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Failure of Prohibition

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Failure of Prohibition

To a certain extent the two sources agree about prohibition. They both
state that prohibition was a direct result of the radical idea of the
Anti-saloon league. Source A believes that it was "the influence of
the Anti-saloon league" and source B believes that prohibition was
"led by the league". Both sources are of the opinion that prohibition
led to an incredible increase in crime. This is blatantly shown in
source A, "it created the greatest criminal boom in American history"
and it is implied in source B "gangsters like Dutch Schulz and Al
Capone had turned the avoidance of prohibition into big, violent
business". Also, they both agree that the majority of the American
public desire alcohol and want a constant supply of it. Source A tells
us that prohibition goes "against the daily customs, habits and
desires of so many Americans" and source B quotes Al Capone and his
plans to "Supply a public demand".

However, the two sources disagree on the causes that started
prohibition. Source A gives the impression that the law was passed
because of negative feelings towards German-Americans (they were
important in the brewing and distilling process). And also the "most
important" reason was to "make the world safe for democracy". I know
this is true because many Americans at this time were afraid of the
Communist ideas being brought over by Eastern European immigrant; and
the changes that state control would bring to agriculture and
industry. Source B gives the impression that the law was passed in an
attempt to overcome "one of the greatest evils of all time -

In conclusion, it is clear that Sources A and B agree with each other
and in my opinion they agree roughly 80% but 20% of the content
contradicts each other. I think this is because more statements within
the sources agree with each other, rather than disagree.

(b) Study sources C and D

Were the artists of these two posters for or against prohibition?

I think that posters C and D are for prohibition to a certain extent.
Both posters show the men wasting all their money on alcohol in
saloons, (before prohibition was introduced in 1920) rather than
spending it on their families. In source C you can literally see a man
hand over a bag of "weeks wages". It is also clear that the authors of
both sources feel families are very important, which is why they feel
prohibition is a good thing. For example, source C shows one mans
family made poor from the saloons, slumped over a table with no food
and looking thoroughly depressed. This is because they are "slaves" of
the saloon (the word "slave" gives the impression they have no
choice). Also, source D shows two poor children looking at a saloon
where their father is knowing they can never have the clothes or food
they require because of the expense of alcohol. But we must bear in
mind that both posters were produced before prohibition and so the
artists were not to know what prohibition brought.

This is why I think that to some extent the artists are against
prohibition. Prohibition created "speakeasies" which were more
expensive than regular saloons and would therefore cause people to
have even less money. And for those who could not afford to drink in
speakeasies they turned to "home-made" alcohol that often led to
alcohol poisoning. This alcohol would have been stored at home and
drunk in the presence of children and encouraged alcohol-fuelled
violence. As the artists of both posters were so intent on families,
they would both have been against this.

In conclusion, I think that before prohibition was introduced, the
artists would have thought of it as a good thing. But during the
thirteen crime-filled years of prohibition, I feel they would have
changed their minds!

(c) Study sources E and F.

Which of these two sources is the more reliable as evidence about

Both sources are reliable for different reasons and to different
extents. However, I feel that source E is somewhat more reliable than
source F. I think this because if you take into account the
provenance, source E was actually written by John D. Rockfellar (a
wealthy industrialist.) He had experiences twelve years of prohibition
"written in 1932" whereas source F was written right at the start of
the prohibition era by John F. Kramer (a prohibition commissioner)
before he had any real experience of prohibition "speaking in 1920".

I also feel that source E is more reliable because it was written by
someone who was in favour of prohibition (I think this because he was
an industrialist). He then changed his opinion after witnessing the
adverse affects prohibition had "I hoped it would be widely supported
by public opinion… I slowly and reluctantly came to realise that this
has not been the result." This shows that he is open-minded and
trustworthy. Source E also gives a lot of information on the
conditions of prohibition such as "drinking has generally increased to
a level never seen before". One knows this is true just by looking at
the figures shown in source G concerning spirit seizure as it went up
from 414, 000 in 1921 to 11, 860, 000 in 1929. Even without these
statistics we know that these things are true because corruption led
to the impossibility of enforcement and without enforcement people can
do as they like.

It is also possible to tell that source E is more reliable by
referring back to the other sources, where you can see most sources
agree there was a lot of widespread crime. Source A says that "no
earlier law produced such widespread crime", source B tells us how Al
Capone turned the avoidance of prohibition into "a bit violent
business" and source J states there was a "conspiracy" and all senior
officers were involved in it. However no source truly backs up the
promise of John F. Kramer to prevent the manufacture, selling or
giving away of alcohol.

In conclusion, it seems that source E is the most reliable in relation
to the happenings during prohibition as it gives a lot of information
which proves to be correct when comparing it to the information in
other sources. However, source F is also somewhat reliable because it
gives facts that aren't clouded by opinions.

(d) Study sources G and H.

Do these two sources prove that prohibition was successful?

Sources G and H contain information that can be manipulated to mean
completely different things. Source G can look as though prohibition
was successful because the increase in still and spirits seized can
show the prohibition agents as getting better at their jobs. Also, it
can give the impression that the more alcohol seized, the less alcohol
available for consumption by the public. This is because the amount of
stills seized increased from 9, 746 in 1921 to 15, 794 in 1929, and
the gallons of spirits seized increased from 414, 000 in 1921 to 11,
860, 000 in 1929.

However, we could also look at the figures as though the increase in
the amount seized shows an increase in the amount of alcohol
consumption (which is unknown.) Also, because a lot of officers were
corrupt, many of the stills were unseized by these officers. This
would alter the statistics shown in the source. Source H shows a
general increase in the amount of arrests for drinking-related
offences. In particular the amount of drunk increased from 14, 313 in
1920 to 51, 361 just five years later. This can give the impression
that prohibition was unsuccessful because once again it could show
that prohibition officers are better at their jobs. However, this does
seem unlikely.

It would be more reasonable to assume that the increase shows a
blatant disrespect for the prohibition law. It also shows that during
prohibition - more people are drinking more than they were before.
This is another reason prohibition was unsuccessful - the majority of
the alcohol consumed by Americans was "moonshine" and therefore not
the type of alcohol they were used to drinking - this resulted in many
health problems. Many of these health problems led to deaths (I know
prohibition was the cause of so many deaths due to alcohol poisoning
because the number of deaths increased from 98 in 1920 to 760 in

In conclusion, I feel it is most likely that the two sources prove
prohibition was unsuccessful. The evidence points more towards to the
fact that there is a lot more alcohol than ever. I know this is true
because other sources back this up. It also has to be taken into
account the fact that many officials were corrupt and so the
information in the sources only applies to the lesser amount who were

(e) Study sources I and J.

How far does source I prove that the policeman in source J is telling
the truth?

Source I proves that Source J is telling the truth in only a few ways.
Source I is a cartoon which shows a clerk, a petty official, a
magistrate, a politician, a police officer and a prohibition agent
being corrupt. We can tell they are being corrupt because they are
doing the "National Gesture" which is also known as a backhander - a
colloquial term for a bribe. This agrees with the statement in source
J "it was a conspiracy and all my superior officers were involved in
it". (Source I shows all of a policeman's officials).

Although it may seem that because the two sources agree with each
other that they are reliable, there are many reasons why they may not
be. For example, source I is a cartoon and cartoons cannot be entirely
accurate or factual because the purpose of a cartoon is to entertain
and be comical, and to do this they often contain an element of
exaggeration. Also, the cartoon only portrays the artist's opinion,
and has generalised immensely; the idea that all officials were
involved in corruption is unrealistic. We do know that there was a lot
of corruption when we look at gangsters like Al Capone. Everyone was
aware of his illegal doings but it was impossible to convict him
because of his control of the police. However, a cartoon is not strong
enough evidence of this - we need more sources to back up the view of
the police officer in source J. For example, source A tells of the
"greatest criminal boom"; this would not have been possible without
the corruption of police officials.

On the other hand, source J is not very reliable either because it is
only one police officer, in one city with one opinion - and there
could be many motives behind what he says. The source only mentions
his own experiences and therefore that does not mean it happened to
all police. However, we do have a lot of evidence that backs up his
views entirely, once again in reference to Al Capone. He was a
gangster in Chicago (the city the police officer is talking about) and
he built up a large network of corrupt officials - this was the reason
his businesses were so successful. But it would be unrealistic to
think all officials were corrupt because of one person's point of view
(or referring back to source I; two people's points of view). We know
that all officials were not corrupt because the Prohibition Bureau
(which had employed 17, 816 agents) fired or dismissed 13, 513 of them
- the remaining agents were thought to be "clean."

(f) Study all the sources.

Do these sources support the view that the failure of prohibition was

It is many historians' opinion that the failure of prohibition was
inevitable, and there is a lot of evidence to back up this opinion. It
was clear from the day the law was passed that many American citizens
were against the Volstead act and this is obvious because of the
amount of Americans who enjoyed alcohol prior to the act, and were
willing to break the law during the act to acquire it. Other evidence
includes the rise of gangsters and organised crime. A the consumption
of alcohol was still taking place; it needed to be in hiding from
fundamentalists such as the Anti-saloon league and thus widespread
crime showed the biggest increase in American history.

On the other hand, there was a lot of evidence to show prohibition
could have been a success. The vast amount of supporters of the
anti-saloon league and Women's Christian Temperance Union gave the
impression that prohibition would succeed. Also, the decrease in cases
of cirrhosis (a liver disease caused by excessive drinking) implies
that despite many violations of alcohol prohibition, overall drinking
nonetheless did decline. Unfortunately, this decline shown at the
beginning of prohibition subsequently increased as prohibition
continued. Besides, the government lost a huge source of tax revenue -
and if the government loses money, it is likely that the source of
money loss is going to be terminated.

Prohibition had a chance of success for several reasons. Saloons were
always thought of as somewhat "seedy" places, and were portrayed as
dark, gloomy hangouts for absent fathers and husbands. This is proved
in source A where saloons were a "bad influence" and also in the
cartoon in source D where two children look wistfully at a saloon
where their absent father is. Another reason it may have succeeded was
the "war time concern for preserving grain for good"; if all Americans
had felt this was important then maybe prohibition would have lasted
longer. It would have seemed likely that prohibition would not fail at
the time when witnessing the national campaigns against alcohol as
this raised an important question - how can a law seemingly supported
by the majority be overthrown? Source B backs this up - "in 1917 a
nation-wide campaign… brought pressure to bear on congress". Source C
also gives the impression that prohibition would succeed as saloons
are too expensive for most to keep going to "the poor mans club - the
most expensive in the world to belong to."

On the other hand, there are many reasons why prohibition was bound to
fail. It blatantly went against the "daily customs, habits and desires
of so many Americans." Angering so many people would only lead to
defiance and then failure. Also, if crime got any larger then there
would have been uproar because eventually the majority of American
citizens were breaking the law on a regular basis. Source E backs this
up - "a vast majority of law breaker has appeared". Prohibition
encouraged those would who never normally break the law to "openly
ignore prohibition". It went to such an extent that even superior
officers who were supposed to be enforcing the law were corrupt "it
was a conspiracy and my senior officers were involved in it" (Source

In conclusion, I feel that although it was more likely that
prohibition would fail; there was always a chance of success. The
widespread support in the early 1920's proved successful until the
even more widespread crime took over and supplied alcohol to America.
I feel the inevitability of failure compared with success is 4-1; 80%
chance of failure. This is because if feel the laws will never work
without the support of the majority of the people affected by them.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Failure of Prohibition." 23 Apr 2014

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