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January 17,
1920 the Eighteenth Amendment was passed which prohibited “the manufacture,
sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” while still allowing the
possession, production, and consumption in one’s own private home.  For decades Temperance Movements fought to rid
the “ills of society” by banning the production and sales of alcohol.  The movement was initially met positively and
was expected to be a progressive amendment that would move America into a more
positive direction.  History would,
however, show that the Eighteenth Amendment had more negatives than positives
and would eventually be repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment, being the one Amendment
in American History to be repealed in its entirety. 

 

            By
the mid 19th Century, religious groups began the first prohibition
movements toward banning alcohol and the drunken behavior associated with
it.  These groups viewed alcohol as a great
“National Curse” and sought to cure the ill society of its effects.  19th Century Americans were known
to be heavy drinkers and drunkenness had become a major problem as a
result.  Unemployment rates were climbing
along with crime rates and these religious groups were quick to hold these “intoxicating
liquors” responsible for all the broken families during this time period.  One of the first of these religious groups to
make the push for the prohibition of alcohol was the Women’s Christian Temperance
Union (WCTU), officially declared a national convention in Cleveland, Ohio in
1874.  In keeping with their Christian
faith, the WCTU believed they could purify the world by promoting abstinence
and purity, namely abstaining from alcohol. 
The WCTU was a rapidly expanding and influential gaining many supporters
to their cause.  By 1893 the WCTU was
joined by the Ant-Saloon League (ASL) in the fight for prohibition.  The ASL became a national organization in
1895 and soon began using pressure politics and endorsing political candidates
to push for legislation to abolish saloons. 
 By 1906 the ASL was lobbying to
have the prohibition of alcohol passed on a state level.  The influential group utilized public
speeches, demonstrations, and advertisements to promote their ideologies.  They believed all of society’s problems could
be reversed by banning alcohol.  The
group was so successful in their campaigning that 23 of 48 states had passed
legislation banning saloons with some of them even banning alcohol by 1916. 

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            On
January 29, 1919, The Eighteenth Amendment was ratified and put into effect a
year later.  The National Prohibition
Act, or Volstead Act, was passed to carry out the intent of the Eighteenth
Amendment by defining the process for banning the consumption and sales of
alcohol and also their production and distribution.  The Volstead Act, named in honor of Andrew
John Volstead who helped author the bill, initially was surrounded by
controversy and prior to it becoming law President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the
Volstead Act opposing a federal law that prohibited alcohol claiming that
alcohol consumption was a moral issue.   Another issue that developed with the passing
of the Eighteenth Amendment involved the court case Hawke vs. Smith, a Supreme Court case that originated in Ohio which
questioned the validity in the way in which the Amendment was passed.  Ohio voters were given 90 days to sign a
petition challenging the Amendment’s ratification by Ohio legislation but the Amendment
was put into effect prior to the 90-day waiting period’s conclusion.

 

            Initially
the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment had some positive effects such as: a
decrease in alcohol consumption, reduction in alcohol-related illnesses, and a
decrease in alcohol-related crimes. Described by President Herbert Hoover as “a great
social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose,”

 the positives were soon overshadowed by the
negatives and soon prohibition fell victim to many unforeseen consequences.  The Eighteenth Amendment was soon discovered
to have many exploitable loopholes. 
While expressly banning the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of
intoxicating liquors,” alcohol was still allowed for medicinal, religious, and
industrial purposes.  This undoubtedly
led to it being exploited and abused in these settings.  People also began making more homemade liquor
which ultimately led to more alcohol poisoning and abuse.  Supporters of the Eighteenth Amendment
initially thought the economy would be stimulated as people would no longer be
able to purchase alcohol and would instead buy more goods, education, and
insurance but this proved to be the opposite as people were instead finding
goods with alcohol and spending their money instead on that. 

 

            Most
infamously associated with Prohibition is the rise of “bootleggers” and the
subsequent rise in organized crime that followed.  Bootlegging is defined as the illegal
manufacturing and sale of alcohol. 
Prohibition provided a very profitable avenue for criminal outfits
looking to increase their wealth.  Gangs
soon became influential criminal enterprises who reaped the monetary benefits bootlegging
provided and soon they were able to bribe police officers and sway politicians
to expand their businesses.  Prohibition
quickly opened the gateway to an increase in violent crime, gambling,
prostitution, and an overall degradation of American society; quite the
opposite of its intended purpose.  Speakeasies,
illegal bars and nightclubs, began popping up and being protected by corrupt policeman
bribed by criminals.  Soon people were
beginning to blame Prohibition for the increasingly negative effect it was
having on American lives.

 

            Ultimately,
the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed with the passing of the Twenty-First
Amendment, being the one Amendment in American History to be repealed in its
entirety.  By the late 1920s the public became
displeased with prohibition and the onset of the Great Depression only sped up
its repeal.  Americans felt that
manufacturing and selling alcohol could help stimulate the economy and reduce
the oncoming depression.  The Eighteenth
Amendment was eventually considered unpopular and a failure and Prohibition was
ended in 1933.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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