The Rise of Prohibition

In January, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution became operative. Since that time and till December, 1933 Americans were forbidden to produce, hold or deal out alcoholic beverages. However, Daniel Okrent demonstrates this time in his social work, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, as the culmination of decades of social and political activism by a broad communion of anti-alcoholic citizens. What is more, there is still the echo of these effects nowadays, both law and social custom, and it is a negative side of disturbing government policy.

One may ask: How did this happen and why would Americans restrain their precious right to drink? Some really sobering answers could be given. Prohibition was not a restriction in its usual way. That was the war made by small-town white Protestants. Prohibition united the fears of all Americans with legitimate concerns about the immorality of alcohol, to form a movement powerful enough to make corrections to the United States Constitution.

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One can easily give a list of the wettest cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco. However, the “leader” is Detroit, the corrupt metropolis, also known as “the city on a still”. Illegal alcohol business employed over 50000 people in this city. Surely, politicians or police officers were not involved. That seems very similar to nowadays business.

That is a kind of revelation of a confluence of diverse forces through the Prohibition: women’s suffrage movement gains more political power; native-stock Protestants fear they have lost control over the immigrants of large cities; World War I stocked the anti-German attitudes, and a great range of other factors, which both affect the Prohibition and are affected by it. However, these hostile attitudes were directed not only against German, but also against other countries. Great Britain and Canada were of the greatest interest. The main task was to crack down on shipments of booze into the US from these countries. The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill mentioned that Prohibition was an affront to mankind and that Britain would not help the USA to enforce ridiculous laws. “Ridiculous” is the best word to characterize Prohibition. What was that all for? Surely, alcoholism is one of the greatest problems of all times. On the other side, the more alcohol is restricted, the more resourceful ways to evade the law are invented. What is more interesting, these evasions bring more and more illegal actions. One learns from one’s mistakes. It was needed to do too many mistakes to understand all the consequences. Better late than never, but there is not an equal price for understanding.

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Religious questions and prejudice became one of the greatest problems – generally, Jewish involvement in illegal liquor distribution, and sales. One man is arrested without any signs, to be suspected, just for his surname and religion. Racism played its part in Prohibition. Not Americans were called the “other”. These the ‘other’ – Catholics, Jewish, mentioned above, Irish immigrants, eastern Europeans –all drank as a part of their culture and national traditions.  Wine industry became the most inconsequential player in this fight. At the same time, beer industry and ordinary brewers, due to their German roots, were engaged in internecine warfare.

The question of Prohibition is still under discussion. Even “The Simpsons” had the episode, which showed the Prohibition’s consequences brightly. Prohibition is not only the consequences, but also the struggle, freedom-loving spirit of the nation, its sufferings (not for everybody it was the time of suffering, quite the contrary) and trying to survive both the World and Constitutional War. Prohibition also had some unintended consequences, alongside with this struggle. There was the rise of Mafia and organized crime, the popularization of drinking by women, extensive corruption in police forces of any large city of the USA, devastating court systems. The possession or drinking of alcohol was a federal crime. That caused thousands of deaths. People drank industrial ethanol. This ethanol became impossibly dangerous because the US government added more chemicals in it. That was the attempt to defeat the bathroom chemists who tried to distill this spirit into safe beverages.

Prohibition is the period and movements that lead to one of the nation’s biggest faults. There are so many new evil signs – speakeasies, gangsters, bootleggers. Those were the people and organizations that formed and then defiled Prohibition. These people manipulated Presidents, Congress and public and fomented anti-immigrant politics and the fear of urbanism. There was a party, which was above this manipulation and made a kind of manipulation by itself. The Republican Party was a progressive organization that pushed Prohibition and women’s suffrage, which were related. The members of this party perfectly knew that giving women the right to vote would help to pass Prohibition. As it was mentioned above, this suffrage gained more political power. However, it also gave a birth to a growing number of women, supporting and even promoting it.

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People needed more than ten years to understand all the consequences of Prohibition, such as increased lawlessness, corruption, greed and violence. Such books as Last Call leave the reader wondering how long it will take, to stop and understand the consequences of nowadays Drug Wars and other Constitutional changes and amendments. It helps to make a conclusion by oneself, which is not the least of the facts making the book worth of attention.

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