Pushed by many upper-middle and upper class Americans who could afford to stock wine cellars. Many forces behind prohibition felt that while they themselves could handle alcohol, the lower classes were clearly afflicted by it, although organized crime and a large number of teetotalers were also involved.

Prohibition caused many Americans to start drinking irresponsibly, drinking to get drunk, drinking in secrecy, drinking as a sign of rebellion, as well as preventing alcoholics who wanted to stop drinking from seeking help.

A really good book covering prohibition is Drink: A Social History of America, by Andrew Barr.

American Prohibition began with the incorporation of the 18th Amendment of the United States Constitution and ended with the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th. The 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919, while the 21st was ratified in 1933. The 18th Amendment officially outlawed the sale, manufacturing, and transportation of alcohol. Here is the full text of the 18th Amendment:

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2. The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.

This law was enacted by the United States government because of the rapid growth of saloons. The brewing industry began booming in the 19th century, and saloons started popping up on every street corner of the United States. The industry was very competitive, and soon saloons became infamous for debauchery, prostitution, and gambling. Concerned citizens were worried that the United States would turn into a nation of alcoholics. In response to this the Anti-Saloon League and many other temperance organizations were formed. The Anti-Saloon League started in Ohio, but quickly gained a lot of support and became the biggest national temperance movement. The Anti-Saloon League and other movements put an increasing amount of pressure on state and federal governments, and the end result was the Eighteenth Amendment.

Prohibition was very effective in its early years. Most saloons were closed down and the consumption of alcohol decreased. The only way to obtain alcohol legally during Prohibition was to obtain a prescription from a physician. Though illegal methods of obtaining alcohol were already appearing, the government was very committed to the policy of Prohibition.

Prohibition was tolerated by the American public for a few years before many people started becoming bitter. Bootlegging became popular and America saw the roots of organized crime, based around the sale of alcohol. Though the saloons of old had disappeared, people were bringing alcohol into their homes very often. The notion of sobriety for a good cause began dying out. People wanted to legalize the consumption of alcohol again. As much pressure as there had been to prohibit alcohol in 1919, there was even more to restore the legality of alcohol consumption during the late twenties and early thirties. Here is the complete text of the 21st Amendment to the Consitution:

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.

After Prohibition ended, the rate of consumption of alcohol took a few years to reach a high level. Americans' views on alcohol had changed completely over more than a decade. Instead of going out to a saloon, Americans would often drink at home. Prohibition had a huge effect on the drinking culture of the United States.

National prohibition was said to have given rise to the Mafia, and bootlegging, speakeasies, and the increase of crime in the streets of America. What people do not seem to realize is that many of these things already existed long before the prohibition.

In 1963 The Juvenile Protection Association said in their summary that “the happiest phase of Prohibition reform was the improvement of domestic relations”. Deets Picket, the Associate Editor of the American Prohibition yearbook compiled a list of some of the national benefits of prohibition. One of the benefits was that the work of the welfare assistance mission was cut in half. During this time period factory attendance and work output increased greatly. School and church attendance improved. Families were better clothed. Real estate values increased dramatically with home improvements. The insurance policies written were doubled. Savings accounts tripled. In Chicago crime was actually down twenty-five percent. Excluding Chicago, crime was down thirty-eight percent throughout the nation. Prostitution decreased. Alcohol seemingly almost disappeared. Houses of correction had a four times reduction of inmates. Many correctional institutions closed. Death rates at county hospitals were the lowest in history. General domestic complaints decreased three times. Deaths from cirrhosis decreased by fifty percent. Delinquency also decreased fifty percent. Disorderly conduct, vagrancy, and assault all decreased by a little more than fifty percent. Wife beating and lack of family support decreased eighty-two percent. Drunkenness was down fifty-five percent.

On January 16, 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment of The Constitution of the United States of America was ratified. It has three sections. The first of which states that one year from the ratification of the article it was prohibited to make, sell, transport, import, or export intoxicating liquors within United States of America and it’s territories. The second section states that Congress and several States were to have concurrent power to enforce the article by appropriate legislation. The third section says that the article shall be inoperative if it was not ratified as an amendment to the constitution by the legislatures of the several States as provided in the Constitution and that it must be done within seven years of the date it was submitted to the States by the Congress. This was the Prohibition Act.

There were many who wished for Prohibition to be just a footnote in a book, but it has remained more than a footnote in the annals of history. It fills many library shelves throughout the world. The commotion is caused from the question of whether or not adults should be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages, which are oldest and most widely used “beverage” in the world.

Some cultures believed that alcohol was a magical and mysterious cure for just about any ailment. It was given by early doctors for everything from painful teething in infancy to old age aches and pains. Milk and rum were given to early colonial pregnant women and nursing mothers because the medical mythology of the time was that they were a benefit. Rum-soaked cherries were considered a cold prevention. Most of the cure-all tinctures, tonics, and elixirs contained mainly alcohol and colored water. In 1973 John Kobler reported in Ardent Spirits: the rise and fall of prohibition that a life insurance company increased its premiums by ten percent for the abstainer because they considered “thin and watery, and as mentally cranked, in that he repudiated the good creatures of God as found in alcoholic drinks”.

To make the journey across the oceans bearable, many early explorers would not leave port without several kegs of rum. Kegs of rum were also used to purchase much of the explorers’ newly-found territory. A good supply of grape vines was also taken to ensure a good supply of wine in the “new world”.

With all these benefits why would anyone want to deny alcohol to adults? Unfortunately, there are down sides to alcohol. It can damage the immune, endocrine, and reproductive functions and can highly impair motor skills.

Freedom” and “Liberty” are major words in the Constitution. When certain restrictive laws are enacted the courts must define what is meant by these words. In every case the question of “Does the restriction under consideration so far contribute to the good of the many, that is to the public good, that it is advisable, wise, and useful so much that it be imposed?” Another question is who is to judge this. In general, majority rule. Did Prohibition really deny people their fundamental rights of liberty and freedom as was widely expressed during the time Prohibition was being challenged? Of course it interfered. Then again, so do most laws. Whether they were willing to endure the unwelcome restraint because Prohibition contributed to the public good was the difficult question for the anti-prohibitionists of the day. Their actions were far more significant than their beliefs.

The Prohibition amendment was adopted by extraordinary majorities. Two-thirds of the members present in each house of Congress and by legislative majorities in all but two of the states at the time. The U.S. Senate voted 65 to 20 to adopt the amendment on August 1, 1917. The House of Representatives declared it passed by a vote of 282 to 128 on December 17, 1917] The necessary 36 states ratified the amendment between January 8, 1918 and January 16, 1919. The total legislative vote for ratification in the 46 state legislatures was a whopping 5,102 to 1,245. This makes it seem like there was overwhelming sentiment in its favor but neither the Congress that proposed it nor many of the legislatures that ratified it were elected on the issue of its adoption. The support of the act severely dwindled during the pains of enactment during the war years of 1917-1919. Although the ones who opposed the Prohibition were a minority still they were numerous and determined.

How did the idea of Prohibiting Alcohol come about?

The Temperance Crusades made Prohibition inevitable. There were certain causes that definitely led to the Crusades. When the Civil War abruptly ended all the previous temperance efforts greater numbers of alcoholics were created. A close union between the liquor traffic and the government was forged by Abraham Lincoln’s emergency measure of imposing an internal revenue tax on spirituous and malt liquors. Drinking habits came with the thousands of foreign immigrants that poured into the country after the war because of the industrial revolution. Women had their horizons expanded by the accomplishments they made working during the war. When the work was no longer necessary women turned their thoughts to overcoming the devastation brought on by liquor in the north and south. Large numbers of women actively embraced temperance. Woman became the most important force in the temperance movement. Temperance had become the issue t hat drew tens of thousands of women to rally behind general women’s and reformists’ causes by the 1880s. They demanded a more equal share in the political process.

Why it was enacted

In 1920 the movement to ban the manufacturing, distributing, and selling of alcoholic beverages became the irresistible tide which swept National Prohibition into the Constitution. It evolved from colonial times. Most Americans knew very little at the beginning either Biblically or medically about the harmful effects of alcoholic beverages beyond the obvious misery of the drunkard. Beer and wine were hardly mentioned in early temperance appeals. Drinking what is called hard liquor, however, was frowned upon when done in excess.

When people began to appreciate the enormity of the harmful effects alcohol has on society they first tried to help the drunkards break their addictions. The Washingtonian Society tried to give physical and spiritual help by buying and building homes for the alcoholics. Some reformed drunkards could not resist the open saloons and for every one person that the Society helped break the alcohol addiction at least ten new people became drunkards.

Later, several temperance organizations sprang up throughout the country. This encouraged the abstaining from alcohol. They got temperance pledges signed to fortify individual resolve. Eventually some people realized that beer, wine, and hard cider caused the same harm as whiskey and gin. The people who understood this took a stricter total abstinence pledge. The term “teetotaler” came from this when the secretaries of temperance organizations put a “T” by the names of those who supported total abstinence.

Although many signed pledges and kept them it was impossible to stamp out the evil brew as long as the saloons and the gin mills remained open. This led to the start of a movement to legally ban the drug ethyl alcohol. In 1846 Maine enacted the first state prohibition and other state and local Prohibition laws followed Maine’s lead.

The prohibition issue became a national issue on September 1, 1869 at a convention in Chicago with the formation the Prohibition Party. The WCTU formed five years later in Cleveland, Ohio. They demanded Prohibition. Starting in 1880 the use of WCTU’s Scientific Temperance Instruction program in the public schools created new generations who clearly understood t he dangers of alcohol use.

By the time the 1900s rolled around several states had prohibition laws but they had to battle liquor shipments from neighboring wet states. This gave added momentum for a national law. Neither of the major political parties officially adopted Prohibition in their platforms. The law was passed because politicians voted based on public opinion, which demanded it. On January 16, 1920 when the national prohibition when into effect most states already had dry laws and a large majority of Americans were total abstainers.

How it was enacted

The Eighteenth Amendment was born out of the support of a broad cross-section of Americans. There were three main streams of activity to bring about Prohibition. The first was the campaigning on a partisan level by the Prohibition Party. Many state Prohibition laws can be traced to elections directly where the Prohibition Party got a large vote. Second was all the organizations such as WCTU, the Good Templars, and The Sons of Temperance and their massive educational campaigns. Millions were enlisted through total abstinence pledges. The third was a group of men who were loyal to the two major parties organized a group to oppose saloons. Later this Anti-Saloon League became a total abstinence and prohibition organization.

A large majority of Americans were abstainers and supporters of Prohibition by the start of the first World War. Many members of Congress still refused to allow a vote on Prohibition.

Approximately forty college students spent the summer of 1914 campaigning for Charles Randall. This helped him in being elected for the first of his three terms in a Los Angeles district. Randall added a wartime prohibition law as a rider on an agricultural bill. By doing so he bought the issue to attention. Wartime Prohibition was enacted and on November 21, 1918 went into effect. The success of this law was a huge momentum for the Eighteenth Amendment.

Why it was appealed

Modification of the Eighteenth Amendment might have saved it from being completely repealed. Many police officers were in the liquor business according the former mayor of Chicago, William Denver. Billions of dollars were spent by major liquor companies to deliberately break laws, bootleg, and buy politicians to make Prohibition look like a bad thing. Under prohibition every brewery, distillery and winery in the nation had their doors closed. Not only did accidents and deaths from alcohol-related diseases decrease but so did the number of highway accidents.

It is not enough just to acknowledge that drunk driving crashes are the number one killer of our youth. Adults need to take responsibility for their habits and their children’s habits because national prohibition is history. Prohibition did not end the use of alcohol. It made a significant impact though, and we need to learn the lessons that were taught by it. It’s repeal has been a lesson as well. It shows that no law can be taken for granted, it can be changed and repealed. This means we must constantly keep up the fight for the laws that make the world work.

“National Prohibition: A National Right?”, published by Signal Press.

Pro`hi*bi"tion (?), n. [L. prohibitio: cf. F. prohibition.]


The act of prohibiting; a declaration or injunction forbidding some action; interdict.

The law of God, in the ten commandments, consists mostly of prohibitions. Tillotson.


Specifically, the forbidding by law of the sale of alcoholic liquors as beverages.

Writ of prohibition Law, a writ issued by a superior tribunal, directed to an inferior court, commanding the latter to cease from the prosecution of a suit depending before it.


⇒ By ellipsis, prohibition is used for the writ itself.


© Webster 1913.

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