During World War 1, the United States government decided to push an agenda that partaking in drinking alcohol was somehow making humans less effective. Opposition to this idea came slowly as many people thought that it was a bad idea for the government to have so much power to make decisions like this. They tried to fight this as much as they could, but the Anti-Saloon League was way to powerful to overcome (Keane, Cornell, O’Donnell, 636).

Congress banned alcohol on December 18, 1917 with the passing of the 18th Amendment. This outlawed the sale, transportation, consumption, and manufacturing of alcohol (Keane, Cornell, O’Donnell, 637). The 36 states needed in order to ratify the Amendment did so by January 16, 1919. All but 2 states voted to ratify the amendment, those being Connecticut and Rhode Island. After the passage of the Amendment, Congress then decided to expand on what was considered and illegal beverage. They considered an illegal beverage one that was more than 0.5 percent alcohol (Keane, Cornell, O’Donnell, 637).

Congress made a huge mistake though once the Amendment was passed. They never set aside enough funds for the Justice Department to enforce the law appropriately. This led to opposite of what the government thought this Amendment would do. They thought that this would create more law abiding citizens (Keane, Cornell, O’Donnell, 637). Instead, this brought more crime and more opportunities for a black market to be formed.

Al Capone became one of the most powerful people in Chicago because of this Amendment. Running underground operations like the one Capone ran led to a spike in violence. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 was a great example of this violence. Capone’s men decided to pose as cops in order to arrest a rival gang that was also running an underground operation. Once this happened, Capone’s men then lined them up and killed all of them with guns (Keane, Cornell, O’Donnell, 637).

Throughout the 1920s, there was still debate as to whether or not the prohibition was actually working. The “drys” credited prohibition as the reason that the economy was doing so well. At the same time, the “wets” thought that this led to citizens believing that breaking the law was acceptable. The “wets” were also concerned because there was no regulation on the making of alcohol since it was banned (Keane, Cornell, O’Donnell, 638).

In 1929, the Great Depression hit the United States and put the country in a huge financial crisis. This exposed the “drys” theory that prohibition led to prosperity. “Wets” used this as an opportunity to argue that enforcing prohibition cost way to much and was handicapping the government financially. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as president and decided to urge Congress to repeal the 18th Amendment. Very soon after, the 21st Amendment was ratified which repealed the prohibition on alcohol (Keane, Cornell, O’Donnell, 638).

I believe that the government should have never passed this law. It did way more harm then good. Between the violence between gangs and the contamination of the alcohol due to no regulation, the loss of life was unprecedented. I firmly believe that completely outlawing something such as alcohol or drugs is a bad approach. People are always going to find a way to partake in something even if it is illegal. Making something completely illegal always creates black markets and they always lead to violence and unnecessary bloodshed.


  1. ODonnell, Edward T., et al. Visions of america: a history of the united states books a la carte edition. Prentice Hall, 2016. pp 636-638