Prohibition and the Rise of Organized Crime

Despite the Temperance Movements commendable goal of bettering society, the Prohibition was an utter failure as it was inadquately enforced and prompted the rise of organized crime in America.

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Early Temperance Movement

-Beginning in the 1800's, people began to look to reform many aspects of society, such as education, hospitals and prisons
-Reformers believed that alcohol was negatively affecting social stability in America
-Protestant ministers and the American Temperance Society were amonge the early leaders of the temperance movement
-The movement grew quickly, and had over a million members by the 1840s
-Maine became the first state to ban alcohol in 1851
-The movement was slowed by the Civil War, but it once again gained momentum with the formation of the Anti-Saloon League and Women's Christian Temperance Movement in the late 1800s

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Anti-Saloon League

-Formed in 1893 by Protestant men from around the country
-Became a prominent political power after they convinced 21 states to shut down all restaurants offering alcohol by 1916
-Focused primarily on banning alcohol

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Women's Christian Temperance Movement

-Formed in 1893 by women who thought that male factory workers consumed too much alcohol
-Believed that alcohol was a direct cause of poverty among immigrants and working class families
Frances Willard, the WCTU's most influential leader, had enlisted over half a million members by 1898
-Differed from the Anti-Saloon league in that they took on other reform issues such as labor rights and women's suffrage

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Temperance Songs

-Many temperance groups used songs as way of communicating their message to the general public

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-After years of pressure from the temperance groups, Prohibition was passed through Congress in the form of the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1919
-The 18th Amendment banned the consumption of sale of alcohol; however it did not define the define alcoholic beverage and further legislation was required to provide enforcement of the Amendment
-The Volstead Act was passed to enforce the 18th Amendment on October 28, 1919. It prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol, defined an alcoholic beverage and gave federal authorities the right to investigate and prosecute violators of the act

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Response to Prohibition

-Many people would go to "speakeasies," also known as "blind pigs," where alcohol was served in certain establishments. Speakeasys were often very elaborate establishments, providing food, music, dancing and live shows. By 1925, New York City alone contained between 30,000 and 100,000 speakeasies. These establishments were often able to continue operating through corruption in the police department. Police were often bribed to look the other way or to warn these establishments in advance of raids.
-Whiskey was prescribed as medication, but doctors wrote prescription freely. This alone led to the comsumption of nearly a million gallons of liqeour a year.
-The law stated that alcohol was permitted three miles off the coast of the U.S., and this was fully taken advantage of, for State owned shipping lines also served alcohol over water.
-It became common for ordinary people to brew alcoholic beverages, legally and ilegally, in their homes. Many people ilegally brewed hard liqueor in their bathtubs, giving the name "bathtub gin" to home distilled hard liqeour.
-High ranking public officials disregarded prohibition. Even the Speaker of the House of Representatives owned and operated and illegal distillery.

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The entrance of a "Speakeasy"

Organized Crime: An unanticipated result of Prohibition

-Prohibition, while usually seen as simply a failed attempt to reduce the consumption of alcohol, had great negative effects that the federal government did not anticipate
-The volstead act contributed directly to the birth of organized crime in American society. Bootlegging, the sale of black market alcohol, was the first major bussiness of organized crime groups known as mobs. The alcohol served at speakeasies was supplied by bootleggers, who made enormous profits of these illegal sales. This bussiness was remarakably profitable because there were no taxes on the imported alcohol
-Bootleggers also sold the alcohol for extremely high prices because they were the only source that speakeasies could obtain the vast amounts of liqueor required to maintain their bussiness. While bootleggers were extremely adept at avoiding authorities, there was an extremely high amount of violence between competing mobs. Wars between various mobs were often fought in the streets with the use of armored cars and machine guns

Al Capone: The O.G.

-He effectively ruled Chicago through acts of violence, intimidation, and bribary of police officials. While his rise to power can be attributed to his bootlegging profits, combined with his profits from other illegal dealings he made nearly a $100 million dollars a year
-At his height of power, he had a private army of a thousand violent men who committed crimes such as bootlegging, kidnapping, torture, and murder at his command
-His illegal bussiness activities were not limited to bootlegging, but were complemented through his operation of gambling joints and brothels. His reign ended in 1931 when he was indicted and imprisoned for income tax evasion

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Some words of wisdom from Al Capone himself:

-"I am like any other man. All I do is supply a demand."
-"You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can than you can with a kind word alone."

End of Prohibition

-As the 1920s progressed, resentment for the 18th Amendment grew. In addition to poor public opinion of prohibition, the federal government was losing nearly 500 million dollars a year due to the lack of a tax on alcohol
-Franklin Roosevelt included the repeal of the 18th Amendment in his campaing platform in the election of 1932. When Roosevelt took office, he signed a bill encompassing the repeal of the 18th Amendment
-This bill led to creation of the 21st Amendment, which was finally passed on December 5, 1933

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Connection to the Present Day

-Drug trafficking is currently a large problem for the United States
-Like the illegal production and distribution of alcohol during Prohibition, gangs and cartels smuggle drugs into the U.S. for sale to Americans. Violent drug wars have arisen between competing drug trafickers similar to the violence between competing bootlegging mobs.
-Additionally, authorities have had trouble putting an end to the drug trade just as bootlegging during the Prohibition was impossible to suppress
-Our inability to crack down on the drug trade has led many citizens to advocate for the legalization of some drugs. The Advocates argue that legalization would increase internal revenue and decrease crime due to the drug trade. The same argument was used to push for repealing of the 18th Amendment
-A present day situation that is very similar to that of alcohol during prohibition is that of marijuana. Despite this drugs illegality, it is widely used and easy to obtain.
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