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Transcript of Prohibition
Why did some Americans want to forbid
others from drinking alcohol?
Some say Prohibition was an attempt on the part of middle-class Protestants to control immigrants and the urban poor
Some say Prohibition was an attempt to help children and families.
On February 14, 1929, men dressed in police uniforms raided the headquarters of Chicago's Moran gang. When the officers ordered the gangsters to raise their hands and line up against the wall, the gang members thought nothing of it. The police were always annoying them. These "police officers," however, were members of Al "Scarface" Capone's rival gang in disguise. Capone's men whipped out their guns and blasted away. Seven members of the Moran gang died in what soon became known as the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. This bloodbath was one of many unexpected consequences of what Herbert Hoover called "an experiment noble in purpose"—prohibition.
The "Dry" Perspective: Prohibition Improves Society Traditionalists and progressive reformers saw passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transport of alcoholic beverages, as a great victory. They pointed to evidence that alcoholism caused crime, violence, and the breakup of families. "Drys," as backers of prohibition were known, believed that stopping people from drinking would result in a healthier, happier society.
Drys also saw prohibition as a way of taming city life. Support for prohibition centered mainly in rural areas, and many drys saw the Eighteenth Amendment as a triumph of rural over urban Americans. As one dry put it, prohibition allowed the "pure stream of country sentiment and township morals to flush out the cesspools of cities." In addition, many traditionalists were suspicious of foreigners. They associated beer drinking with immigrants of German descent and wine drinking with Italian immigrants. To them, prohibition was a way to curb such "foreign" influences.
At first, prohibition seemed to the drys to deliver its expected benefits. The national consumption of alcohol did decline, from an annual average of 2.6 gallons per capita before the war to less than 1 gallon by the 1930s. Fewer workers spent their wages at saloons, to the benefit of their families. The greatest decline in drinking probably occurred in the groups that resented prohibition the most—poor and working-class ethnic groups. In their view, prohibition was just another example of nativist prejudice toward immigrants.
Many Americans—such as the woman shown above—chose to ignore the ban on drinking. Bootlegging became a common trade. In 1929, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Walker Wildebrandt reported that alcohol could be bought
Click to read caption
The "Wet" Perspective: Prohibition Restricts Freedom and Breeds Crime Opponents of prohibition, called "wets," were small in number at first. But as the law went into effect, their numbers grew. Opposition centered mainly in large cities and immigrant communities.
According to the film, why did some Americans support temperance?
7244 S. Prairie Ave
Wets and Drys
Clash over Prohibition
What problems did people see in society at the turn of the century?
What is this?
to prevent the use
Many modernists attacked prohibition as an attempt by the federal government to legislate morality. Journalist H. L. Mencken, a champion of modernism, called drys "ignorant bumpkins of the cow states who resented the fact that they had to swill raw corn liquor while city slickers got good wine and whiskey." Another modernist, Massachusetts Senator David Walsh, rejected traditionalist arguments that drinking was sinful. He reminded drys that the first miracle performed by Jesus had been to turn water into wine. Were Jesus to perform this miracle in prohibition-era America, Walsh observed, "he would be jailed and possibly crucified again."
Prohibition seemed doomed from the start. In October 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment. But the federal government never gave the enforcement agency, called the Prohibition Bureau, sufficient personnel, money, or supplies. The bureau's agents were simply outnumbered by the millions of Americans who wanted to drink. Hoover later estimated that the government would need 250,000 agents to make prohibition work.
As a result, prohibition led to an increase in illegal behavior by normally law-abiding citizens. Millions of Americans simply refused to abstain from drinking. Some learned how to brew their own "bathtub gin." Others bought "bootleg" alcohol that was distilled illegally or smuggled into the United States from Canada. As thousands of bars and pubs were forced to close, they were replaced by nearly twice as many secret drinking clubs, called speakeasies. The term speakeasy came from the practice of speaking quietly about illegal saloons so as not to alert police. A 1929 issue of New York City's Variety boldly reported, "five out of every seven cigar stores, lunchrooms, and beauty parlors are 'speaks' selling gin." The number of speakeasies in New York City alone was estimated at 32,000. The widespread availability of illegal alcohol led the humorist Will Rodgers to quip, "Prohibition is better than no liquor at all."
The growing demand for liquor created a golden opportunity for crooks like Al Capone. Bootlegging—the production, transport, and sale of illegal alcohol—was a multibillion dollar business by the mid-1920s. Chicago bootlegger Capone exhibited his wealth by driving around in a $30,000 Cadillac while flashing an 11 1/2-carat diamond ring. To keep his profits flowing without government interference, he bribed politicians, judges, and police officers. He also eliminated rival bootleggers. His thousand-member gang was blamed for hundreds of murders. In 1931, Capone finally went to jail—not for bootlegging or murder, but for tax evasion.
As lawlessness, violence, and corruption increased, support for prohibition dwindled. By the late 1920s, many Americans believed that prohibition had caused more harm than good. In 1933, the states ratified the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed prohibition.
-Why did they think Prohibition would solve these problems?
-What strategies/evidence did temperance advocates use to convince people to support Prohibition?
-Do you find their arguments convincing? Do you think people at the time found their arguments convincing? Why or why not?
Historians disagree about the motivation behind Prohibition:
What do you think?
1. What is your first reaction to the 18th amendment?
2. Do you think this amendment could be passed today? Why or why not?
3. Why do you think some Americans in 1918 might have wanted this amendment?
1. (Sourcing) When was this document written? Was this before or after the passage of
the 18th Amendment?
Why might the National Temperance Council have met in 1920 (after the passage of
the 18th Amendment)? What do you predict they will say?
2. (Close reading) What does the National Temperance Council claim is caused by
3. (Context) Do you find these claims convincing? Do you think people at the time found
these claims convincing? Explain.
Why are they holding signs?
What do these
Document C and D
1. (Sourcing) When were these posters made? Was that before or after the passage of
the 18th Amendment?
Who published these posters? What was their perspective?
2. (Close reading) According to these posters, what are two reasons why Prohibition is a
3. (Close words) Look at the words used in Document C. These were considered
“scientific” categories. What does that tell you about science at this time?
4. (Context) Using these posters, explain some of the beliefs about children that were
common in the early 20th century. Do you think these beliefs are silly or reasonable?
People who supported Prohibition thought it would solve a lot of society’s problems. Use the
documents to explain what problems they saw in society and why they thought Prohibition would
solve these problems.
bubbles for the
9th grade U.S. History
Some Americans thought Prohibition would stop people from drinking
to lessen, or neutralize
the ACT of
Respond to the following prompt:
What if you
learned all music
with lyrics was outlawed?
Music with lyrics
has been proven
to lead to teen drinking,
rape, murders and
The answer to society's
problems is to forbid
all forms of music
that have lyrics (words)
How could you listen to music, without letting the
police or authorities know?
Prohibition in the United States
-get students to think
about their own opinions
and actions before studying others' actions or beliefs
-access prior knowledge and
Strategic Methods for Content Learning,
"Building Foundations for Reading Success" p24
Assess student's prior knowledge by asking
questions that force them to consider their own
opinions before trying to evaluate someone else's.
Strategic Methods for Content Learning
"Assessing Student's Background Knowledge" p3
The Temperance Movement sought to lessen the use of alcohol in the U.S. by educating Americans about the physical and mental harm alcohol would bring to families. Their goal was Prohibition and the 18th
amendment to the Constitution.
"Molly and the Baby Don't You Know"