Prohibition

For the judicial writ of prohibition, see Prohibition (writ).

Prohibition was the period between 1919 and 1933 in the United States when the manufacture, purchase, transportation, import, export, and sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited by the Eighteenth Amendment (ratified January 16, 1919) and the Volstead Act (passed October 28, 1919). Prohibition began on January 16, 1920 when the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect, but it was abolished on February 17, 1933 by passage of the Blaine Act. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed later that same year with ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment.


Prohibition Agents destroying barrels of alcohol

Prohibition also referred to that part of the Temperance movement which wanted alcohol made illegal. Advocates of prohibition were called Prohibitionists. They had some success even before national prohibition; in 1905 three American states had already outlawed alcohol, by 1912 it was up to 9 states, and by 1916, legal prohibition was already in effect in 26 of the 48 states. After the repeal of the national law some states continued to enforce prohibition laws; Oklahoma, Kansas, and Mississippi were still "dry" in 1948. Mississippi, which had made alcohol illegal in 1907, was the last state to repeal prohibition, in 1966. While there are still some dry counties and communities in the United States, in practice this now means little more than that people wishing to buy alcohol must drive some moderate distance to do so.

While national Prohibition did much to reduce the consumption of alcoholic beverages by Americans, they were still widely available at speakeasies and other underground drinking establishments, and many people kept private bars to serve their guests. Even many prominent citizens and politicians later admitted to having alcohol during Prohibition. This dichotomy between legality and actual practice led to widespread disdain for authorities, who were all assumed to be hypocrites. Mockery took many forms, including the popular Keystone Kops films. There were exceptions to this public scorn such as the activities of Eliot Ness and his elite team of Treasury Agents nicknamed The Untouchables and the New York City prohibition agent team of Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith, known collectively as simply Izzy and Moe. For these exceptions, Ness' honesty and flair for public relations and Izzy and Moe's more eccentric methods attracted considerable media attention.

It also presented lucrative opportunities for organized crime to take over the importation ("bootlegging"), manufacture and distribution of alcoholic beverages. Al Capone, one of the most famous bootleggers of them all, built his criminal empire largely on profits from illegal alcohol.

With alcohol production largely in the hands of criminals and unregulated clandestine home manufacturers, the quality of the product varied widely. There were many cases of people going blind or suffering from brain damage after drinking "bathtub gin" made with industrial alcohol or various poisonous chemicals.

On such points as these the modern "War on Drugs" has been compared to Prohibition. Critics of the drug war argue that when you attempt to prohibit an item which people want you can never really get rid of it, so you only make it more profitable while creating crime and contempt for law-enforcement organizations. There is wide disagreement as to the validity of this argument.

The term prohibition is also used to refer to other laws banning the sale and consumption of alcohol, in particular, local laws that have the same effect. The 21st amendment, which repealed nationwide prohibition, explicitly gives states the right to restrict or ban the purchase and sale of alcohol; this has led to a patchwork of laws, in which alcohol may be legally sold in some but not all towns or counties within a state.

See also United States Prohibition Party, Temperance movement, Near beer, cocktail


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