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Events Leading Up to 18th Amendment

 

Prohibition was a movement started by Protestant congregations and women's groups who wished to eliminate the consumption of alcohol in the United States. By 1830, the American population consumed 7.1 gallons of alcohol per capita on an annual basis. The advocates of Prohibition felt that alcoholism was a problem in America that couldn't be cured unless enforcement was put in place by the government.

From the beginning, there were many who didn't agree with the banning of alcohol. The main opposition came from working class men, Catholics and Germans who had alcohol more integrated into their culture (Legislating, 231). Also the first Acts which prohibited the distribution of alcohol interfered with laws dealing with interstate trade (Prohibition and, 283).  There were other arguments as well. In an article in the San Francisco Examiner from 1914 one man states that the reasons to not enact Prohibition are threefold. First, a government shouldn't limit the freedom of their people. With prohibition, the government is constraining its citizens. Secondly, prohibition promotes intolerance and therefore contrary to the religious views of the American people. Finally, it would involve destroying property which he felt was unnecessary and wrong ("Argument").

 Yet by the beginning of the twentieth century, more and more recognized the problems that arose from alcohol consumption. Employers were forced to pay the many liquor related accidents that occurred at work. Alcohol had become so deeply integrated into American society that there were more saloons than schools, libraries, hospitals, theaters, parks or churches (Prohibition, 320). All of this led the temperance campaign of the late 19th century to the "drive for Prohibition" of the first twenty years of the 1900's (Legislating, 231). Supporters of Prohibition were known as "dry" where as non- supporters were known as "wet". By enforcing prohibition of alcohol, advocates hoped to decrease crime, poverty and "improve the quality of life" (Poholek).

The politicians that supported Prohibition were part of the Progressive Movement, although the concept seems conservative. Prohibition included many "moral ideals" of the Progressive Movement. Supporters of Prohibition felt that alcohol conflicted with religious teachings which the Progressives felt was very important. In addition, the Progressives felt that they improved the lifestyles of the lower-class by increasing the efficiency caused by sobriety (Clark 1965, 123).

On January 16, 1920, the 18th amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which prohibited "the manufacturing, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors." This amendment stated that no alcoholic beverage could be sold, manufactured, imported or exported legally in the U.S. Soon after, the Volstead Act was written so that medicinal alcohol could still be used. It classified illegal alcoholic beverages as those that contain more 5% alcohol content (Poholek).

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