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On midnight of January 16, 1920, American went dry. One of the personal habits and everyday practices of most Americans suddenly diminished. The Eighteenth Amendment was passed, and all importing, exporting, transporting, selling, and manufacturing of intoxicating liquor was put to an end. The Congress passed the Amendment on January 16, 1919, but it only went into effect a year later. The Volstead Act was passed with the Eighteenth Amendment on October 23, 1919. The Act was named after Andrew Volstead, a Republican representative from Minnesota.
The Volstead Act, also known as the 'National Prohibition Act', determined intoxicating liquor as anything having an alcoholic content of more than 0. 5 percent, excluding alcohol used for medicinal and sacramental purposes. The act also set up guidelines for enforcement. Prohibition was meant to reduce the consumption of alcohol, therefore reducing the rates of crime, death rates and poverty (Poholek, 2). However, some of the United States' communities had already prepared for Prohibition. In the three months before the Eighteenth Amendment became effective, liquor worth half a million dollars was stolen from Government warehouses. Prohibition was actually a backlash because it actually mad breaking the law a common event for people, because people would bootleg and make their own liquor, and then get sent to jail.
It also was the reason for the rise of organized crime. 'In 1921, 95, 933 illicit distilleries, stills, still works and ferments were seized. In 1925, the total jumped to 172, 537 and up to 282, 122 in 1930. In connection with these seizures, 34, 175 persons were arrested in 1921; by 1925, the number had risen to 62, 747 and to a high in 1928 of 75, 307. Concurrently, convictions for liquor offenses in federal courts rose from 35, 000 in 1923 to 61, 383 in 1932 ' (McGrew, 6).
After the Volstead Act was passed, the Federal Prohibition Bureau was created in order to see that it was enforced. However, bootleggers and 'moonshiners's oon emerged. Bootleggers smuggled liquor from oversees and Canada, and stole it from government warehouses. Barely five percent of smuggled liquor was hindered from coming into the country in the 1920 s. Moon shining was when people actually made alcoholic products. People started concealing their liquor in hip flasks, false books, hollow canes, and anything else they could find (Poholek, 3).
There were also illegal speak-easier which replaced saloons after the start of prohibition. The speak-easy era was pretty outrageous, according to 20 s jazz singer Heavy Car micheal. 'A bang of bad booze, flappers with bare legs, jangled morals and wild weekends' is what how he described it (Pick, 1: 4). By 1925, there were over 100, 000 speak-easier in New York City alone (Thornton, 5). Furthermore, the illegal liquor business fell under the control of organized gangs, which overpowered most of the authorities. Many bootleggers secured their business by bribing the authorities, namely federal agents and persons of high political status. Mob bosses opened plush nightclubs with exotic floor shows and the hottest bands.
It was as if Prohibition was a joke in the United States. People were drinking more than ever, and more people were dying from alcohol-related diseases (Pick, 5). Resulting from the lack of enforcement of the Prohibition Act and the creation of an illegal industry, there was an increase in crime. Prohibitionists expected the Volstead Act to decrease intoxication in America, and then the crime rate would decrease. At the start of Prohibition this purpose seemed to be fulfilled, but the crime rate soon skyrocketed to nearly twice that of the pre-prohibition period. In large cities the homicide went from 5. 6 (per 100, 000 population) in the pre-prohibition period, to nearly 10 (per 100, 000 population) during prohibition, nearly a 78 percent increase (Stack, 2).
Serious crimes, such as homicides, assault, and battery, increased nearly 13 percent, while other crimes involving victims increased 9 percent (Poholek, 3). Many supporters of prohibition argued that the crime rate decreased. That would be true if someone is examining only minor crimes, such as swearing, mischief, and vagrancy, which also did decrease due to prohibition. The major crimes, such as homicides, and burglaries, increased 24 percent between 1920 and 1921. Also, the number of federal convicts over the course of the prohibition period increased 561 percent.
The crime rate increased because "prohibition destroyed legal jobs, created black-market violence, diverted resources from enforcement of other laws, and increased prices people had to pay for prohibited goods" (Thorton, 10). The contributing factor to the sudden increase of felonies was the organization of crime, especially in large cities. Because liquor was no longer legally available, the public turned to gangsters who readily took on the bootlegging industry and supplied them with liquor. Most speak-easier were owned by bootlegging mobsters. On account of the industry being so profitable, more gangsters became involved in the money-making business. Crime became so organized because "criminal groups organize around the steady source of income provided by laws against victimless crimes such as consuming alcohol" (Thorton, 13).
As a result of the money involved in the bootlegging industry, there was much rival between gangs. The profit motive caused over four hundred gang related murders a year in Chicago alone (Stack, 4). Prohibition actually enabled organised crime to grow and in an effort to stay in business saloon keepers would introduce gambling and even prostitution in an effort to maintain a profit level (Twentieth Century, 2). Large cities were the main sites for organized crime. Although there were over a half dozen powerful gangs in New York City, Chicago was the capital of mobsters, including Johnny Trio, "Bugs Moran", the Genes, and the O'Banions (McWilliams, 6).
From Chicago, however, hailed the most powerful and infamous gangster bootlegger-Al Capone. One of the most horrific and infamous gangster shoot-outs of all time occurred on Valentine's Day in 1929. Because of business differences, Capone had his henchman, Jack "Machine Gun" Mcgurn plot the murder of the O'Banions, led by Bugs Moran. Mcgurn went to deliver alcohol to Moran at a warehouse and had his gang members impersonate police officers and pretend to raid their transaction.
Mcgurn killed all that were inside the warehouse with a machine gun. Capone had a solid alibi, being in Miami at the time, and no convictions were ever made. This event is an example of how prohibition fueled gang warfare and increased the crime rate in America (Crime Library, 7). Although it would be thought that prohibition would have made the obtaining of alcohol more difficult, liquor was actually very easy to procure. The bootlegging business was so tremendous that customers could easily obtain alcohol by just walking down almost any street (Prohibition, 1).
Replacing saloons, which were all shut down at the start of prohibition, were illegal speak-easier. These secret saloons were hidden in office buildings, basements and any secret places that could be found. Speak-easier only admitted those with membership cards, and had the most modern alarm systems to avoid being raided. "There were twice as many speak-easier in Rochester, New York, as saloons closed by Prohibition" (Thorton, 6). Sootleggers, had very profitable businesses (one bootlegger was worth more than five million dollars). They would either illegally import liquor, steal it from government warehouses, or they would make their own, making it available to customers (Wikipedia, 1). Many home products were sold to those customers who wanted small quantities of alcohol.
Vine-Glo, a type of grape juice, turned into wine (15 percent alcohol) after sixty days of fermentation. Wort, or near beer, was legally produced because it had less than 0. 5 percent alcohol. When added to yeast, this product quickly turned into beer. Alcohol used for medicinal purposes, prescribed by a doctor, was also technically legal. There were restrictions, such as only one pint was allowed per person in a ten day period, but these rules were deliberately ignored (National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse). 'The sales of medicinal alcohol, which was 95 percent pure alcohol, increased 400 percent between 1923 and 1931. Another factor that proves the increase of alcohol consumption is the increase in deaths and drunkenness.
The drop in alcohol related deaths before prohibition quickly rose during prohibition. Arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct increased 41 percent, while arrests for drunk driving increased 81 percent during prohibition' (Thorton, 7). 'Prohibition is a great social and economic experiment- noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose', were the words of President Herbert Hoover (McWilliams, 3) President Hoover was right about one thing in particular, Prohibition was in fact an experiment. It is obvious that this "experiment" was a failure. Controlled measures were not taken to enforce the laws and so they were virtually disregarded.
People blatantly violated the law, drinking more of the substance that was originally prohibited. The problems prohibition intended to solve, such as crime, grew worse and they never returned to their pre-prohibition levels. Not only was prohibition ineffective, it was also damaging to the people and society it was meant to help. Prohibition should not have gone on for the thirteen years it was allowed to damage our society. Bibliography 'Al Capone. ' Crime Library. 2001. Access date: 10 April 2005.
Findlaw. 'US Constitution: 18 th Amendment. ' Access date: 10 April 2005. McWilliams, Peter. 'Prohibition: A Lesson in the Futility (And Danger) of Prohibiting. ' 1996. Access date: 10 April 2005. National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. 'History of Alcohol Prohibition. ' Access date: 10 April 2005.
Oregon State Archives. 'The Prohibition Years: Bootleggers and Imagination. ' Access date: 10 April 2005. Pick, Margaret. 'Speakeasies, Flappers, and Red Hot Jazz: Music of the Prohibition. ' 2001. Access date: 10 April 2005. Poholek, Catherine H. 'Why Prohibition? . ' 6 May 1998. Access date: 10 April 2005. 'Prohibition. ' Access date: 10 April 2005. Stack, Martin H. 'A Concise History of America's Brewing Industry. ' EH.
NET Encyclopedia. Access date: 10 April 2005. Thornton, Mark. 'Prohibition Was a Failure. ' Cato Public Analysis, No. 157. 17 July 1991. Access date: 10 April 2005. Twentieth Century Interactive: Making Connections to America's Past. 'To Drink & To Vote: The Campaigns for Prohibition and Women's Suffrage. ' Access date: 10 April 2005.
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 'Bootleg Liquor. ' Modification date: 15 March 2001. Access date: 10 April 2005.
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