Change is hard for most people. You get used to the certain way something is; a behavior, a habit, a personality. a landmark, etc, and when it no longer is how it was, you have to readjust. The 1920’s brought a great deal of change to the US in many way, shapes, and forms – from the way women acted traditionally to the way children were educated. The world had been shaken and all the pieces were trying to fall back into (a better) place, or that was the idea at least. There was a struggle as to how to separate government control and personal rights and freedoms. Where was the line to be drawn, and how far could governmental influence go? There was a want for a country that was morally right and just, that could lead the world in prosperity and wealth. After coming out of a world dividing war, unity and positivity was on the forefront of the population’s mind.
Deciding between right and wrong in the views of society, became a widely publicized topic due to the increases in popularity of radio and other communication tools. Ideas and feelings spread more rapidly, creating a larger and more outspoken support system for and against controversial matters. One of the largest being Prohibition. As with all controversial topics, there are many pros and cons; in this case the nation’s society debated against alcohol and it’s influence on the morality of the country. Was it to blame for the state of the things and could it be the obstacle holding the country back from exponential growth?
Prohibition was the dramatic move the government decided to enforce to really rock the country and force change. The 18th Amendment of 1917 that went into effect in 1920 prohibited the consumption, creation, sale, and purchase of alcohol (Keene, Jennifer, et.al, 633). The government decided to take a step into the personal freedoms of the residents of the country. They believed it could lead to decreasing poor and irresponsible decisions made in relation to the intoxicating properties of alcoholic beverages that contained over 0.5% of alcohol. Decreasing a wasteful habit, ideally, would lead to an increase in productivity and promoting a ‘dry’ nation would create a responsible workforce. Prohibition was also thought to increase the amount of funds that families would have to put in savings, or use towards socially acceptable and morally ‘positive’ activities or goods. By supporting family-oriented events, the government felt as though prosperity would flourish and wholesome traits and teachings would result. All of those potential and actual results were fine and dandy. It seemed to be a success.
Unfortunately there were unintended consequences to prohibition. After surviving a world war, the nation was looking to regroup and unify after such an event. Prohibition counter-acted that. It divided the states against one and other, by putting the population at odds; you either supported prohibition or you drank illegally. It influenced the growth of disrespect to laws and government. People commonly ignored the laws and created a pop culture of fashionable illegal practices, only making a more negatively regarded government. Producing a rebellious population that did anything they could to get their hands on alcohol, made for a tough environment for police officers and law enforcers. Prohibition took money out of a strong and steady industry that supported the federal treasury, and put that money directly in the hands of newly-founded criminals. All of these reasons and others, seemed to also be the cause of the Great Depression of 1929 (Keene, Jennifer, et.al, 634), the complete opposite of national prosperity.
Due to the negative reasons listed above, my stand towards the prohibition is that the government really overstepped their boundaries on regulating human freedoms and rights. They created more negative, than positive, by trying to put a standard or definition as to what should be morally right for all citizens. By outlawing alcohol, they not only upset people who used drinking as a way to unwind after long working hours in tough conditions, as well as industry leaders that created alcohol beverages and supported the federal markets. The government, in trying to target a few irresponsible consumers, they upset a large majority of responsible consumers. The faults of few should not be held against the actions of all. Although the government had very good intentions and ideally a great idea to make the nation great, they created a monster of situation that made matters worse. Prosperity comes to those who have the freedom to live and pursue the happiness they desire – I mean isn’t that the reason the US came to be?
Keene, Jennifer, et.al. Visions of America: a History of the United States. Volume 2, Boston: Pearson Education, 2015.