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Complete History of Prohibition in the United States

Prohibition led to the bootlegging of liquor and the gang wars of the 1920s. The most notorious gangster of all time, known as Al Capone, was the most powerful mob leader of his era. He dominated organized crime in the Chicago area from 1925 until 1931 Capone had liked that idea. Later that year the Prohibition act came into effect and Capone became interested in selling illegal whiskey and other alcoholic beverages. Al Capone was America’s best-known gangster and greatest symbol of the destruction of law and order in the United States during the Prohibition era because of his leading role in the illegal activities which gave Chicago its reputation as a lawless city.

Capone’s network came through Torrio’s business. Capone and Torrio took over his uncle’s business after his uncle died (Haller, 358). Torrio’s uncle did not agree with Capone’s idea in the first place. His uncle was shot by his rival, which gave the business to Torrio. They both created the selling of illegal alcohol in the city of Chicago (Haller 359). This impacted the U.S. because it gave many men and women beverages for their needs. Capone developed contacts to obtain imported liquor from Detroit, New York, and Miami (Haller 360).

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These purchases gave Capone power and wealth because he sold alcohol all over Chicago. After Torrio was shot and almost killed by a rival gang, he retired from the underworld, which left Capone to run the organization alone (World Biography). Now Capone was on the top of his organization and at the age of 26, he was managing more than 1,000 employees, which included a payroll of more than $300,000 a week (World Biography). Capone demanded loyalty from all of his employees. During this time Capone became so rich he gave out free food for Chicago’s unemployed which made him look like a good influence.

Unemployed people did not care that the money he gave them was made illegally, to the money was money. Capone also supplied booze to the poor. “Even though bootlegging was illegal at this point in time, if you got people alcohol, you were respected by the community”(Kobler). People were in the depression at the time, and they were fortunate enough just to receive a little something even though it came from bootlegging. In a way Capone also made another contribution. Capone contributed to the repealing of the eighteenth amendment, and then later on the twenty-first amendment (Kobler). Throughout the Depression, Capone helped people struggle through the tough times by supplying them with food, money, clothing and alcohol.

Since Capone was such a huge criminal, law enforcement contributed to American society to find a way to stop Capone. “One group that was formed because of him was the Untouchables” (Bergreen). The FBI was also formed because of crimes such as the Mafia. More and more police stations were built because of crime, and now today people have more protection because of all the different kinds of crime prevention agencies. If Capone and other criminals like him weren’t around at that time, law enforcement might not be where it is today. Capone is still seen as a common thug outside of Chicago from his organization.

Capone impacted the United States because he was seen as a common thug throughout the world. “Capone’s power increased enormously, now that he was the leader of the most powerful gang in Chicago” (American Decades CD-ROM). People around the U.S. heard about Capone’s gang, and recognize him as just another common thug. People saw Capone as a low life man involved in organized crime.

Capone has never done any time for the murders he has committed (American Decades CD-ROM). Capone felt powerful because he had always walked out a free man in Chicago, which made him look like a thug to the rest of the Nation. To get on the people’s good side he received publicity for opening a soup kitchen, for those who had been thrown out of work during the depression (Hornung). This made Capone look a little better than a thug on the streets of Chicago. He gave unemployed people food and money only to make himself look innocent. One of the main conflicts Capone was involved with impacted the U.S., which was called the St. Valentines Day Massacre.

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On Feb. 14, 1929, the St. Valentines Day Massacre impacted the U.S. because it was the worst display of gang violence. Capone was in Florida during the St. Valentines Day Massacre but still held responsible for the murder of a bootlegger (American Decades CD-ROM). Capone was held responsible because “Machine Gun” McGurn was given complete control of the hit ordered by Capone. The St. Valentines Day Massacre started by Capone’s partners, whom they trapped the Moran gang into the garage thinking that Capone’s men were police officers. They were in a garage from which they distributed alcohol (American Decades CD-ROM). Capone with a clever idea chose to act like they were to raid the garage and to arrest Moran’s gang. As all seven members of the gang were facing the wall, Capone’s men shot them, killing all seven. This was obviously a set up by Capone to take over Chicago by demolishing his competition and a rival gang.

Capone was somewhat successful because he shot and killed seven of Moran’s gangsters, but the main leader, Bugs escaped (American Decades CD-ROM). Bugs had seen the police cars outside the garage and choose not to be involved with the raid. He did the right thing, which was to run away. He was not in the garage at the time because he was supposedly “running late” (American Decades CD-ROM) Capone moved from Chicago and went to Florida with his family where they would be protected. Chicago was an unsafe place for Capone to live because Bugs had escaped the St. Valentines Day Massacre. Now Capone was no longer an easy target to Bugs. Ever since the St. Valentines Day Massacre, Capone was known as the most famous gangster in the 1920s.

The publicity surrounding the St. Valentines Day Massacre was the most that any gang event had ever received. It was not only local publicity, it was a national media event. Capone was immediately noticed by the national conscious and writers all over the country began to write books and articles on Capone (Bergreen). Now Capone was known all over the United States, people now know who he is and what he has done in Chicago. This now impacted many other smaller gangster as a good influence to them, and not the country. Bergreen saw the massacre, which established Capone with a glamorous reputation. “There had never been an outlaw quite like Al Capone. He was elegant, high-class, the berries. He was remarkably brazen, continuing to live among the swells in Miami and to proclaim love for his family. Nor did he project the image of a misfit or a loner…” (Bergreen). This impacted Capone because he played the part of a self-made millionaire who could show the Wall Street people a thing or two about doing business in America. No one was indifferent to Capone, because everyone had an opinion about him.

Capone revelled in his newfound celebrity status and used Damon Runyon as his press agent (Bergreen). Now the damage of all that publicity had been done because Capone’s intention was to attract the attention of President Herbert Hoover. “At once I directed that all of the Federal agencies concentrate upon Mr. Capone and his allies,” Hoover wrote (Bergreen). At the beginning of March 1929, Hoover asked Andrew Mellon, his secretary of the Treasury, “Have you got this fellow Capone yet? I want that man in jail” (Bergreen). A few days later, Capone was called before a grand jury in Chicago but did not seem to understand the seriousness of the powerful forces there were gathering against him.

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Capone thought he had more important matters to resolve. Evidence was mounting that two of his Sicilian colleagues were causing Capone problems (Kobler). Kobler describes the famous scene in which Capone met the problems head-on with: “Seldom had the three guests of honour sat down to a feast so lavish. Their dark Sicilian faces were flushed as they gorged on the rich, pungent food, washing it down with liters of red wine. At the head of the table, Capone, his big white teeth flashing in an ear-to-ear smile, oozing affability, proposed toast after toast to the trio. Saluto, Scalise! Saluto, Anselmi! Saluto, Giunta” (Kobler)! Capone thought he had a great story to cover up himself from the grand jury. He tried to blame his actions on his partners and that he did not have anything to do with any murders. Capone impacted the United States by proving he was the biggest famous gangster in the country.

Capone impacted society because he was recognized as the most famous gangster in the United States. “News of Capone had reached the White House and in 1929, President Hoover ordered a crackdown on gangsters, especially Capone” (American Decades CD-ROM). This glamorized Capone and it demanded justice, which gave attention to the government’s forces against him. “The U.S. commissioned a two-pronged approach: to get the necessary evidence to prove income tax evasion and to amass enough evidence to prosecute Capone successfully for Prohibition violations.

Once the evidence was collected, the Treasury agents were to work with the U.S. Attorney, George E. Q. Johnson to initiate prosecution of Capone and the key members of his organization” (Hornung). Capone impacted the whole U.S. nation with his organized crime because it reached the point where the U.S. had to stop Capone’s organization. His organization affected many people especially in Chicago, in both a good way and a bad way. It increased the pleasure for many people’s needs of alcohol. It was bad on the government’s side, which did not make the U.S. look good. In June 1930, after an exhaustive investigation by the federal government, Capone was indicted for income tax evasion.

Verdict in the United States of America v. Alphonse Capone, October 17, 1931. One of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century held most responsible for the bloody lawlessness of Prohibition-era in Chicago, was imprisoned for tax evasion (American Decades CD-ROM). The popular belief in the 1920s and 30s was that illegal gambling earnings were not taxable income. “The 1927 Sullivan ruling claimed that illegal profits were in fact taxable” (Al Capone). Capone was impacted because the government wanted to accuse him of income tax evasion. “Capone never filed an income tax return, owned nothing in his own name, and never made a declaration of assets or income” (Al Capone). Capone had a good plan because he did all his business through front men so that he was unknown when it came to income payments. “Frank Wilson from the IRS’s Special Intelligence Unit was assigned to focus on Capone” (Al Capone).

The main turning point for Capone’s life was when Wilson accidentally found a cash receipts ledger, which stated the operation’s net profits for a gambling house, and most importantly it contained Capone’s name, which was a record of Capone’s income. “Later Capone’s own tax lawyer Lawrence P. Mattingly admitted in a letter to the government that Capone had an income” (Al Capone). Wilson’s ledger, Mattingly’s letter, and the restraint of witnesses were the main evidence used to convict Capone. “In 1931, Capone was indicted for income tax evasion for the years 1925-29.

He was also charged with the misdemeanour of failing to file tax returns for the years 1928 and 1929” (Al Capone). This impacted the whole jury because the government charged that Capone owed $215,080.48 in taxes from his gambling profits. A third indictment was added, charging Capone with conspiracy to violate Prohibition laws from 1922-31 (Al Capone). Capone pleaded guilty to all three charges because of his belief, which was that he would be able to plea a bargain.

The judge who controlled the case was Judge James H. Wilkerson, and would not make any deals (Al Capone). Capone changed his pleas to not guilty, but he was unable to bargain, and he tried to bribe the jury but Wilkerson changed the jury panel at the last minute. The jury found Capone not guilty on eighteen of the twenty-three counts. Judge Wilkerson sentenced him to a total of ten years in federal prison and one year in the county jail (Al Capone). This impacted society because now many people can feel secure and not have to worry about organized crime violence. Capone had to serve an earlier six-month contempt of court sentence for failing to appear in court (Al Capone). This affected Capone because the fines were a cumulative $50,000 and Capone had to pay the prosecution costs of $7,692.29. This was the end of Al Capone’s organization and now had to deal with life in the penitentiary.

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In May 1932, Capone was sent to Atlanta, the toughest of the federal prisons, to begin his eleven-year sentence. In prison Capone took over control, getting special privileges from the authorities such as furnishing his cell with mirrors, typewriters, rugs, and a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Al Capone). Capone took control because of his wealth, and the amount of money he still had. This is significant because word spread that Capone had taken over in Atlanta, so he was now sent to Alcatraz.

There were no other outfit members in Alcatraz. Security was so tight that he had no knowledge of the outside world. He was unable to control anyone or anything and could not buy influence or friends (Al Capone). This combed down Capone, which earned him time off for good behaviour. Capone became the ideal prisoner and refused to participate in prisoner rebellions or strikes.

“While at Alcatraz, he exhibited signs of syphilitic dementia. Capone spent the rest of his felony sentence in the hospital” (Al Capone). Capone had spent his last years in the hospital and on January 6, 1939, his prison term expired and he was transferred to Terminal Island, a Federal Correctional Institution in California, to serve his one-year misdemeanour sentence. He was finally released on November 16, 1939, but still had to pay fines and court costs of $37,617.51 (Al Capone). After his release, Capone spent a short time in the hospital.

He returned to his home in Palm Island where the rest of his life relaxed and quiet. His mind and body got seriously ill so that he could no longer run the outfit. “On January 21, 1947, he had an apoplectic stroke that was probably unrelated to his syphilis” (Al Capone). He regained consciousness and began to improve until pneumonia hit Capone on January 24. He died the next day from cardiac arrest. Capone was first buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago’s far South Side next to the graves of his father, and brother. In March of 1950, all three were moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery on the far West Side. That is why Al Capone was known as America’s best-known gangster in the prohibition era.

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Complete History of Prohibition in the United States. (2021, Feb 12). Retrieved February 7, 2023, from