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