The Temperance reform movement took on a new life during World War I with propaganda claiming that alcohol rendered thousands of men inefficient. This caused two separate campaigns to materialize –  the “wets” and “drys”.  The wets focused on personal freedom and felt uneasy about increasing the power of the federal government so it could enforce prohibition. While the drys focused on the negative effects of alcohol and the increased advancement in worker production due to workers being sober (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, page 636).

An Evangelical preacher by the name of Billy Sunday urged his followers to “get on the water wagon; get on for the sake of your wife and babies, and hit the booze a blow.” (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, page 636-637). Prior to the prohibition only men could get served alcohol. This caused a large number of men to throw away their pay checks on booze, leaving their women and children starving or homeless. The wets saw the prohibition as a way to release the grip saloons had on men and, in turn, this would better their home life and families.  In the early stages of the prohibition it also brought prosperity to the economy. By putting alcohol aside, workers had become more productive and could afford to buy material things such as cars and furniture.

Despite very early signs of success, including a decline in arrests for drunkenness and a reported 30 percent drop in alcohol consumption (Prohibition, 2009) – the prohibition era had it’s flaws.  On December 18, 1917 congress approved the Eighteenth Amendment which banned the sale, manufacture, and transportation of intoxicating liquors. It’s important to note that while the Eighteenth Amendment made the sale of alcohol illegal – the consumption of alcohol was not. Those who wanted to keep drinking found ever-more inventive ways to do so. Well-to-do folks drank their bathtub gin or home brewed beer, secret bars called speakeasies popped up everywhere, and the manufacturing and selling of moonshine became very popular. The prohibition also gave birth to a much more insidious form of crime. Al Capone became a powerful figure in the Chicago underworld by bribing cops and trafficking in forbidden alcohol. Illegal drinking also became popular among the young urban elite.

The Prohibition was difficult to enforce and the wets argued that enforcing the law drained the national treasury and started the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that Congress repeal the law in 1933 and Congress quickly agreed. Thus, the Twenty-First Amendment was created, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment, and ended the prohibition.

In my opinion, the government should not have passed the prohibition law. Passing such a legislation is restricting personal freedom. At the end of a very long, hard day I want to come home and have the option to relax with a cold beer or a glass of wine and it’s my right as an American to do so. When someone takes something away from you that you feel is your right, it makes you want it even more. This is exactly what happened with the prohibition. Even though the Eighteenth Amendment was in tact folks still found a way to consume booze in secret. While public indecency caused by alcohol still exists, I like to think that people in current times know the dangers of alcohol and are much more responsible.

 

Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, O’Donnel Edward T., “Chapter 16.” Visions of America: a History of the United States, Pearson, 2013, pp. 636-638.

History.com Staff, “Prohibition.”, 2009, A+E Networks, http://www.history.com/topics/prohibition