Prohibition in Americas


Alcohol and similar substances are special goods with the specific effects. On the contrary to the ordinary products, the consumption of these one might have certain social effects. Moreover, many experts assert that the alcohol is the root for many social problems the solving of which is expansive for the state. The paper aims to identify the key effects of the prohibition of alcohol in 1920s in order to show that such a measure should not be the only one in the process of fighting alcoholism.


Overview of the Prohibition of Alcohol Use in the USA

The prohibition of alcohol use was seen as constitutional experiment of the USA. The President of the USA asserted that it was an experiment with noble and far reaching effects. After that, press and the public started to refer to alcohol-banning initiative as 'noble experiment'. Regardless of the expectations that were laid upon the Eighteen Amendment, it failed and led to even more severe social implications.

The Prohibition of alcohol use was initiated by the Eighteen Amendment to the US Constitution ratified in 1919. The Amendment banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of all intoxicated liquors. The ratification of this Amendment was the culmination of the efforts of Woman's Christian Temperance Union and Anti-Saloon League. They asserted on the negative social; effects of alcohol use and its costs for the nation. At the same time, the enforcement of the Amendment was quite difficult despite the passage of the Volstead Act. Regardless of that, the increase of the illegal manufacture of liquor, rise of gang violence and proliferation of speakeasies resulted in the adoption of 21st Amendment that repealed the Eighteen Amendment. Apart from that, the supporters of Eighteen Amendment were shocked by the provisions of the Volstead Act. In particular, it mentioned that all the spirits containing more that 0.5% of alcohol are prohibited. The Eighteen Amendment, in its turn, specified the prohibition of the drinks with more than 40%of alcohol. Considering this, it should be stressed that the proponents and initial supporters of the prohibition were merely deceived. Such a drop reflected in Volstead Act differed enormously from the one mention by the Amendment and, of course, led to the significant different outcomes.

Federal and local governments fought enormously to enforce the Prohibition in 1920s. At first, it was assigned to the Internal Revenue Service and later transferred to the Justice Department. The prohibition was welcomed in the areas the residents of which supported the legislation. They mainly included the rural areas and small towns. However, it should be stressed that despite of the initial success, those who had intention of drinking established more profound ways to obtain liquors. The number of speakeasies, the illegal spots for selling alcohol, increased enormously together with the smuggling rates.

Apart from that, the prohibition initiated the rise of the criminal activity, especially in part of the organized crime. Illegal manufacture and distribution of alcohol in great quantities required a network of organized crime groups to be involved. The most active one was associated with Chicago gangster Al Capone who earned nearly $60 million through the illegal sale of alcohol beverages. Nevertheless, the popularity of such illegal activities also frequently resulted in the inter-gang fights and violent attacks. One of them led to the Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929 when the members of one gang dressed as cops killed the members of another.

Eventually, the prohibition was cancelled in 1933 by another Amendment to the US Constitution. The main reason for that was the gap that erased between the poor, working class and the middle or upper class making the first more restricted in their activities. Apart from that, the financial resources that were initially spent on the solving of social problems were then assigned to the law enforcement and maintenance of the jails.

The Effects of the Prohibition in the USA in 1920s

In overall, the effects of the alcohol ban were various. On the one hand, the residents of the USA have been known for avoiding the laws and responsibility provided by them. The initiators of prohibition were aware of the limitation of such measure due to the previous history of alcohol ban in the USA. One of the stories refers to the Massachusetts city that prohibited the sale of alcohol drinks. As a result, its bars and saloons started to charge the admission fee for entering their ventures and alcohol drinks were included. In such a way, the owners of such establishments escaped he legal responsibility for the unauthorized sale of alcohol. Other cities experienced even more severe consequences. For example, having introduced alcohol ban in 1851, Maine was confronted with the resentment supported by the working class and Irish immigrants. On the other hand, the prohibition was repealed due to the deadly rebellion in Portland in 1855. Considering this, the proponents of the prohibition did not expected to leverage from this much. As Lewis notes, ‘the proposers did not take into account the American willingness and creativeness in violating the law’. Therefore, it should be perceived more as a forced step, than as a rationally passed decision.

The economic consequences of the prohibition were far more reaching. First of all, states ceased to leverage from the alcohol-related taxes. For many of them the taxes levied on alcohol equaled to the half of their budget. For example, the New York alone retrieved 75% of its budget from the taxes related to alcohol sale and consumption. As a result, a number of local needs were not satisfied due to the lack of money that were necessary for their implementation.

Apart from that, entertainment and amusement industries definitely expected the rise of demand for their services. Theaters and restaurants suggested that instead of alcohol people would look for other sources for getting satisfaction. Real estate agents presumed that the prices for certain dwellings would go high due to the shutting down of nearby saloons and bars. However, as it turned out, the public also ceased to visit such establishments. The restaurants lost more than others as they could no longer serve the drinks for their visitors. Theaters experienced a decrease of revenues, rather than increase. On the whole, entertainment industry the interest in which was fueled by alcohol as well experienced a decline in visitors and overall demand for their services.

The gap between poor and rich people also raised enormously. First of all, regardless of several saloons that operated in violation with the laws, the majority of them had to shut down. As a result, a lot of people lost their jobs and means for living. In its turn, their families were left without the sources of income and, thus, they could not satisfy their needs in education, culture and the most basic services. The prohibition of sale and manufacture of alcohol led to the decrease of demand for transporting, packing and other related services. Thus, the employees of these industries also felt the outcomes of the prohibition and some of them lost their jobs.

As to other economic considerations, it should be stressed that Eighteen Amendment and the Act that was implemented to ensure its enforcement left a lot of the loopholes that were intensively used by the entrepreneurial violators. First of all, the law provided that the pharmacies could sell alcohol, namely whiskey, for a number of reasons ranging from influenza to depression. As Lewis asserts, ‘having obtained the necessary permits, physicians could prescribe up to 100 pints of ethyl alcohol every 3 months’. As it turned out, the organized crime activists started to establish pharmacies with the purpose of illegal sale of alcohol. In addition, the law did not prohibited the manufacture of homemade spirits More than that, introducing the ban, the state aimed to decrease the interest in drinking n the whole. Instead, it made its citizens experts in alcohol making industry. As a result of it, even more people were affected by the alcohol used since the spirits they consumed were not manufactured in accordance with the state-dictated standards. The number of people diagnosed with blindness or paralysis increased. Considering this, the number of healthcare costs increased and the state had to bear that burden.

The worth effect of prohibition, yet, referred to the law enforcement and crime rate. First of all, as it has been already stressed, the manufacture and distribution of the illegal alcohol and related beverages required the criminals to unite and create gangs. The latter also initiated the number of spots where alcohol was illegally distributed and sold to the public at extremely high price. As a result, increased revenues provided gangs with additional means for their living and existence in the USA. Considering the employment rate drop that followed the shutting down of the saloons, bars and associated businesses, people could decide to join the criminal gangs to feed their families. In overall, the crime rates went high.

On the other hand, law enforcement was also subjected to the detrimental effects of the prohibition policies. First of all, the members of the gangs tended to bribe police officers to silence them. Some of the officers, not all, became the manufacturers and distributors of alcohol themselves. Nevertheless, the information regarding the bribing of the police officers spread through press and spoilt the reputation of police and public attitude towards them.


In overall, it should be stressed that the noble intentions of American President and the government associated with the prohibition of manufacture, sale and distribution of alcohol worsened the social problems that already existed within the society or just started to emerge. There were a number of reasons that predetermined the failure of such initiative ranging from the weak legislative technique used for the drafting of prohibiting proposal and leaving a lot of loopholes for the criminals to the overall refusal of the residents to accept the new rules. In any case, it can summarized that the prohibition of alcohol in the USA in 1920s resulted in the increase of the criminal related activities, corruption of police officers and define of rates related to the public trust in aw enforcement, rise of the healthcare costs associated with the treatment of the healthcare issues stemming from the use of handmade spirits. Obviously, the prohibition should be still considered as an experiment or extreme measure that has been taken by the US government in its attempt to prevent the rising of social problems. The failure of this initiative, however, should not be used as an argument in the debate for the legalization of drugs or weapon. It should be stressed that in this case the government had not taken enough measures to ensure the success of the prohibition.

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Jul 2, 2020 in Research Essay Samples