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Prohibition Prohibition One of the most controversial, the Eighteenth, and later, its repeal, the Tweny-First amendment, made a big impact on America, and their ideas are still talked about today. Prohibition has had many different view points from the beginning. Prohibition started long before the Eighteenth Amendment. Organizations against alcohol such as the Anti-Saloon League and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union were succeeding in enacting local prohibition laws, turning the campaign into a national effort. In the late 1900s there was an average of one saloon for every 150 to 200 people, including nondrinkers, due to competition in brewing companies. The major complaint was the sex and gambling that went along with the saloons. Originally it was started as awartime austerity measure in 1917, and later Congress proposed the Eighteenth Amendment.

According to Dennis Mahoney, in 1919, it was ratified and went into effect. The Volstead act was sponsored by Andrew J.Volstead on October 28, 1919. It enforced the new Amendment. During Prohibition there was a slight drop in homicide rates around the country. On January 16, 1920, the great law went into effect. The Eighteenth amendment made it forbidden to manufacture, sell, transport, import or export any intoxicating liquors.

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This was controversial because it turned the common hard working man or woman, who enjoyed a drink after a hard day’s work, into a criminal in the law’s eyes. In The History of Prohibiton, a web site by J. McGrew, it states that Prohibiton also gave criminals, such as Al Capone, the opportunity to feed off the illegal substance. The organized crime circuit ate up Prohibition and began to boot leg alcohol. Local pharmacies and basements near the border became hubs for the transactions. The Big Bosses would purchase it in Canada, where it was legal and import it to the US.

A prime example of the organized crime is in the movie, Legends of the Fall. Both the Volstead Act and the Eighteenth Amendment are mentioned in the movie, as it portrays a small time boot legger going up against a big organized crime family, in the end many people lost their lives over alcohol and money. Speakeasies, illegal bars, sprang up everywhere. They promoted the worst of immorality, sex and gambling, as well as drinking. And for the first time women were seen smoking in public. Bathtub gin and other illegal brewing was everywhere. Not only was the home made booze highly potent it could also be highly fatal.

If you survived, you could very well be blind or disabled from bad rot gut. I recently spoke to my grandfather on the issue and he was quoted to say Oh sure, we brewed our own beer and wine, we didn’t care. The public was fed up. Well-organized groups like the Woman’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform grew rapidly and after thirteen years it exploded during the 1932 presidential campaign. The democrats and their delegate, Senator, Franklin D. Roosevelt, supported the reform.

Backed by the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, Roosevelt got the repeal. On February 20, 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment was proposed and on December 5, it was ratified. The newest Amendment to the Constitution repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act. After its repeal it took a long time for the consumption rate of Alcohol to get back to the pre-Prohibition level. In closing, the Noble Experiment (a name for Prohibiton, found in many different sources) failed.

The evidence clearly shows that the conditions of the Nation were clearly better without Prohibition and the Eighteenth Amendment. One of the most discussed and debated of this century, will this issue be carried into the next on the back of Marijuana? History Essays.


Decriminalization vs. Prohibition
The idea of Drug Prohibition made sense: lower the availability of drugs by the use of law enforcement. Unfortunately, Drug Prohibition means heavy costs while proving to be ineffective and counterproductive.

I was thirteen when I saw drugs for the first time. I was with some of my friends that live down the road from me. They asked me if I wanted to get high with them. At the time, I didn’t know what getting high meant, so I asked them. One of them pulled ut a long slender object, similar to a cigarette, but twisted on either end. They told me it was something special. I was still bewildered. They said “It’s pot, you know, marijuana?” Immediately I said no. I had seen several anti-dug commercials, all with the same motto, “Just Say No”. I felt so good about myself. I had done the right thing. I said no to my friends, which is a very hard decision to make at that age. I was not going to be one of those sad cases, where my life is wasted away. I was not going to be a crazed addict, who would stop at nothing to get a hit. I was not going to be dodging the law my whole life. I was going to be everything I wanted to be, and drugs were definitely not going to get in the way. I promised myself I would not end up like Jimi Hendrix, or Janis Joplin, both found dead after overdoses, because I had the power to say no. I had read stories and seen news flashes about the side effects of some drugs. I had read newspaper articles about people in Rome, which is just a few minutes away, dying of heroin overdoses. I had seen people on TV that were alive, but were not conscious of their surroundings, because of drug use. Their lives were basically over. I had listened to speakers preach that drugs were one of the Devil’s tools. There was no way I would even consider ever trying them, because once a person starts, they can’t stop.

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It was a few years later that I heard the other side of the story. I learned that not only were we losing the war on drugs, but that the war had been corrupted. The government was wasting money on something without a cause, or hope. It wasn’t long after that when I tried marijuana for the first time. I remember it well. I was with my sister, who was the only person that I couldn’t say no to. I took a hit. Within fifteen minutes, I felt the most exquisite feeling I had ever experienced. I felt as though I was in a different world. It was at this moment that I knew things would be different for me, but I was still unsure about it, because I had heard of the dangers of drug use. I decided to do a little research. I looked in health magazines, I looked in Rolling Stone magazine, and I read some computer articles about the sixties. I also casually talked to several people who had experience with drugs. It was through this research that I found out some interesting facts.

First was the mere cost of the war on drugs. The federal government spends billions of dollars a year on drug enforcement and billions more on drug-related crimes and punishment. The estimated cost to the United States for this war on drugs is $200 billion a year, or $770 per person, according to statistics posted by CNN, and that does not include the money spent by state and local governments. Despite this expensive effort to enforce drug laws, the result is rather poor.

According to the United States history, Prohibition has not only proved ineffective, but also counterproductive, when referring to the eighteenth amendment. Not only is the illegality of drugs today also ineffective, it leads to huge profits for drug traffickers, which leads to other crimes. Studies have shown that while the amount of money spent on the war on drugs has increased dramatically, so has the amount of drug use. A study conducted by CNN has shown a twenty percent increase in the use of marijuana.

Another interesting fact is that most illegal drugs are less dangerous, and could be legal. Even harsh drugs, such as heroin and cocaine are proving to be less dangerous. In fact, in the twenties, cocaine was viewed as a wonder drug. It was an effective pain killer, it relaxed the body and proved to dramatically reduce stress, yet it showed very few side effects. After a while, however, people started finding new ways to use it. These ways would not only perform the tasks the drug was intended to perform, they would actually give the person a euphoric sensation. However, these ways of using it were not as safe as using pills or soft drinks, which also had cocaine in them. People died after inhaling too much cocaine. The government had to take action, so they made cocaine completely illegal, taking away a very good drug.Heroin is also not as bad as was originally thought. Heroin, like cocaine, is a very effective pain killer. The problem with heroin is that it is highly addictive, and too much of it can kill. However, this is the case with many prescription drugs. Too much Tylenol could kill a person, as ibuprofen is definitely harmful in large amounts. If heroin was used strictly for medical purposes, and was not only prescribed by doctors, but also regulated by doctors, it’s use could be an asset.

There is also the issue of marijuana. Every year close to twenty thousand people die of alcohol related incidents. Each year close to thirty thousand people die of tobacco related diseases, either lung cancer or emphysema, yet there has never been a death on record that is directly related to marijuana. The only deaths related to marijuana have been murders associated with drug dealers and traffickers. If marijuana was legal, these deaths would cease to occur. Also, compared to the side effects of alcohol, the side effects of marijuana are minimal. The only side effects of marijuana are induced hunger and what is referred to as “cotton mouth”, which is a dry, pasty feeling in the mouth. The side effects of alcohol, however include nausea, possibly vomiting, loss of coordination, not to mention deterioration of the liver and stomach. Marijuana, like cocaine and heroin, could also have medical purposes. THC, which is the chemical in marijuana that affects the nervous system, can be used to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients. There is virtually no solid reason why marijuana should be illegal.

I personally believe that some drugs should be legal. If they are being used for medical purposes, the government should pass legislation tightening the availability of prescriptions for these drugs, not make them completely illegal, taking away their good sides as well as their bad sides.


Throughout history, the need and presence of governing forces have always existed. Governments, by the use of legislation, make choices in the best interest of the people. The Nineteenth Century was popular for the great amounts of alcohol that the average person consumed. Such popularity spawned and entire social movement against alcohol. This movement was called the Noble Experiment. Although it failed to directly ban alcohol, the movement contributed by electing many reformers who would change the face of America in the early Twentieth Century. In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution prohibited the use and sale of alcohol in the United States. Although it was created with good intentions, the law provided an opportunity for organized crime families to come into power.
The temperance and reform movements of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century were partitioned into many small groups. The two most influential groups; however, were the Anti-Saloon League and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Women at this time were unhappy because men were drinking extremely too much, and women could legally do nothing about it. Since women at this time could not file for divorce, they had no other choice but to try get rid of alcohol altogether (Blocker 10-13). This was not only the first major women’s movement in history (Cayton 2139), but also one of the largest nonviolent movements of the modern world (Behr 35-36). Other than World War I, prohibition was the biggest issue in the country. As prohibition approached, people stored their liquor in large quantities in warehouses or banks. Judge John Knox of New York put an end to this by decreeing that any alcohol stored outside of one’s home was unlawful and therefore subject to seizure (Blocker 21-24). Few things could have caused such a panic as this did. People rushed to return their liquor home by any means possible. The official date of prohibition was growing near and times were tense. Bootleggers found refuge in the Bahamas where they were able to distill large amounts of alcohol and sell it for good prices. Many distillers acquired large stocks immediately before prohibition by doing this (Behr 79-81).

January 16, 1920, the night before prohibition became active, did not fulfill the expectation that it would be an outrageous and wild night. It turned out to be rather dull. There were no crowds on the streets of Manhattan; there were no drunken parades down the streets of Broadway. In spite of a few lavish farewell parties, one would think it was just another night of the year. Thomas Carnegie described the event in the New York Times; “the spontaneous orgies of drink that were predicted failed in large part to occur on schedule. Instead of passing from us in violent paroxysms, the rum demon lay down to a painless, peaceful, though lamented by some, death.”
On January 17, 1920, as written in the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibition became apart of the Constitution and America went dry. The Eighteenth Amendment, though written by Wayne Wheeler, was given the nickname of the Volstead Act because Andrew Volstead introduced it to Congress (Coffey 45). The Senate passed the Act on August 1, 1917; the House of Representatives passed it on December 18 of the same year (Lucas 55-56). Once passed in both houses of Congress, President Wilson vetoed the Amendment. Congress overturned the president’s veto on the same day, but one more obstacle remained. The Supreme Court voted on prohibition soon after. By one vote it was regarded as constitutional (Behr 77-79). Next, it needed to be ratified by thirty-six states. Mississippi leads the states by being the first to ratify in 1918, and Nebraska followed the next year as the thirty-sixth state to ratify (Lucas 55-56). The details of prohibition were explained in the Eighteenth Amendment. Most importantly, the act determined that no one could make, sell, trade, transport, import, export, deliver, or own liquor unless authorized to do so. It also replaced any previous state legislation against alcohol (Behr 77-79). Furthermore, it defined alcohol as anything with an alcohol content of 0.5 or more (Cayton 2139). The act authorized a few situations in which someone could have alcohol. One was allowed to have alcohol for medicinal purposes, even though it was frowned upon by most of the medical field at that time. Alcohol was also legal as sacramental wine, industrial alcohol, flavoring extracts, syrups, vinegar, and near beer. The government would allow some breweries to stay in business producing this near beer, which was less that 0.5 percent alcohol. These brewers faced fines and jail time if they abused these privileges. Generally, the Eighteenth Amendment did not work well because it underestimated people’s will to break the law, their ability to produce and sell liquor illegally, and because it was enforced poorly. The Twenty-first Amendment repealed prohibition after only twelve years (Behr 78-80).
Prohibition, for many, was a gateway to power. The opportunities to become rich and powerful were abundant (Behr 88). This temptation drove such criminals as Al Capone to power. With the rise of this new, underground class, corruption grew. Politics became an occupation whereas gangsters with the highest bid employed politicians. It seemed that everyone was breaking the law; the consumption and selling of liquor had actually risen since prohibition started. One could buy alcohol simply by walking down a certain street, or buy going to an illegal saloon known as a speakeasy. Alcohol was also easier to acquire now than it was before prohibition.
During the 1920’s, the act of drinking somewhat changed. People began to drink only hard liquor because it was readily available, it required less to get drunk, and because it was the easiest for distillers to make (Cayton 2140). Since virtually all alcohol was now illegal, distillers no longer needed to abide by alcohol safety standards. This meant that hard liquor was now, more than ever, dangerous. The deaths due to cirrhosis of the liver increased sharply in the 1920’s and were perhaps the biggest indications that the consumption of alcohol had risen (Jones internet).
Crime prevailed over prohibition primarily because the law was too difficult to enforce (Coffey 65). In addition to dealing with the new age criminals that it created, Prohibition Agents attempted to regulate any liquor which was brought into the country (Jones internet). Underground crime bosses became greedier and more ruthless (Behr 176-177). Because they had judges, police, and politicians in their pockets, these crime bosses did not need to hide what they were doing (Jones internet). Hijackings of liquor between gangs were common and usually lead to street wars. Police, for the most part, paid little attention to these wars unless public property was destroyed or civilians were injured. Nearly eight hundred gangsters were killed in a single decade (Behr 176-177).
The most infamous crime boss of the 1920’s, and perhaps of all time, was Alphonse Capone. Capone was born in Italian New York; he grew up around thug types and became apart of a gang at a young age. Following the mysterious retirement of boss Johnny Torrio, Capone became the man in charge of the Torrio gang. His business became crime and death. Although a keen player of public relations, the true Al Capone symbolized everything evil that prohibition could be (Lucas 68). Capone dominated the illegal enterprises of bootlegging and prostitution. His gang, at one time, totaled over two thousand thugs (Jones internet). He was care free when it came to dealing with the police; he neither made serious efforts to conceal his actions, nor was he even aware that a special group of Prohibition Agents had been assigned to gather enough evidence to put him behind bars. In 1931 the efforts of Eliot Ness and the rest of his task force, the untouchables, paid off. Al Capone was convicted on numerous counts of tax evasion and was sent to prison for eight years. In 1939 he was released from prison, but his health had been broken. He died less that eight years later (Lucas 70).

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Prohibition was also a burden on the economy. The government was forced to spend millions of dollars convicting and incarcerating prohibition violators (Jones internet). Since alcohol became an illegal market, the government no longer received taxes on liquor that was purchased. The bootlegging industry became on of the richest in the country, worth billions of dollars per year. The economy is the most important part of a Free Enterprise system, and the damage done to the United States economy, due to prohibition, in the 1920’s was one of the major reasons for the Twenty-first Amendment.

The Twenty-first Amendment repealed prohibition in 1932, only twelve years since its unpopular installation in 1920 (Cayton 2140). In this case, the people’s will to have alcohol was greater that the government’s ability to enforce a law against it. Ideally, a society should be governed without being controlled.

Works Cited
Behr, Edward. Thirteen Years that Changed America. Boston: Arcade Publishers, 1996.

Blocker, Jack S. American Temperance Movements: Cycles of Reform. Boston:
Twayne Publishers, 1989.

Cayton, Mary Kupiec, et. al. “The Second Campaign Against Liquor and the Noble
Experiment.” Encyclopedia of American Social History. New York: Smith
Publishers, 1985.

Coffey, Thomas M. The Long Thirst: Prohibition in America. New York: Norton, 1975.

Johnson, George E. “Al Capone.” Courtroom Television Network LLC. Sept. 19, 2002.


Jones, Chris. “Economic and Social Effects of Prohibition.” Nov. 26, 2001. Got
Essays? Sept. 19, 2002. .

Lucas, Eileen. The Eighteenth and Twenty-first Amendments: Alcohol, Prohibition, and
Repeal. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1998.


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