Prohibition is considered as a period of time in the 1920’s when alcohol was controlled by the government. Alcohol, at this time in history, was illegal unless for medical or industrial purposes. This government control came about because of the fact that people were drinking too much and “destroying the moral fiber of America” (Martin
Alcohol has been part of American society since the colonist came over on the Mayflower. At that time, alcohol was safer to drink that the contaminated water or unpasteurized milk, and cheaper than tea or coffee imported from India and Spain.
As time went on and technology improved, the need for alcohol diminished greatly. Political leaders at this time were seeing alcohol as a public curse. Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying “Alcohol . . . used by everybody, repudiated by nobody” (Cashman 68).
Before the turn of the century, alcohol abuse was getting out of control. Saloons were everywhere and competing for the drinker’s money. These saloons had prostitutes, permitted gambling, sold alcohol to minors, encouraged violence and public drunkenness, and were believed to corrupt the local government into passing laws in favor of them. In 1873, the Anti-Saloon League of America (ASL) formed to inform people about the harms of alcohol abuse. These people would march from church to the saloons with bibles and prayer. An onlooker was noted as saying, “These people have a noble cause at heart and the means to accomplish was needs to be done” (Martin 97).
At the turn of the century, the ASL, along with similar groups, voted members into Congress with overwhelming support. By 1917, over two-thirds of the members in Congress were ASL-supported. These members passed laws toward nationwide prohibition. In 1919, all 48 states ratified the 18 Constitutional Amendment, outlawing alcohol sales unless for medical or industrial use. For a while, this helped. However, a new generation was just coming of age in America.
These young people were were considered corrupt by the society outside of there own. The people drank, engaged in multiple love affairs, and openly disobeyed the law. These people “wanted to have fun and didn’t care how they had it” (Cashman 124). This society grew until the 1930’s when the Great Depression began. People complained the prohibition took away jobs for the people and money for the government. At this period in time, people had little money or hope and alcohol was a way out. In 1933 the 21 Amendment was passed repealing the 18th. That was the first and only Constitutional Amendment ever repealed. At the time, people were “happy and relieved that politicians listened to them” (Washburn 99). That was the end of prohibition in the United States .
English II Honors
October 30, 1996
Cashman, Sean Davis. Prohibition - The Lie of the Land. New York, Harper, 1981.
Martin, Harold. Alcohol and the 1920’s. Toronto, Doubleday, 1990.
Washburn, Michael Thomas. Prohibition. New York, Warner, 1985.
“Prohibition” Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia. 1989 ed.
“Prohibition” World Book Encyclopedia. 1995 ed.