Important Moments Of The US Prohibition Every American Should Know

By Antonia Čirjak on February 16 2020 in Society

Prohibition agents stand with a still and mason jars used to distill hard liquor in Wash. D.C. area. Nov. 11, 1922. Credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com
  • The Volstead Act was brought to allow federal enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment which banned alcoholic beverages.
  • Medical professionals fought for their right to use and sell alcohol for medical purposes.
  • The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Prohibition in the United States was a constitutional ban on the importation, transportation, sale, and production of alcoholic beverages. It lasted from 1920 to 1933. The first attempts of a ban on alcoholic beverages were held in the 19th century. The Protestants believed the society to be ill because of alcohol-related problems, some of which included family violence and alcoholism.

The movement started to gain traction in some parts of the Democratic and Republican parties. After several state legislatures and the end of World War I, the brewing industry was cut back and finally ended in 1920. The Volstead Act was approved then, and it enforced the federal ban on alcoholic beverages. However, alcohol could be used in certain cases, such as religious ceremonies. Private ownership of alcohol was also not banned. 

The Volstead Act

The most important event during the prohibition was arguably the very beginning. On January 17th, 1920, the Volstead Act went into effect. The Volstead Act was brought about in order to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited alcoholic beverages. People believed that the ban on alcohol would solve the problem of poverty in society, along with other issues.

Wayne Bidwell Wheeler, , the successful leader of the Prohibition movement. With him are a group of men standing on the steps of the Washington Headquarters of the National Woman's Christian Temperanc
Wayne Bidwell Wheeler, the successful leader of the Prohibition movement. With him are a group of men standing on the steps of the Washington Headquarters of the National Woman's Christian Temperanc. Credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com

The Volstead Act provided the necessary federal enforcement of Prohibition. According to the Act, liquor, wine and beer were all considered to be intoxicating liquors and were prohibited by it. The supporters of the Prohibition were absolutely certain that the Eighteenth Amendment would never be repealed. 

Alcohol Used For Medical Purposes

Medical professionals were extremely critical of the Prohibition since they could not prescribe alcohol for medical purposes anymore. There were multiple hearings held in Congress all throughout 1921 dealing with the medicinal values of alcoholic beverages.  All over the United States, physicians were protesting in order to be able to use medicinal liquors during their medical practices. They were eventually granted the right to do so and it is estimated that around 15,000 doctors and 57,000 pharmacists got the license to use or sell alcohol for medicinal purposes. During the remaining years of the prohibition, doctors earned large sums of money from selling whiskey. 

The Bootlegging Of Alcohol

During the middle of the decade, people started suspecting that the Prohibition was not as successful as it seemed to be at the start. The Prohibition was working as intended when it considered the lower classes, but richer families were known to keep stashes hidden at home. The richer people would never get in trouble because of it, while the people in the lower classes of society would get prosecuted because of trying to acquire alcohol in secrecy. Rich people stockpiled on alcohol before the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect.

Winsor MaCay 1920's cartoon depicts a cityscape of Bootleg Whisky Crime Dope and Get Rich Quick money lust.
Winsor MaCay 1920's cartoon depicts a cityscape of Bootleg Whisky Crime Dope and Get Rich Quick money lust.

Once the Volstead Act started being enforced, people were violating it all over the country. Almost 8,000 cases of violation were recorded in the first six months of 1920. In the entirety of the first year, the number rose to almost 30,000 cases. People were bootlegging alcohol in secrecy, meaning illegally transporting it across the country. A large number of people used fermented grape juice as alcohol during that time as well. 

The Repeal Of The Eighteenth Amendment

Many prominent politicians were starting to strongly oppose the Prohibition during the late 1920s, and the number of conservatives that were in favor of it started to reduce. The negative effects of the Prohibition on several aspects of life in the United States, including many businesses, were the reason why a lot of people changed their minds. They started fighting for the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.

The start of The Great Depression also played a role, since taxing alcoholic beverages was a great source of income for the entire country. The Eighteenth Amendment was eventually repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5th, 1933. It was the first amendment in the history of the United States to ever get repealed completely. Presidential nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt was the one that called for the Eighteenth Amendment to be repealed. 

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