The prohibition movement in the United States began in the early 1800s and by 1850 several states had passed laws that restricted or prevented people drinking alcohol. Neal Dow, a prosperous businessman in Portland, Maine, established the Young Men's Abstinence Society. He also led the campaign that resulted in Maine passing the nation's first prohibition law in 1846.
During the 19th century, two powerful pressure groups, the Anti-Saloon League and the Women's Christian Temperance Union were established in America. In 1869 members of the Prohibition Movement in
America temperance movement formed the Prohibition Party. Three years later James Black of Pennsylvania became the party's candidate for the presidency. However he won only 5,608 votes.
St. John won only 150,369 votes in the election but it was a great improvement on previous candidates. He also took valuable votes from the Republican Party candidate, James Blaine, and helped Grover Cleveland of the Democratic Party to win victory. Cleveland was the first Democrat to become president since the Civil War. One newspaper described him as a "Judas Iscariot" and Republicans in over a hundred towns burned his effigy.
During the First World War most people considered it to be unpatriotic to use much needed grain to produce alcohol. Also, several of the large brewers and distillers were of German origin. Many business leaders believed their workers would be more productive if alcohol could be withheld with them. John D. Rockefeller, alone, donated over $350,000 into the Anti-Saloon League.
Opinion on prohibition in America began to change and by January, 1919, 75% of the states in America had approved the 18th Amendment which prohibited the "sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors". This became the law of the land when the Volstead Act was passed in 1920.
One of the consequences of the National Prohibition Act was the development of gangsterism and crime. Prohibition Movement in
America, enforcement of prohibition was a difficult task and a growth in illegal drinking places took place. People called moonshiners distilled alcohol illegally. Bootleggers sold the alcohol and also imported it from abroad. The increase in criminal behaviour caused public opinion to turn against prohibition. In 1933 prohibition was repealed by the adoption of the 21st Amendment.
The 18th Amendment
Prohibition Movement in
America speakeasy sign
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A man checks out a sidewalk sign pointing the way to an illegal speakeasy.
The groups dedicated to encouraging temperance had a number of reasons for it. They believed there to be a direct link between alcohol and many antisocial behaviors, like child abuse and domestic violence. Another famous concern was that of Henry Ford, who believed that alcohol had a negative impact on labor productivity.
Anti-German sentiment during World War I helped catapult the issue into law. Many of the nation's breweries were operated by German immigrants, also known as "alien enemies" by the Anti-Saloon League. The sentiment was that the grain being produced should be used to feed soldiers rather than produce alcohol. Prohibition Movement in
America, was advertising taught in schools as in promotional buttons.
Many others fought this growing issue tooth-and-nail. The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment and the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform were just two of these groups with the Prohibition Movement in
Despite the efforts of anti-prohibition groups, support gathered for a ban on alcohol, and Congress passed the 18th Amendment on Jan. 16, 1919 (it went into effect in 1920). The amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, export, import and transportation of alcoholic beverages -- but stopped short of banning personal possession and consumption. Basically, if your wine cellar was already stocked, you didn't have much to worry about. The 18th Amendment brought to a national level what was already accepted in many states. Sixty-five percent of the country, including 19 states, had already banned alcohol on a local level [source: Digital History].
The Volstead Act, or National Prohibition Act, was crucial to the success of the 18th Amendment -- it provided the federal government with enforcing ability. It also defined criminal penalties, exceptions (medicinal and religious-ceremony use) and the alcohol levels that qualified as "intoxicating." Any beverage with more than 0.5 percent alcohol was over the legal limit.