The The 18th Amendment to the Constitution,
The 1920’s was a time of major social change in the United States. The social changes during this period are reflected in the laws and regulations that were implemented. One of the most prominent examples of this was prohibition. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, or the Volsted act as it is also know, was implemented to eliminate the use of alcohol in the United States. In doing this, the advocates of prohibition hoped to also eradicate the social problems associated with alcohol. “It was an attempt to promote Protestant middle-class culture as a means of imposing order on a disorderly world”(Dumenil 226). However, this goal of keeping social order through not consuming alcohol, was not reached during the years of prohibition, or even the years following it. Alcohol use among Americans did decline, but it was not totally eliminated, and some of the social problems were even greater then before prohibition. Therefore prohibition was not successful in its original purpose. To best understand the reasons behind the failure of prohibition, we have to look at the years before, during, and after prohibition. This will give context to the implementation of the 18th Amendment, as well as show the trends of Americans’ alcohol use and the effects of alcohol on American society.
The early 1900’s were a time of great prosperity in the United States. America was thriving economically, and big cities were booming. However, some Americans thought that this was not a good thing, because of the social problems that came with the urban culture. The “Dry’s”, as Prohibitionists were referred to, saw large cities as providing people with readily available alcohol. This in turn led to an increase in crime, poverty and immorality. During the period of 1911-1915 the average per-capita consumption of alcohol of each American was 2.56 gallons (Kyvig 24). The solution that was proposed was a national prohibition of alcohol. The goal of this was to eliminate drinking in America thus reducing all of the problems associated with it. “The Prohibitionists thought that the sale of liquor was a social crime, that the drinking of liquor was a racial crime, and that the results of liquor were criminal actions”(Sinclair 220). By making alcohol illegal nationally, such as it would be with prohibition, the social problems of America would be fixed.
On January 16, 1920 alcohol became illegal with the passing of the 18th Amendment. Under the Volsted Act, named after its author, the importing, exporting, transporting, and manufacturing of all intoxicating substances was outlawed. The government defined intoxicating liquor as anything having an alcoholic content of more then .5%. However this excluded alcohol used in religious or medical purposes. With the passing of this Amendment, the temperance movement in the United States had won a major victory. They saw the implementation of prohibition as the key to freeing American from the fiery vices of alcohol. So began the prohibition era.
At the onset of prohibition, alcohol use in the United States did decline. “It did cut alcohol consumption, perhaps by as much as thirty percent, and was more effective in the early years (1919-1922)” (Dumenil 233). However, this reduction in consumption was not long lasting. “Seldom has a law been more flagrantly violated. Not only did Americans continue to manufacture, barter, and possess alcohol; they drank more of it”(Bowen 154). One of the reasons for this was because prohibition was so hard to enforce. Partly this was because of the poor wording of the Amendment. The 18th Amendment prohibited the sale, import, export, manufacture, and transport of alcohol, but it failed to specifically make purchasing alcohol or its use a crime. According to David E. Kyvig, “This allowed continued possession of intoxicants obtained prior to prohibition, provided that such beverages were only for personal use in one’s own home”(22). This loophole in the Amendment was not on the side of the Prohibitionists, and ultimately led to a decline in prohibition’s effectiveness.
Another reason that the decline in alcohol sale and usage was not permanent was its increased profitability. After the implementation of prohibition, the price of alcohol went up dramatically. During prohibition, the price of beer went up 600%, and the price of gin went