The Victories of Prohibition
Throughout America’s many years of growth and expansion, vast scores of ideas presented themselves unto the country. One such idea, prominent and essential to the nation, became temperance (prohibition). Prohibition included the end of alcohol sale, manufacture, and transportation, which stood wonderful as alcohol exists as an evil drink perverting society. Therefore, prohibition’s purpose proved solid and upright, with intentions to lead America towards a united society of greater liberties, and thus, needs implementation in modern American life.
Prohibition did not sprout from the air; the country believed in and supported its amazing potential long before the Eighteenth Amendment. Its goals included bettering the individual which, in turn, bettered society and the nation as a whole. When Abraham Lincoln developed his immortal Emancipation Proclamation, he enacted the powers of prohibition and, eventually, ended the vile and monstrous act of slavery.
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This, in time, cleaned up the nation, making it a better society; however, Lincoln cultivated greater ideas. He desired a nation free from the burden and strife of liquor and knew that by abolishing alcohol the United States could rise to a truly beautiful state. He believed, “The victory against the liquor traffic shall be complete when there shall be neither slaves nor drunkards upon the earth, and how proud the title of that land which may truly claim to be the birthplace and the cradle of both these revolutions . . .” (qtd. in Holmes 40).
America, at that time, travelled the path to the victory Lincoln spoke of and found much support and a greater sense of nationalistic pride.
A plethora of people supported prohibition, especially with groups like the Anti-Saloon League and the Women Christian’s Temperance Union. Even the “evil” men of big business supported prohibition; all of the major railroads and factories of the country maintained an alcohol abstinence policy because they understood the evils and hindrances of the drink. Furthermore, by the time the Eighteenth Amendment passed, thirty-three of the forty-eight states already possessed a prohibition legislature, meaning a resounding eighty-seven percent of the nation proudly stood dry (Holmes 42). America knew the reasons for the necessity of banning the filth of alcohol.
Alcohol also possesses a direct correlation to crime. Breweries proved one of the most powerful industries at the turn of the century, and thus proved very competitive. In order to sell more products, breweries concocted stores for alcohol (saloons). By 1900, there existed one saloon for every 150-200 Americans, whether they drank or not; thus, saloons needed gimmicks to attract the unsuspecting patron. Their solution entailed the addition of gambling, cock-fighting, and prostitution as regular parts of the saloon scene (Kerr).
Also, mob work grew steadily, long before the Eighteenth Amendment, as a direct result of the saloon. Most gangsters met in the saloons and worked around or for them (Barker 21). Furthermore, at that time, New York acknowledged over 1,000 unlicensed saloons, many of which stayed open past legal hours and served children, despite all of the laws punishing this. “For the corruption of the child, there is no restitution” (Riis). Leading a child down a path of death and destruction through alcohol stood (then and now) as a heinous crime towards humanity and the irrevocable damage done to the poor innocent serves to forever corrupt society. Police furthered crime and corruption towards humanity when they ignored these saloons, which occurred because the breweries paid the government who paid the police to keep the saloons open by letting them “slide” (Kerr). The hope of peace drowned in a green pool of scandal.
Furthermore, it stands as an undeniable fact that alcohol is a mind-altering poison, which inhibits actions and thoughts. Many things one accomplishes while sober, even today, become illegal when drunk, such as driving, operating machinery, or standing in the street. Also, one cannot ignore the increased violence that so often accompanies alcohol. Crime becomes too common with ingestion of liquor.
Society invariably needs laws, and all must obey those laws for the country to flourish greatly: as a united whole dedicated to the betterment of the nation. There exist three major types of law: governmental (affecting government policy), sumptuary (affecting only the individual), and social (affecting society as a whole). The differences between sumptuary and social exist when the sumptuary circumstances overflow into social instances. For example, if a person lives in an open prairie, no one cares how fast or in what matter he drives his automobile, but if that same person lives in the middle of Chicago, the manner in which he drives becomes a matter of social importance. He drives the way the city instructs him to, or people will invariably suffer the consequences from his disastrous decision (Holmes 46). The same remains true of alcohol. Anti-prohibitionists disillusioned themselves to believe that banning alcohol became a sumptuary law, when, prohibition clearly stood as a social law.
Traffic, health, and justice remained the reasons of the social law. Even at that time, people knew that dangers lurked when men drove while intoxicated. That remained as part of the reason why railroads abstained from alcohol (Holmes 48). This also remains true today. As a matter of fact, if the prohibition of alcohol lessens the drink at all, why then should America not ban it? Then the number of car accidents due to it, 38,309 in 2002 (Caldwell), would undeniably decrease, thus saving thousands of lives. “The man who opposes the sale of liquor is asking nothing for himself except relief from injury at the hands of others, while the man who insists upon the sale of liquor is asking something for himself which cannot be granted without injury to others” (Bryan 28).
Alcohol also exists as a weapon to one’s self, producing horrendous effects in humans including hangovers, nausea, headaches, vomiting, aches, pains, weight gain, increased blood pressure, depressed immune system, cancer (upper digestive tract, breast, skin, colon, stomach, pancreas, lung, liver), liver disease (fatty liver, cirrhosis, hepatitis), alcohol poisoning, heart failure, loss of appetite, vitamin deficiencies, stomach ailments, respiratory failures, sexual impotence, central nervous system damage, memory loss, alcoholism, strokes, birth defects, and in some cases, instant death (Caldwell). Therefore, alcohol needed vast removals to promote positive health to the nation.
Since the brewing industry climbed the business scale at an alarming rate in the late nineteenth century, it needed an increasing number of consumers. They used their stealthy saloons and addictive drink to keep their customers; thus, enslaving people to its terrible power for years. Alcohol and big business consolidated to form one giant monopolistic reign on the people, and the outlawing of liquor quashed some occurring exploitation (Holmes 49). Thus, prohibition did not strip individuals of his or her liberties, but promoted the preservation of a better quality of life to all Americans.
Prohibition admittedly possessed some problems, but they remained entirely avoidable. First of all, the Eighteenth Amendment began terribly as it started so suddenly; people could not fathom how what existed as legal one day became illegal the next. Thus, the people needed education in these matters. They needed to know why this legislature passed, how it affected them, and what they could accomplish in the meantime (Thompson 76). They needed alternatives, but ultimately, they needed understanding. People obey what they understand. If the government performed its job in 1919, then prohibition would have completely succeeded.
Also, there stands one technicality that many people overlooked at the time: prohibition actually allowed people to drink. “… the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States . . . for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited” (US Const., amend. XVIII). Basically, if someone found the liquor—not bought, created, or received it—there existed no law to punish the person, especially if that person drank in the privacy and sumptuary privileges of his own home. It stood as a choice, but the right one needed to win. Even judges such as A. Monroe Thompson agreed that man possessed the right to drink in his own home, provided he kept it there and not in the street to challenge the welfare and safety of society.
This possessed the potential to appeal to man’s good side. However, to move somewhere (forward) a land must stand together, not divided; therefore, printings in papers of the shame associated with alcohol should have been created. Every effort to prove alcohol’s true dangers should occur, and eventually, as people realized the truth, less would drink, and ultimately no one would, as men do not enjoy drinking alone (Thompson 77).
Furthermore, the tactics used with prohibition ensured no worthy results. “Instead of appealing to the honour and decency of law-abiding citizens, it pointed the finger of suspicion at everybody” (Thompson 73). Sound like Salem, Massachusetts in 1692? That tactic worked horribly then, leading to disastrous results: overcrowding of jails, lies, and general chaos, and it certainly produced the same results with prohibition. So, one deduces that prohibition is terrible and can never work? Of course not! Simply, history repeats itself and one learns from it; the government needed different strategies. This all dates back to education. Knowledge serves as the key.
Education programs dealing with the people’s better interests, instincts, and morality stood to accomplish more than the “close the eyes and point” method. If the entire country worked as a whole towards Lincoln’s victory, knowing it promised a land of beauty and pride, then the pure nationalism in every American’s heart (especially at that time) would have won. People then realized that they did not forgo their personal liberties through prohibition, but rather, joined hands with other citizens to better their homes and nation. A true sense of camaraderie and brotherhood would exist between all Americans with their new goal of personal cleanliness through abstinence of the evil drink.
Another major aspect of the so-called failure of prohibition lies with the police. Most of them cared not for his job; his real concern lied with money. In the Roaring Twenties, corruption and police existed as synonyms. They took bribes from moonshiners, bootleggers, saloon owners, and brewers, no matter what the detrimental cost to the American republic, just to gain an extra dollar in their wallets. Many of them drank also. People, even the just ones, did not listen to a hypocrite. They needed someone of upright morale to lead them and enforce prohibition.
As a matter of fact, the prohibition enforcement department maintained the lowest standard of service at that time, even below the postal inspectors. A time of competence scrutiny needed to occur. The backgrounds of every man in the department needed examination, and those with blemishes and corruption in them begged of job loss (Thompson 75). A smaller department of focused individuals accomplishes more than a giant complex of confusion.
Also, at the time, there existed some debate over the government’s true ability to declare prohibition. A few states, though many already possessed a prohibition legislature, claimed that the declaration of a dry land interfered with their constitutional rights, and only the state could declare whether that particular state drank or not. This ended as hogwash. The constitution instructed that the state and federal government received equal responsibilities to ensure that prohibition succeeded. It neglected to describe what matters specifically belonged to the state and what to the nation; so, therefore, this also helps with the prohibition enforcement department. As it seemed too large and corrupt, the nation should have granted the power of enforcement to the state, as they possessed better numbers at the county and city levels to accomplish the task (McAdoo 65). This, in turn, would have built a stronger feeling in the state and they would have felt a deeper sense of pride and camaraderie. Once again, the government neglected to promote the united spirit of sobriety aspirations.
The truth, however, stands strong: prohibition did not entirely fail. The entire concept of prohibition—its primary purpose—centered on the lessening of alcohol consumption. At the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, the number of alcoholic beverages consumed by the average American stood at an all-time low: .970 gallons a year. The amount of alcohol drank by Americans stayed at the lowest numbers the country had seen for nearly a decade, and only after the victory of World War Two did numbers rise to match intake levels of the late 1860s (also the end of a war) (Kerr).
As a whole, drinking, as a result of prohibition, decreased; thus, bettering the nation for some time. If Americans had continued down their wayward path of self-destruction through their increasing numbers of drinks, then mass chaos would exist today. This land would overflow with drunken slobs, but rather, it exists with some pride and beauty, as a result of the methods of prohibition. It helped attain the prospects that Lincoln so hopefully desired.
Uncle Sam desires that again. America maintains a certain prohibition today, and no one minds. On October 13, 2006, George Bush signed “Prohibition II” prohibiting online gambling or rather, prohibiting banks and credit card companies from processing payments to online gambling operations on government lists (Will). This arguably consists of social law, as gambling, just like alcohol, bankrupts people of their morals, leaving them in financial ruin, and needing aid from others—a proverbial leech on American pockets. It helps the economic growth of the nation, in that manner. But, just like prohibition, this new clause, allows gambling, for those who choose to exercise their sumptuary privileges in a tasteful manner. If the individual chooses to engage in gambling, let him use a state casino, where funding travels to aid federal matters, thus once again, becoming the citizen—the patriot—and aiding the growth of the nation.
In the 1860s, when Lincoln spoke his immortal words about the victory over liquor and the greatness of land that creates and implements it, he dreamed a mighty dream for this nation. He knew, as well as every good-standing citizen, that alcohol stood as a threat to prosperity and hope. The health risks, including cancer, heart failure, and death, show no mercy. In 2000, 85,000 people in America died as a direct result of alcohol (Caldwell).
How can a government of the people, by the people, and for the people sit back and allow this many of its citizens, of whom daily pledge allegiance to this land, to die? How can it provide liberty and justice for all when it sees a problem as staggering as alcohol consumption—a problem which affects the entire nation as a whole—and does nothing? Alcohol rapes people of their time, money, family, and, when a drunk steps onto the street, its schemes and accomplishes the same with the innocent bystanders, many of whom oppose the drink.
Alcohol affects the entire land; it muddles the brain.
This country, strive as it might, will not progress to a stronger and more united front if a demon dances on the tongues of half of its citizens. A country divided goes nowhere except down. America craves a strong front to protect its people and their liberties, and the only way for that to occur requires each citizen to stand together, join hands, and promote prohibition. If the entire country joined this camaraderie campaign, then the children, the young and impressionable innocents, would witness a new era and clearly see and understand the wicked ways of alcohol and would pledge abstinence to it. An entire generation of clear-minded citizens would rise, thus eternally proving the victory Lincoln so desperately desired.
Prohibition possessed problems at first, but intellectuals reflect on that, see those problems, learn from history, and decide that alternatives required realization. Today, with new prohibition, those alternatives need implementation. All people agree that alcohol serves as a deadly toxin; no one can ignore the health risks, but on what logic can people—be they, politicians or civilians—sit back and allow atrocities to occur? How can such crimes against humanity persist? It stands as every American’s responsibility to rise to the calling and halt this abomination, otherwise who will? “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing” (qtd. in Moncur).
Caldwell, Ray. “Effects of Alcohol and Drug Abuse.” Alcohol Studies. 2 July 2003.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 15 March 2007.
Kerr, Austin. “Temperance and Prohibition.” eHistory. Autumn 2006. Ohio State
University. 15 March 2007. <http://prohibition.osu.edu//default.cfm>
Moncur, Michael. Edmund Burke Quotes. 2007. The Quotation Page. 18 March 2007.
Nishi, Dennis, ed. At Issues in History: Prohibition. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2004. 72-78.
—.Barker, John Marshall. “Why the Saloon Must Go.” 18-24
—.Bryan, William Jennings. “Alcohol is Destructive to Society.” 25-30.
—.Holmes, John Haynes. “Prohibition is Constitutional.” 39-49.
—.McAdoo, William Gibbs. “The Eighteenth Amendment Does Not Violate States’
—.Thompson, A. Monroe. “Prohibition Enforcement Requires a Softer Hand.” 72-78.
Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890.
Will, George F. “Prohibition II: Good Grief.” Newsweek 23 October 2006.
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