The Rights and Wrongs of Prohibition


In December of 1917 the US Government approved an amendment that would outlaw the sale, manufacture and distribution of alcoholic beverages. The Eighteenth Amendment would take effect on the first of January 1920. It can be said that the nation was significantly divided by the issue.

The supporters of Prohibition argued that alcohol was unhealthy, a waste of time and a waste of money but most importantly, they argued that drinking alcohol was immoral and had the capacity to tear families apart. Soon, groups of temperance supporters were sprouting up everywhere in the United States. The supporters argued that not drinking alcohol would lead to a more productive society, more time would go to working and making money and spending time with the family as opposed to drinking alcohol. In the end, they believed it would be a positive thing for society and minimize crime and boost the economy.

In the beginning, the opposition to the temperance movement was slow to form and gain support for, considering that many people did believe alcohol was immoral and dangerous. Many people also already knew the health risks associated with alcohol. When the anti-prohibitionists finally did get a grip, they argued that the banning of alcohol was a blatant violation of personal freedoms, as well as an overwhelming use of federal power, violating the rights of state governments. To them, it was unfair that the government could take a form of release and relaxation away from them after a hard days work or a stressful day.

However, whether the prohibition movement was right or wrong, it is well known that the movement was not as effective as it could have been. The federal government did not put as much funding as they should have towards the enforcement of the law, many of the rich could still easily purchase and consume alcohol in their homes and many illegal clubs and bars, known as “speakeasies” were ran secretly under the nose of the law. The law additionally resulted in a way of easy money for gangs, gangs that would either produce or acquire alcohol and sell it to the rich or to the local speakeasy. Because of this, the goal to create a more peaceful and moral society by banning alcohol had essentially backfired. The creation and transporting became a very profitable business, which allowed gangs to form and receive easy funding. Essentially, creating a society more keen to break the law.

The question is “did the government have the right to create such a law?” One can argue that if the law was created from a religious perspective, then no. Separation of church and state should not allow such a law to be created and enforced. However, if the law was created from a health perspective then maybe it should have been allowed, as similar laws have been enacted (against other drugs such as cocaine and heroin). Many drug laws have been passed to try to protect people from addiction and premature death. Of course, in the case of prohibition, it was both. Religious moral values, as well as health were both considered when the law was passed and enacted.

My personal belief is that the government did not have a right to pass the law. It was, in my opinion a violation of people’s rights. Minimum age laws were later established after prohibition was repealed back in 1933. These laws, in my opinion, are more fair and reasonable. America was a country established on personal freedoms, and those freedoms should include the use of alcohol and other drugs (to a certain extent). The great thing about freedom is that people who don’t want to drink it do not have to, and the people who do can.

Source

Keene, Jennifer D., et al. Visions of America: a History of the United States. Pearson, 2017.

9 thoughts on “The Rights and Wrongs of Prohibition

  1. After looking at the 18th amendment it is quite easy to tell how much social the structure and views have changed from the past to today. At one time it was illegal to drink alcohol and the amendment affected many people. Some of those it affected may have been addicted to it and had to face the symptoms of not being able to “quench” their thirst. Each side of the argument has some solid points. “The supporters of Prohibition argued that alcohol was unhealthy, a waste of time and a waste of money…” On the other hand, those in opposition argued banning alcohol violated “the rights of state governments.” It is true, “The federal government did not put as much funding as they should have towards the enforcement of the law.” It is difficult to imagine what the United States would be like if minimum age laws weren’t in effect. There is technically no right or wrong answer to the whether or not prohibition violated the rights of Americans, it is up to the reader to decide that for his or her self.

    1. I certainly agree that this subject is strictly a matter of opinion. A person can argue both sides of the matter and do so effectively. I think in the end it all boils down to who the person is, their background and their cultural/ familiar backgrounds. So of course, with different opinions come different views, especially about touchy subjects such as government control and the use of drugs.

      1. It is a touchy subject and I like how you question not whether or not alcohol is good or bad but whether or not the government actually had a right to pass a law prohibiting it. It’s intetesing that we are still dealing with these issues today with tobacco and drugs. Is the government trying to protect people or control them ?

  2. If the government is able to make laws to prohibit drugs such as marijuana what is to stop them for prohibiting alcohol as well. It could be argued that people should be allowed to put in their bodies what they like especially if they were not harming anyone else. This would include not driving while Impaired(including drugs) or doing drugs/alcohol during work times. I agree with you in the regards to the setting of restrictions. Maybe if Drugs were legal and they were given from dispensaries less people would get laced or fatal drugs and there would be less street drug dealers (this could help the jail overpopulation, I don’t know just a thought. In those days people still went around the “laws” and drank, today people still go around the laws and do drugs. I don’t know if its right or wrong to be honest with you, as these don’t affect me however if they did I would want the right to make my own choices. We are still hearing of people who make moonshine and how they distribute it much like the people did during the Prohibition. In my opinion no matter what laws are made people are going to break them. Nice post.

    1. First off thank you for the compliment! And yes, unfortunately in the world we live in it does seem no matter what the laws are or how strict they are, they will almost always be broken. I think the idea of the legalization of all drugs is an interesting topic. I cannot certainly say that I agree with either side on the subject, but I would be interested to see the positive and negative results of such an action.

  3. People definitely felt differently when it came to prohibition. Yes there was some that really agreed, but there was also those who strongly disagreed. Of course the government said that prohibition was meant to be for the good of the people. However, it did, like you said, take away a personal right and choice of the people. It is exactly like you stated in your post, prohibition “Essentially, creating a society more keen to break the law.” The formation of laws are meant to be for the good of the people, but just like today, people were able to find ways around prohibition. In my opinion, the creation of prohibition may have even made drinking worse. The people had become so angry that the government felt the right to take away a personal choice, so in return they drank illegally. Nice article!

  4. I agree with and like when you said, “whether the prohibition movement was right or wrong, it is well known that the movement was not as effective as it could have been.” I had similar ideas when going over the blog post and thought money played a big role in this time era. What a time it would be with where someone could tell you on Federal level it was illegal to drink alcohol.

  5. I see where this article was going with government not having the right to prohibit alcohol, but to me it’s still a little iffy. As a current high schooler, I can name several students at my school who I know and have seen use alcohol and other drugs illegally, to the point of bringing them to school. I feel as if alcohol isn’t taken as seriously when it comes to minors, especially because I always hear in the hallways about another party at so-and-so’s where all the students do is abuse alcohol.

  6. I don’t think any amount of funding would’ve made prohibition work, and the rich always get away with breaking those rules. Look at today with our current prohibition on drugs. What happens is that good people get hurt while those enforcing the rules and those profiting from them run rampant and those who can afford to get away with using them, do.

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