Prohibition on any type of good will have its supporters and opponents. Prohibition in the United States during the 1920s involved the ban on the sale, production, and transportation of alcoholic drinks had two main sides known as the “Drys” and the “Wets.” The Drys were in support of the temperance movement where all people did not consume alcoholic beverages. On the opposing side were the Wets who believed that drinking alcohol is a personal right and that it should not be made illegal. The legislation passed known as the Eighteenth Amendment banning alcohol can be seen as a very moral issue due to the fact that drinking can be viewed as a personal choice. The Eighteenth Amendment brought some positive effects, but overall brought chaos to the world Drys were trying to fix. “When prohibition went into effect in 1920, Congress clarified what constituted an intoxicating beverage in the Volstead Act (1919), which defined any beverage with more than 0.5 percent alcohol as intoxicating liquor and established criminal penalties for manufacturing, transporting, or possessing alcohol” (Keene, 637). Temperance was a very long lasting reform in the United States. Prohibition had many positive and negative aspects, but the government never should have passed this type of “moral” legislation.
The positive aspects of Prohibition can be mainly seen based on the Dry’s view on things. However, the positive could be seen throughout families if they all participated in the Prohibition. I believe the most positive aspect of Prohibition, while it lasted, was that it let some families focus on their spouses and children, work, and save some money supported by Dr. Keene’s in Visions of America. “By putting alcohol aside, they claimed, workers had become more productive, could afford to buy cars and furniture, and had more savings” (Keene, 637-638). Due to the ban, some people especially men were not as tempted to drink. Drys thought that Prohibition “would create a more virtuous, law-abiding society” (Keene, 637). In certain cases, people weren’t getting super drunk after work or before work and were able to make better choices. Drinking less made more time for people to spend time with their families after work and in free time. The temperance movement was based strongly on health and morals. Most people are aware that drinking more alcohol is unhealthy for you. The moral aspects come in due to religion. If you were Christian and believe strongly in faith, there were many benefits to the Prohibition because others were getting rid of the evils of alcohol. Many of the positive aspects of the Prohibition are outshined by the negatives.
Many of the negatives that came out of Prohibition were the complete opposite of what the Drys hoped to accomplish. After passing the Eighteenth Amendment, steps were made in order to catch those going against the ban. However, I know that failed almost completely due to Dr. Keene’s research that “Congress never appropriated enough money for wide-scale enforcement, hampering Justice Department efforts to curb illegal drinking” (Keene, 637). Drys thought that less alcohol would make more law-abiding citizens, but it did the opposite. Organized crime grew tremendously. Many illegal and secret bars could be found everywhere like speakeasies, and big-name gangsters like Al Capone came about. In Chicago, Al Capone grew in power with his gang who caused lots of chaos like the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre where his gang as fake cops slaughtered an opposing gang. The Amendment created a mess where many citizens all thought it was socially acceptable to break the law and purchase illegal alcohol since most everybody else was doing it. Money made from the legal purchase of alcohol was all gone. Now everything was done under the table and illegal activity was occurring more often.
This type of moral legislation should have never been passed because it was threatening many personal and state rights. My view on prohibition goes along with Senator James Wadsworth who “contended that it seemed unfair to tell exhausted workers at the end of the day “you shall not have a glass of beer” (Keene, 636). Making alcohol illegal was only based on moral issues. Alcohol in excessive amount can become a big problem, but making it illegal was not a solution. When making anything illegal, there are still people who will find a way to do it. The use of alcohol can be seen as a casual activity or something that can be overused and destroy families. It is up to a person to make their own valued decision on whether to drink. It is also considered a moral issue when involved in the topic of religion. We have the freedom of religion, but religion can not be used as an excuse to ban alcohol. Billy Sunday, an Evangelical preacher, taught about the evils alcohol can have on people which is a moral issue especially if an individual does not believe in that religion. There were much better ways to handle the issue of alcohol than making it illegal.
Prohibition had many positive and negative aspects, but the government never should have passed this type of “moral” legislation. As soon as Franklin D. Roosevelt became the President in 1933, he was able to get the Twenty-First Amendment ratified, repealing the eighteenth. This happened very quickly showing that the Eighteenth Amendment did not accomplish much. Other ways to handle the disagreement of temperance could be the establishment of minimum drinking ages, which is in effect now. Prohibition in the 1920s had many issues and was too much of a “moral” legislation to be passed without more assessment of the true issue of alcohol being a type of enjoyment or a type of vice.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.