Prohibition refers to the banning of the sale, manufacture, and transportation of intoxicating liquors. This was passed as federal law in 1920 as the 18th Amendment. The goal of prohibition was to create a more virtuous, law-abiding society. Instead of getting the result that the movement intended for, it created more organized crime, corrupt law enforcement officials, and stocked shelves at illegal bars. Trafficking in illegal alcohol gave rise to the famous powerful gangster Al Capone. Secret bars called speakeasies flourished in cities. When Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt entered office, he quickly urged congress to repeal prohibition. In 1933, the 21st amendment was passed, which repealed the 18th Amendment.
When it comes to positive aspects of prohibition, there is very little to look at. In theory, prohibition should have eliminated the use of alcohol, which may have actually been a good thing for society. The negative health effects of alcohol would disappear, less people would abuse alcohol, and a more controlled society from the governments standpoint. However, it is very hard to take freedom away from people who have already had it. It should have been predictable that society would not accept the new prohibition laws. The negative aspects of prohibition include more organized crime that was extremely profitable, bribed police, unsafe manufacturing of alcohol, and illegal bars spread all throughout the country. Prohibition was doomed from the start for many reasons, a big one being that people simply do not like having the government tell them what is right and wrong, and what they can and cannot do.
I think that it is not the government’s job to pass moral legislation. Things like drugs and alcohol should be a decision for the individual the citizen to make if they want to put it in their bodies. Obviously when their actions begin to harm others is when there needs to be legal recourse. In my opinion, the federal government should not have to power to be able to tell their citizens what they can and can’t do. Our country was created because we didn’t like our government telling us what to do, so this should have been pretty predictable. If you look at modern drug laws, it’s pretty evident that our country is having a hard time following those laws as well. Prison populations are unacceptably high and a lot of sentences are due to drug related crimes. In my opinion, placing restrictions on people and telling them what they can and can’t do is only going to encourage rebellion.
In the case of prohibition, another big negative aspect was the loss of revenue from taxing alcohol. It also greatly increased government spending on trying to control crime. This alone make prohibition a huge burden for the government. it also caused a lot of people to switch to opium, marijuana, patent medicines, cocaine, and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition. Overall, the movement was a total failure and the lesson learned (or not learned) is still relevant and parallel to many modern issues.
Keene, Jennifer, et.al. Visions of America: a History of the United States. Volume 2, Boston: Pearson Education, 2015.