Overriding President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, Congress passed the Volstead Act on Oct. 28, 1919. This act is better understood as the legal authority which enforced the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, the prohibition of alcohol. The American Temperance movement was at its height during these few years when the strict restriction on an alcohol was enforced. One of the primary sources of support for the 18th Amendment were suffragettes (those in favor of giving women the right to vote), as many women saw Prohibition as a way to improve their domestic lives by instilling a higher moral standard not only for themselves, but for their husbands. This coincided with a growing movement to stop domestic violence and unwanted abuse of alcohol.
Prohibition didn’t last long, however. It was repealed just 13 years later. Why was this??
Prohibition had many unintended consequences. The most notable one was the fact that it didn’t stop Americans from actually drinking alcoholic beverages. Instead, it created a new underground economy exploited by the bootlegger. This caused a decline of (lawful) employment, rise of crime, and overall dissatisfaction with the liberties that had been taken away from citizens.
While Americans recognized the dangers associated with drinking alcohol, they preferred to live in a society in which they could choose to drink it or not, rather than have the issue decided for them by the government.
The 18th Amendment is the only one to have been repealed. Moreover, its repeal (through the 21st Amendment) was also the only amendment passed by state conventions, rather than a vote of the state legislatures.
- What motivated people to work to prohibit the sale of alcohol? What consequences of drinking were they trying to eliminate? Was prohibition successful in reducing alcohol abuse?
- What were some unintended consequences of prohibition? Did the supporters of prohibition understand the potential harm of those unintended consequences?
- What alternatives might there have been to prohibition, which would have better achieved the goals, without the unintended consequences?
16, Oct. 2018, Homer Simpson, “I’ll drink to that!” GIF [Digital image]. Retrieved from <google.com>.