Depending on the number of drinking drys, the failure of enforcement could have produced the opposite effect, by allowing voters to gain access to alcohol themselves while voting to deny it to others. Two other possible reasons also fall short of explaining Repeal.
The leading antiprohibitionist organization throughout the s was the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment AAPA , which drew its support mainly from conservative businessmen, who objected to the increased power given to the federal government by National Prohibition. Their well-funded arguments, however, fell on deaf ears among the voters throughout the era, most tellingly in the presidential election of This argument, too, gained little traction in the electoral politics of the s.
When American voters changed their minds about Prohibition, the AAPA and WONPR, together with other repeal organizations, played a key role in focusing and channeling sentiment through an innovative path to Repeal, the use of specially elected state conventions. Finally, historians are fond of invoking widespread cultural change to explain the failure of National Prohibition.
Decaying Victorian social mores allowed the normalization of drinking, which was given a significant boost by the cultural trendsetters of the Jazz Age. In such an atmosphere, Prohibition could not survive. At the height of the Jazz Age, American voters in a hard-fought contest elected a staunch upholder of Prohibition in Herbert Hoover over Al Smith, an avowed foe of the Eighteenth Amendment. Thus, the arguments for Repeal that seemed to have greatest resonance with voters in and centered not on indulgence but on economic recovery.
Repeal, it was argued, would replace the tax revenues foregone under Prohibition, thereby allowing governments to provide relief to suffering families. Prohibitionists had long encouraged voters to believe in a link between Prohibition and prosperity, and after the onset of the Depression they abundantly reaped what they had sown. They then turned out to elect delegates pledged to Repeal in the whirlwind series of state conventions that ratified the Twenty-First Amendment.
Thus, it was not the stringent nature of National Prohibition, which set a goal that was probably impossible to reach and that thereby foredoomed enforcement, that played the leading role in discrediting alcohol prohibition. Instead, an abrupt and radical shift in context killed Prohibition. I will briefly mention the principal ones, in ascending order from shortest-lived to longest.
The shortest-lived child of Prohibition actually survived to adulthood. This was the change in drinking patterns that depressed the level of consumption compared with the pre-Prohibition years. Straitened family finances during the Depression of course kept the annual per capita consumption rate low, hovering around 1. The death rate from liver cirrhosis followed a corresponding pattern.
A retrospective look at the current drug prohibition, the author Constantine Issighos demonstrates the USA's drug policy as being ineffective, destructive and expensive, thus describing an "anatomy of failure.". A retrospective look at the current drug prohibition, the author Constantine Issighos demonstrates the USA's drug policy as being ineffective, destructive and.
The Prohibition Era was unkind to habitual drunkards, not because their supply was cut off, but because it was not. Those who wanted liquor badly enough could still find it. But those who recognized their drinking as destructive were not so lucky in finding help. The inebriety asylums had closed, and the self-help societies had withered away.
In , these conditions gave birth to a new self-help group, Alcoholics Anonymous AA , and the approach taken by these innovative reformers, while drawing from the old self-help tradition, was profoundly influenced by the experience of Prohibition.
There were several reasons for this decision, but one of the primary ones was a perception that Prohibition had failed and a belief that battles already lost should not be refought. Instead, AA drew a rigid line between normal drinkers, who could keep their consumption within the limits of moderation, and compulsive drinkers, who could not. Thus was born the disease concept of alcoholism. Those fears were not unjustified, because during the late s two fifths of Americans surveyed still supported national Prohibition. To target women, whom the industry perceived as the largest group of abstainers, liquor ads customarily placed drinking in a domestic context, giving hostesses a central role in dispensing their products.
By the end of the 20th century, two thirds of the alcohol consumed by Americans was drunk in the home or at private parties. When Prohibition ended, and experiments in economic regulation—including regulation of alcohol—under the National Recovery Administration were declared unconstitutional, the federal government banished public health concerns from its alcohol policy, which thereafter revolved around economic considerations.
Some states retained their prohibition laws—the last repeal occurring only in —but most created pervasive systems of liquor control that affected drinking in every aspect. Licensing policy favored outlets selling for off-premise consumption, a category that eventually included grocery stores. With the invention of the aluminum beer can and the spread of home refrigeration after the s, the way was cleared for the home to become the prime drinking site.
Perhaps the most powerful legacy of National Prohibition is the widely held belief that it did not work. I agree with other historians who have argued that this belief is false: Prohibition did work in lowering per capita consumption. The lowered level of consumption during the quarter century following Repeal, together with the large minority of abstainers, suggests that Prohibition did socialize or maintain a significant portion of the population in temperate or abstemious habits.
Its political failure is attributable more to a changing context than to characteristics of the innovation itself.
Today, it is easy to say that the goal of total prohibition was impossible and the means therefore were unnecessarily severe—that, for example, National Prohibition could have survived had the drys been willing to compromise by permitting beer and light wine 63 —but from the perspective of the rejection of alternate modes of liquor control makes more sense.
Furthermore, American voters continued to support Prohibition politically even in its stringent form, at least in national politics, until their economy crashed and forcefully turned their concerns in other directions. Nevertheless, the possibility remains that in a less restrictive form of Prohibition could have satisfied the economic concerns that drove Repeal while still controlling the use of alcohol in its most dangerous forms.
Scholars have reached no consensus on the implications of National Prohibition for other forms of prohibition, and public discourse in the United States mirrors our collective ambivalence. Historical context matters. Bone Dry Forever! Seized distilling equipment early in the Prohibition Era reflects the artisanal scale to which the production of beverage alcohol was reduced. Christgau right. Tom Pegram and Ted Brown provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the article. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Am J Public Health. Jack S. Blocker, Jr , PhD.
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Accepted June 16, This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract The conventional view that National Prohibition failed rests upon an historically flimsy base. Open in a separate window.
Figure 1. Figure 2. Chicago Historical Society, image DN Figure 3. Figure 4. Wisconsin Historical Society, Image Acknowledgments Tom Pegram and Ted Brown provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the article. Notes Peer Reviewed. References 1. Blocker Jr, David M.
Fahey, and Ian R. Pegram Thomas R. Dee, ; Jack S. Tyrrell Ian R. Silverman Joan L. Timberlake James H. Pegram, Battling Demon Rum , — Hamm Richard F. Szymanski, Pathways to Prohibition , —, — Blocker Jack S. Kyvig David E. Creation of a national income tax also provided an alternative source of revenue for the federal government, thereby freeing Congress from reliance on liquor excise taxes. Donald J. Boudreaux and A.
Kerr, Organized for Prohibition , — Julian E. Zelizer Boston: Houghton Mifflin, , — All statistics given in this article for per capita consumption are for US gallons of ethanol per capita of population 15 years of age and older prior to and population 14 years of age and older thereafter. Dills Angela K.