I recently had to do a history-related writing sample, so I thought I'd copy and paste and do another mini history lesson. Prohibition is a fun topic, right? If you're interested in this subject, Ken Burns' Prohibition documentary film series is excellent, particularly parts 2 and 3.
In 1919, Congress
passed the Eighteenth Amendment, or The Volstead Act (also known as Prohibition),
which banned the sale, manufacture, and distribution of alcohol. Prohibition was a complex societal reaction
to America’s changing cultural landscape.
Increases in immigration, industrialization, and urbanization brought
vices such as prostitution, sexual promiscuity, crime, and of course, excessive
drinking. Prohibition gained traction from
the progressive reform movements of the early twentieth century and was founded
upon nativism, worries about societal disorder, growing fears of unruly and
immoral immigrants, anti-Catholic sentiment, and women who were fed up with
their men coming home drunk and abusing them.
was widespread among business leaders, progressive reform organizations such as
the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, and
middle-class Protestants, all of whom believed that society’s ills could be
pointed in one direction: to the saloons and those who drank at saloons, who
were predominately working-class immigrants.
Business leaders hoped prohibition would help control their workforce, which
would no longer be impaired by alcohol; middle-class Protestants thought it
would help control the unruly immigrant community and impose order and cultural
unity; and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (and other women’s and Christian
organizations) thought it would improve the quality of women’s lives in the
home. Fears of drunken men visiting
saloons and brothels and bringing venereal diseases into the home filled the
heads of well-intentioned reformers trying to protect innocent women and
As anyone familiar with
old-time gangster movies or the show Boardwalk
Empire knows, Prohibition was grossly ineffective and widely ignored. Although alcohol consumption did decrease by
as much as 30%, there were many unintended consequences, the largest of which
was the rise of organized crime; organized crime existed before Prohibition,
but flourished after it. Prohibition
cemented the gangster’s place in American history – Al Capone, Johnny Torrio,
George Remus, and Lucky Luciano gained their notoriety during the Prohibition
era. Bootleggers, the name given to
those who illegally smuggled alcohol, formed an underground network, producing,
distributing, and selling alcohol to thirsty Americans all over the United
States. Gangs became more organized and
more violent and speakeasies (illegal bars) cropped up everywhere, having the reverse
effect upon society that prohibitionists had intended: more crime, vice, and
Enforcement of the law
was laughable; corrupt politicians, police, and prohibition agents abounded,
their pockets lined with cash by the people they were supposed to be arresting.
Local police were largely uninterested
in enforcing the law, which left enforcement up to understaffed and underfunded
federal agents, who did not have the manpower to enforce the law on an
individual basis and were up against well-organized and violent gangs. As the decade wore on, millions of Americans
continued to drink and unapologetically defy the law while gangsters
capitalized on their unquenchable thirst and became millionaires.
Prohibition was a hot
political topic, and candidates’ stance on the issue was an important factor in
determining elections; Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 partly because
of his promise to repeal Prohibition. The
Great Depression made Prohibition even less popular, and as time passed,
Americans became increasingly disillusioned by the law. Ultimately, many Americans did not believe
that their defiance of the law was a problem, and they didn’t want their
behavior regulated by the government. The
United States government agreed that it was a lost cause, and Prohibition ended
in 1933, with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment, the first amendment to
ever repeal a previous amendment.
Welcome to my blog, aka my place to comment and reflect on things I find inspiring, amusing, irritating, or baffling. When I was young, my Stanford PhD, former physics professor, software engineer father used to help me with my math homework, and I, being mentally deficient in all things math, could never quite get it. He would constantly say to me, "Jill, it's not rocket science." (Did I mention the PhD was in Aeronautics and Astronautics??) So I thought it would be an appropriate title for this blog because everything I write about is, indeed, not rocket science.