The 18th Amendment

The 18th Amendment

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The Eighteenth Amendment, or better known as the Prohibition Amendment, was the change to the Constitution that made 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 purpose is hereby prohibited" (209). In other words, associating one's self with anything alcoholic, with the exception of medicinally, was illegal. This seemingly un-American amendment was ratified January 16, 1919. Certain groups of people such as the anti-saloon league petitioned the government in favor of prohibition.
The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed December 5, 1933. American Decades says that it was a "failed experiment" (). This amendment to the Constitution was a failure because everyone ignored it. Not only did was this amendment a "failed experiment" () it was a detrimental experiment which lent itself to criminal activity and fostered division within political, cultural, and social groups. Precedents of division and selective obey of the law were set during the time period when prohibition was ratified.
Good intentions to improve someone or something are not realistic when people do not see anything wrong with themselves. Initially, this amendment was intended to materialize and instill the beliefs and ideals of anti-alcoholic groups: to improve morality and decrease criminal activity. Prominent beliefs throughout the groups were that, "the use of intoxicating liquors as a beverage is productive or pauperism, degradation and crime; and believing it our duty to discourage that which produces more evil than good" (Lincoln-Lee Legion).
The American Issue Publishing Company was started by the Anti-Saloon League in order to make printed material for prohibition available to the public at large, Lincoln-Lee Legion was a pledge group that asked abstinence from alcohol from it's members, Scientific Temperance Federation was the work of Mary H. Hunt to educate the public on alcohol, World League Against Alcoholism, Women's Christian Temperance Union wanted to destroy, and the Anti-Saloon League were the driving force behind the proposing of the amendment. Leaders among these groups include Purley Baker, Ernest Cherrington, William E. Johnson, Hoard Hyde Russell, Wayne Wheeler, and Francis Scott McBride.
WWI gave anti-alcoholic groups the materials to win favor with the American citizens for the prohibition amendment. Germany was an enemy of the United States. Most of the saloon owners were German or had German in their blood.

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What the anti-alcoholics did was play into that emotion of the people in order to get support for prohibition.
When people do not want to be "fixed" in the first place, there is generally not a warm reception for suggestions on how they can improve their life. Anti-prohibitionists thought that the amendment was, "derived from optimistic overconfidence in the power of law to promote human virtue" (American Decades 32). When this amendment was ratified and put into effect the government did not anticipate how hard it would be to enforce. To date, this is one of the most widely ignored amendments to the Constitution.
There were two main sides to prohibition: the people who were for it and the people who were against it: the "wets" and the "drys." For being one of the most ignored changes to the laws of the United States, this amendment caused quite a stir among political groups. Surprisingly, there were both "wets" and "dries" affiliated with the main political parties. This caused internal division among the Democratic and Republican parties. Prohibition was a divisive political factor. It magnified differences in the party causing internal separation of the Democratic and Republican bases.
Different social groups were affected by prohibition. In a letter to his wife, future President of the United States Harry S. Truman said, "it looks to me like the moon shine business is going to be pretty good in the land of Liberty Loans and green Trading stamps and some of us want to get in on the ground floor. At least we want to get there in time to lay in a supply for future consumption" ("The National Archives").
People thought that a lifetime without alcohol would have been a very bleak existence indeed. Instead of decreasing the crime rate the Prohibition Amendment was ripe for the proverbial criminal picking. American Decades said that, "Crime associated with the underground liquor trade ballooned as federal, state, and local governments committed woeful inadequate resources to the enforcement of Prohibition" (209). A perfect example of this ironic observation is Al Capone and his multi million-dollar alcoholic black market. The looming threat of conviction did not deter any of his alcoholic customers. Again, this amendment was one of the most widely ignored to date.
Legal and social precedents were set throughout the prohibition era. The ruling in favor of wire-tapping was an example of a precedent that set the standard for future events. In 2006, the President of the United States is being questioned for his decision to wire tap in order to find criminals inside and outside the United States. In the 1920s the court ruled that it was perfectly legal and not a infringement of individuals private rights. People today are not so sure that necessarily is the case. Major events and people are being affected today by this decision that was made in the 1920s.
The legal side of prohibition was not the only facet of it being affected. Socially, prohibition was a divisive element that encouraged a negative differential point of view with each other. Immigrants verses citizens was one divide that prohibition caused. The immigrants coming over into the United States were primarily Catholic and "wet." This being the case just gave people another "nail in the coffin" to use against the new comers.
The division from prohibition did not stop with the social group. It carried over into the political arena. Prohibition not only caused an ideological split against both the Republican and Democratic parties it also was an internalized conflict present primarily in the Democratic Party. Candidates of differing views caused rifts within the democratic parties because everyone had a differing idea of what prohibition was supposed to be.
Rifts between people and government, people and political parties, and people among people resulted from the Prohibition Amendment. It caused people to challenge authority, questioning of beliefs, and disdain for different social and cultural groups. The challenging and breaking of the law as well as the promotion of divisiveness between Americans is detrimental to society. Prohibition caused a tearing of unity in the fabric of our nation. Benjamin Franklin said, "join or die." Setting precedence for disunity among a nation is detrimental in all senses of the word. Anything that causes the breaking of unity cannot be beneficial ever.
Works Cited
Allen, Fredrick Lewis. "Women Enjoy a New Morality." America's Decades: The 1920's. Ed.
John F. Wukovits. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000. 141-152.
Anti-Saloon League 1893-1933. The Anti-Saloon League. 29 Sep 2006
Behr, Edward. "America Ignores the Law." America's Decades: The 1920's. Ed. John F.
Wukovits. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000. 131-139.
Benge, Jack G. "Prohibition and the 18th Amendment." American Decades. Ed. Vincent
Tompkins. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996. 283.
Daniel J. Boorstin, The Landmark History of the American People From Plymouth to the Moon
vol. 1 (Littleton: Sonlight Curriculum, Ltd., 1996) 209.
Gerdes, Louise. The 1930's. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000.
"Introduction: A Decade of Prosperity and Turmoil." America's Decades: The 1920's. Ed.
John F. Wukovits. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000. 9-11.
Recchiuti, John Louis. "Legislating Temperance: Prohibition." American Decades. Ed. Vincent
Tompkins. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996. 231.
"Teaching With Documents: The Volstead Act and Related Prohibition Documents ." The
National Archives. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. 29 Sep 2006
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