A Dry Decade

Thankfully, the UK has never experienced prohibition like they did in the United States. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors, ushered in a period in American history known as Prohibition. The result of a widespread temperance movement during the first decade of the 20th century, Prohibition was difficult to enforce. The increase of the illegal production and sale of liquor, known as ‘bootlegging’, the growth of speakeasies (illegal drinking spots) and the accompanying rise in gang violence and other crimes led to a lack of support for Prohibition by the end of the 1920s. In early 1933, Congress adopted a resolution bringing the Prohibition era to a close.

image credit

When Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated the incumbent President Herbert Hoover, it is said that he celebrated the ending of Prohibition by enjoying a martini, his favourite drink. Temperance societies were in abundance at the turn of the century and women played a big part in this movement, as alcohol was viewed as destructive to families. The Anti-Saloon League was started in 1893 as an attack on the sale of liquor, as saloons were seen as ungodly and corrupt. For Online wine merchants in Northern Ireland, visit http://thewinecompanyni.com/.

Prohibition was aided by the United States entering World War I as in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson instituted a temporary wartime prohibition in order to save grain for producing food. That same year, Congress submitted the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors, for state ratification. Ratified on January 29, 1919, the 18th Amendment went into effect a year later, by which time no fewer than 33 states had already enacted their own prohibition legislation. In October 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, which provided guidelines for the federal enforcement of Prohibition.

Prohibition was very difficult to enforce during the 1920s. Despite very early signs of success, including a decline in arrests for drunkenness and a reported 30 percent drop in alcohol consumption, those who wanted to keep drinking found ever-more inventive ways to do it. Bootlegging went on throughout the decade, along with the operation of ‘speakeasies’ (stores or nightclubs selling alcohol), the smuggling of alcohol across state lines and the informal production of liquor known as moonshine or bathtub gin.

Other significant effects of Prohibition were the rises in criminal activity associated with bootlegging. The most notorious example was the Chicago gangster Al Capone, who earned a staggering $60 million annually from bootleg operations and speakeasies. Such illegal operations led to a rise gang violence, including the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929, in which several men dressed as policemen shot and killed a group of men in an enemy gang.

The costs for law enforcement, jails and prisons continued to rise as support for Prohibition was waning by the end of the decade. Strong fundamentalist views had begun to take over the temperance movement as well, which started to alienate the more modest members. With the devastating effects of the Great Depression and the Wall Street Crash of 1929, legalizing alcohol again became increasingly attractive as a means to create revenue and employment. A few states continued with Prohibition for some years after it was repealed in 1933, but all had abandoned the concept by 1966.

Image credit