Prohibition: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:)

Prohibition in the 1920’s banned the sale, importation, transportation, and production of alcohol. The social movement to ban alcohol in the United States was nothing new; the temperance movement started in the early 1800’s and it stood for the same values as the 18th amendment. As with most things there were distinct groups that supported either side, the individuals that sided with prohibition were nicknamed the “drys” while the people that were against it were called “wets.” The drys won many battles; on January 16th, 1919 the 18th amendment was passed, this set prohibition in law. Although the sale, importation, transportation, and production was illegal it was still perfectly legal to consume alcohol. (Keene, 637) The wets opposed this legislation, they argued that it was an infringement on their personal rights. The drys supported the legislation, they argued that crime would decrease and because of that it did not matter if it infringed on personal rights or not. Both of these perspectives are incorrect, passing this type of “moral” legislation has it’s pros and cons but it would be a gigantic warning sign to the future of America, the 18th amendment should never have been passed.

The drys focused on the positive aspects of prohibition. If stopping an alcoholic from continual drunkenness increased their productivity and aided family life it was good. I certainly agree that this would be a good thing but cases like this were most certainly a minority in the American household. Many predictions and claims that the drys made ended up to be false. Alcoholism certainly decreased but it was more likely linked to the inflated price of intoxicating beverages in turn making lower paid workers more hard pressed to come up with the funds. The drys had high hopes that prohibition would lead to a more virtuous and law-abiding society, sadly they were wrong and in the end it lead to a black market, thriving organized crime, and popularized law breaking. Alcoholism should be fought but not by amending the Constitution.

The wets focused on the less appealing side of prohibition. They argued that banning alcohol is a violation of personal rights. As it turned out, many of the arguments that that drys gave turned on them over time. Drys claimed that crime would decrease after prohibition but the opposite was the case, as alcohol became illegal a black market sprang up. With the rise of a new black market, organized crime with gangs run by people such as Al Capone prospered. Many people went to illegal bars called speakeasies, these underground places allowed for people to socialize and drink; more importantly it made light of breaking the law. As time went on, people became more and more at ease with rebelling against the 18th amendment, prohibition had the opposite effect on crime from what the drys thought it would. Organized crime gangs were certainly around before and after prohibition but they flourished in the restricted market. With a large amount of man power they were able to control the supply chain, gangs sold alcohol to speakeasies, and with their control they effectively had a monopoly on intoxicating drink. Along with these more specific issues, there were also much larger ones. Banning anything throughout an entire country as large as the United States makes it difficult for the government to keep up, tax payer dollars were used to enforce the law and even so “Congress never appropriated enough money for wide-scale enforcement, hampering Justice Department efforts to curb illegal drinking.” (Keene, 637) I think it’s fair to say that you will never fully outlaw alcohol in America.

From my perspective, “moral” laws such as banning alcohol have much bigger implications than making something illegal; it opens the door to much more legislation based off of people’s feelings. America’s government was based off of freedom, more specifically personal freedoms, being able to consume alcohol is just one freedom that we enjoy. A similar issue plaguing the present day is the debate about hate speech, much like prohibition it is a moral issue. There are two major problems with regulating hate speech; how you define it and what it means for the freedom of speech. The definitions of hate speech are founded on people’s feelings, how can you prosecute people based on feelings? Judgments based on feelings like this are not moral. Freedom of speech protects the right for anyone to speak whatever they want, hate speech laws would infringe on this freedom. As you can see moral laws such as prohibition and hate speech should not be set in place, they do the opposite of setting society at ease, society will straighten itself out on it’s own.

We took a look at prohibition from the perspective of the drys and the wets, compared it to similar legislation, and came to some interesting conclusions. Prohibition was an important time in our history because it taught us lessons that we need to apply today and through our future.

Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume2, 3rded. 2019.

11 thoughts on “Prohibition: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:)

  1. The black market, in my opinion, was the biggest issue involving prohibition. The government banning a product in high demand was basically the government handing the criminal organizations money. They should have foreseen this issue ahead of time, because when somebody is told no it makes them want it more. Not only were criminal organizations being funded, but it provided them the funds to corrupt pieces of the government. Police officers and local government officials were easily bought or if they resisted, they were extorted. This created issues that lasted much longer than the prohibition. If you ever get the chance, look into the Purple Gang. They were the dominant organized criminal power in Michigan during the prohibition. The Saint Valentine’s Day massacre mentioned in this week’s readings, with the murder Al Capone’s gang members was performed by the Purple Gang. Originally located in Detroit, they branched out during the prohibition and even had a location in Clare! Great post, Alex!

  2. Your blog was very good. It explained Prohibition well and it used facts to support your beliefs. I agree that Prohibition shouldn’t have been passed and that it did the opposite of what people thought it would. I like how you made a reference to things happening today to make it easier to understand. I agree that Prohibition taught us lessons that can help us today.

  3. I agree with many of your points on why Prohibition should have never been passed as legislation. I totally agree that the issue of alcoholism should have some type of solution for people struggling, but legislation banning all people was not the answer. Relating the topic of Prohibition to hate speech was very interesting to read. I liked the drys view on increasing productivity and making family life better. However, it really backfired on them when all the increased crime and black market issues arose as you said. I believe the drys had good intentions when arguing for Prohibition, but they don’t have the power to control a person’s personal right and choice to drink. You wrote a great blog post!

  4. Your blog is very effective in describing Prohibition and the effects it had. I agree that Prohibition should not have been passed because of the limits on personal freedoms that were the center of our government. You made very good point when you stated “From my perspective, “moral” laws such as banning alcohol have much bigger implications than making something illegal; it opens the door to much more legislation based off of people’s feelings.” Prohibition opened doors for more legislation based solely on moral values. Overall I think you did a great job in explaining Prohibition and why you believe it should not have been passed.

  5. This blog was another eye opener to what prohibition was and how it affected many people around the United States! I agree with your thought that this sort of legislation may have benefited some but surely did not benefit all of the people. Your blog did an amazing job emphasizing the fact that this legislation was based on moral values and not the rights of the people. People have the right to drink and this blog did a great job giving us food and knowledgeable information! One thing that intrigued me the most was seeing how you related this to hate speech which was a cool and refreshing twist to the topic!

  6. I like how you discussed the black market and increasing crime rates due to the 18th amendment being passed. I also enjoyed your comparison of , “The wets opposed this legislation, they argued that it was an infringement on their personal rights. The drys supported the legislation, they argued that crime would decrease and because of that it did not matter if it infringed on personal rights or not.” I feel you very clearly explained both sides of the prohibition and how it was based more on peoples morals than their actual freedoms which led to the main arguments between the wets and the drys.

  7. Your blog was a very good explanation of the prohibition. I do agree that the prohibition was contradictory to our personal freedoms in America. Alcohol does bring a variety of problems in our society, like birth defects, health problems, violence, car accidents, etc. Whether the government allows it or not, people will always find a way to sneak around the law.

  8. Your comparisons and explanations of the “wets” and “drys” were really good. I thought you explained them both really well. You brought up a lot of good points and views. “Alcoholism should be fought but not by amending the Constitution.” Your quote here is really interesting because it brings a valid point that we are trying to fight something based off of what we feel, the introduction of moral law. I think we do need to stay focused on people’s rights instead of people’s feelings. No matter what people will do what they want to do, but once we start trying to restrain every bit of people’s lives there will be no need for law, there will just be chaos. You had a really great post. I enjoyed your views and explanations!

  9. Many of the points in this blog are good and well presented. You executed a very well written blog about prohibition. I really like your solution to people with alcoholism, I really enjoy how you used the book in the right spots to enforce your blog. I agree that drys didn’t have the power to control people and their choices. I really enjoyed reading your blog and how you wrote about your topic with passion and drive.

  10. I found this blog post to be very informative. The prohibition era in the 1920’s was handled the wrong way and should never have been passed by legislation. Prohibition should not be allowed across a whole country. Yes, there are people that have drinking problems and drinking as a whole can be a problem. However, that doesn’t mean it can be taken away completely without backlash. I also liked the reference you made throughout the post as it was easier to connect to.

  11. I think your post was great. Perhaps the most important point you got across was the fact that it was moral legislation that they are getting across. Additionally the complete history on the Prohibition period, from the 18th amendment beginning to the wets and drys conflict all the way down to applying it to present day issues like freedom of hate speech.

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