Prohibition
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Time Period
1920  - 1933
Description
The temperance movement, a largely religious campaign against the evils of intoxication, is credited with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the making and selling of alcoholic beverages. Viewing the negative impact of alcohol on families, Christian ministers and women pushed for a ban on alcohol across the country.

Prohibition took effect in January 1920, and soon after an underground economy of bootleggers and speakeasies sprang up around the country to make and serve illegal liquor. Organized crime, particularly the Mafia, controlled much of this illegal industry.

In Chicago, gangster Al Capone’s illegal empire earned some 60 million dollars annually. The Prohibition era also saw a surge in gambling and prostitution.

The so-called 'noble experiment' of Prohibition was dealt a final blow in the Great Depression, with the argument that legalizing alcohol again would create much-needed new jobs and tax revenue. The 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933.
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Narrative
The roots of Prohibition trace back to the Second Great Awakening (1790s-1840s), where religious revivalism highlighted the perceived sin of excessive alcohol consumption. Participants in the revival began swearing off spirits and making public pledges of abstinence. Christian ministers, like Lyman Beecher, started to lecture his fellow citizens against all use of liquor in 1825, as his congregants increasingly sought him for advice regarding the alcohol abuse of family members. Beecher, and other Christian ministers, encouraged the curbing of alcohol use (i.e., temperance). This helped establish the temperance movement, which gained traction with the founding of American Temperance Society in 1826 and the emergence of church-based temperance organizations, including Sons of Temperance (1842), Knights of Jericho (1850), Templars of Honor and Temperance (1845).

States began enacting prohibition laws, starting with Maine in 1846 and other states followed prior to the start of the Civil War in 1861.

In the 1870s, Christian women increasingly became involved in the temperance movement and initiatives to prohibit the use of alcohol. Famous female leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Frances Willard founded prominent temperance societies, most notably the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (1874). They would organize "pray-ins" at saloons as a form of alcohol protest, and they successfully incorporated anti-alcohol content in the educational programs of schools across the country.

Still, the organization that truly helped elevate the possibility of a nation-wide prohibition amendment was the Anti-Saloon League (ASL). Billing themselves as the "church in action," the ASL became one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country. Under the leadership of Wayne Wheeler, the ASL united Democrats, Republicans, populists, progressives, famous industrialists, like John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Andrew Carnegie, and others to endorse their campaign toward an amendment banning alcohol production and consumption. Suddenly, more states began instituting prohibition laws, going from only three states in 1906 to 23 dry states by 1916. With many politicians fearing the repercussions of defying the ASL, the 18th amendment prohibiting the making and selling of alcohol passed through the House and Senate in 1917, ratified 13 months later and finally enacted in January 1920.

Unintended consequences followed. Saloons closed and the lack of legal liquor sales restaurants hurt many businesses. Crime also rose, as an underground economy of bootleggers and speakeasies sprang up around the country to make and serve illegal liquor. Organized crime, particularly the Mafia, controlled much of this illegal industry. In Chicago, gangster Al Capone’s illegal empire earned some 60 million dollars annually. The Prohibition era also saw a surge in gambling and prostitution.

The so-called 'noble experiment' of Prohibition was dealt a final blow in the Great Depression, with the argument that legalizing alcohol again would create much-needed new jobs and tax revenue. The 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933.
Movements
Temperance Movement
Photographs

Orange County sheriffs dumping illegal booze- Photo courtesy Orange County Archives (CC BY 2.0)

Detroit police inspecting clandestine brewery equipment- National Archive and Records Administration

Pouring liquor into the sewers during the height of Prohibition- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-123257

Rum runner with contraband on deck- United States Coast Guard photo

Policeman standing alongside wrecked car and cases of moonshine- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-96757
Book/Journal Source(s)
Aaron, Paul, and David Musto, 1981. Temperance and Prohibition in America: A Historical Overview. Alcohol and Public Policy: Beyond the Shadow of Prohibition, edited by Mark Harrison Moore and D.R. Gerstein. Washington (DC): National Academies Press.
Web Source(s)
http://www.history.com/topics/18th-and-21st-amendments
The History Channel, "18th and 21st Amendments"
http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/roots-of-prohibition/
Burns, Ken, and Lynn Novick. 2011. Prohibition: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. PBS.
Web Page Contributor
Sandi Dolbee
Affliated with: Former Religion and Ethics Editor, The San Diego Union-Tribune
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