on who would be the winner as Roosevelt promised a repeal of the prohibition as he enters office. In addition, the study has also established that, public contempt for prohibition intensified when the stock market crashed in 1929. This led to a general failure of the United States economy. The great depression brought about a change in political, social, as well as economic circumstances. A repeal of the prohibition seemed to be the only way to give people jobs and improve the economy in general by implementing taxes on liquor. As depression got to worse, the ban on alcohol continued to put restrains on the government as it kept on spending on implementing the law.

Conclusion

Otherwise known as the noble experiment, the national prohibition of alcohol was an act undertaken to reduce corruption and crime, improve hygiene and solve most social problems of the American public. However, results totally show the opposite of these expectations. There are a number of lessons that can be learnt from the failure of prohibition, which did not succeed in improving health or virtue in the United States. The failure can be used to give insights into the current problem of drugs and drug addiction. It should be noted that, the repeal of prohibition was quick in reducing crime and corruption.

There was a wide scale job creation as many people were employed in alcohol industries and related businesses. There was an emergence of voluntary efforts aimed at helping alcoholics reduce their dependence on alcohol. As a recommendation, the lessons learnt can be applied to the current problem of drug prohibition, as well as drug abuse.  Moreover, the lessons can be used to deal with the urge to prohibit. This is because it would only lead to more corruption, crime and dangerous products. The lesson to be learnt is that the American society cannot be easily engineered or controlled like others.

The main aim of prohibition was to raise the economic and social standards of the United States.  Poorhouses and prisons were supposed to be emptied, and social issues eliminated. Production was supposed to shot up and hence an economic boom. However, after the stock market crash in 1929, it was obvious that prohibition was a failure. There was no increase in production as everything backfired.

According to those who proposed prohibition, it was aimed at reducing the amounts of alcohol consumed by the American public. By giving it a first look, it seems there was a reduction in the quantity of alcohol consumed. However, there was a shift from people buying expensive liquor to fortified wines and distilled spirits. Beer became scarce and expensive to get. Moreover, the laws led to people drinking patent medicines that had high contents of alcohol. There was a tremendous increase in the sale of medicinal alcohol. This was definitely not expected, as prohibitionists expected people to switch into buying dairy products or other non-alcoholic products. Things got worse as people switched into using other drugs such as marijuana, tobacco, hashish and narcotics.

This study ascertains that, prohibition did not achieve its chief goals. From the out look, it increased the already existing problems as the society became fed up with the law. As a matter of fact, those who seemed to have gained from prohibition include crime bosses, the forces of big government and bootleggers. The eighteenth amendment contributed to an increase in the government costs during this era. The repeal of prohibition restored liberty back in to the society.

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