Prohibition was introduced in 1919 in response to the growing support of its legislation. The Women’s Christian Temperance Society (WCTS) firstly a local campaigning force had grown considerably to a national level. The society argued that for moral issues and for the bettering of society the consumption of alcohol should be made illegal. WWI and the level of patriotism brought about also helped in the passing of prohibition. This was because most of the major brewers were German.
Women, Protestants, Southerners, businessmen and factory owners supported prohibition. They believed that to create a more effective and efficient society alcohol had to be removed. It was also argued that a large amount of the family income was spent on alcohol instead of the family.
With an influx of immigrants came a new culture to America. Alcohol and drinking played a big part in the lives Immigrants especially those from Eastern and Southern Europe. This was heavily frowned upon by the white Anglo-Saxon protestants as it was seen as having a detrimental effect on society.
A special agency was set up to enforce prohibition. However it was undermanned and under paid. The money set aside to run the agency was dwarfed by the amount made by the industry. Underpaid agents were easy to bribe and were a common thing in the corrupt American society.
Prohibition is sometimes seen as a law for the Poor. The rise in prices pushed the price of alcohol out of the reach of some Americans. Therefore it could be said that it was to some extent a success. The rich however could still afford to drink and one could say that the government allowed them to. The government needed the votes and support of the rich and did therefore not wish to alienate them.
With prohibition came a rapid growth of organised crime. Bootlegging, owning speakeasies and providing protection became profitable businesses. This led to a rise in gangsters. The gangs diversified their businesses to other vices such as gambling and prostitution.
The gangster made millions of dollars through the illegal trades and with that money they could easily afford to bribe officials, even mayors. They often turned a blind eye to their activities, as did most Americans.
Gangsters like Al Capone who had superstar status claimed that if there was no demand one would be foolish to provide the alcohol. This would seem to be quite true of American society. The number of bars doubled during prohibition then before it. This would suggest that the Americans quite liked to drink, unlike what the WCTS hoped would happen. They believed that by making alcohol illegal consumption would fall dramatically and that society would benefit morally.
Prohibition did enjoy some successes, the banning of all consumption of alcohol led to a dramatic rise in the price of drinks due to the short fall in supply of alcohol. This made acquiring it harder and at first drinking of alcohol declined.
However this was short lived and alcohol was smuggled in from Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. Bootleggers smuggled in alcohol under the protection of gangsters.
Improvements in the quality of health and an increase in medical awareness also helped bring down consumption of alcohol.
An investigation by Hoover in 1929 that continued till 1931 confirmed the failure of prohibition. Investigator found that with great ease one could obtain alcohol. However it was decided to continue prohibition because it was as Hoover claimed a ‘noble experiment’.
Prohibition failed as legislation as it failed to prevent alcohol from being consumed. It was claimed that prohibition will be enforced, that the law will be maintained and those who flaunt it would be punished. However those who did drink alcohol illegally and where caught were usually the average American after a drink. Gangster were rarely arrested or stopped as the police and the enforcement agents could easily be bribed. The most prolific arrestment and imprisonment of a gangster was that of Al Capone, even though it was for tax evasion and not for any of his lucrative illegal businesses.
In this respect Prohibition was repealed as it failed as legislation. Many off those who had supported its passing now wanted its repeal due to the unsocial element it brought. Prohibition proved to be too costly to enforce and housing all the violators of the act became difficult and costly.
The banning of the drinking of alcohol brought about an attractive element for young rebellious people.
One could not however put down the repealing of prohibition to its failure as legislation as one could argue its demise was fixed more by events out of its control rather then its own weaknesses.
The repeal of Prohibition finally came about in 1934. This was due to the governments inability to effectively enforce the laws resulting in growing opposition to it.
The catalyst which spurred the on the repeal movement was the depression that followed the Wall Street crash. The return of the brewing industry was needed to help regenerate the economy and provide more jobs.
A further factor was the reduction in government revenue from sale of alcohol. Many industrialists believed that an increase in taxes would reduce their own tax burdens.
Prohibition was not a complete failure it managed to reduce the consumption of alcohol, which it did. Many historians argue that the potential for a rise in organised crime was inevitable and would have occurred without prohibition.
It is likely that without the great depression prohibition would have remained on the statue books for a much longer time and may have contributed to a longer-term reduction in the consumption of alcohol.