In the midst of World War I, wartime temperance propaganda had claimed that the “German brewers in this country have rendered thousands of men inefficient” (Keene, 636). “Wet” and “dry” opposition materialized slowly. The temperance reform’s primary reasoning on the riddance of alcohol was the negative health effects associated with booze. The critics had a hard time countering the argument on health, so they focused on personal freedom. Senator James Wadsworth was one of these critics, and stated that it seemed wrong to tell fatigued workers that at the end of the day “you shall not have a glass of beer” (Keene, 636). Other critics worried that this reform would give the federal government even more power, as they would need to enforce prohibition. The argument was made that an amendment prohibiting alcohol was a clear violation of states’ rights. Despite the arguments made by “wet” activists, their efforts were pretty easily overpowered. The Anti-Saloon League, comprised of mainly the middle-class, lobbied strong campaigns with structured propaganda which crushed the “dry” critics at the local, state, and national level.
The temperance reform was preached in church, converting many churchgoers as they were convinced alcohol was “evil.” The famous oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller also embraced prohibition. He gave a speech urging listeners to “get on the water wagon; get on for the sake of your wife and babies, and hit the booze a blow” (Keene, 636). It was on December 18th of 1917 when Congress approved the Eighteenth Amendment. This amendment banned the sale, manufacture, and transportation of intoxicating liquor. However, Congress never funded enough money for a real wide-scale enforcement. People crafted alcoholic beverages in their homes and went without bother. The real problem was the organized crime syndicates that came to life after prohibition. These syndicates financed breweries and distilleries, bribed police officers, and stocked the shelves or secret bars known as speakeasies. These bootlegging operations were extremely profitable, and resulted in a ton of violence. The famous gangster known as Al Capone rose to power in the underworld of Chicago. Al Capone and his syndicate’s operations would often result in a trail of blood. Rival gangs and anyone that stood in his way were killed.
Aside from all of the negativity caused by prohibition, there were some positives. Workers had become much more productive, resulting in them being capable of buying cars, furniture, and even investing in their savings. “Drys” made the argument that the economy was prosperous due to a more productive workforce. This was until 1929, when the Great Depression began. “Wets” were quick to make headway arguing prohibition drained the federal treasury due to enforcement expenses. Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the White House in 1933, and immediately had Congress repeal prohibition.
I personally do not agree with the government’s decision on passing the 18th amendment. This “moral” legislation may have helped get men and women sober for their family’s well-being, but I feel the negatives that came with prohibition outweigh the positives. The amount of crime that surfaced after prohibition is unbelievable. Powerful syndicates resulted in corruption within the system and those who stood in their way often lost their lives. Prohibition also ran legal breweries, distilleries and bars out of business, which put people out of work. Now money made by the illegal distribution of booze could go without tax.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul., O’Donnell, Edward T., “Chapter 16.” Visions of America; A History of the United States, Pearson. 2013. pp. 636-638.