What effect did the
repeal of prohibition have on the USA?
Popular sentiment about alcohol in the United States has had a varied
history. It was strongly disapproved of by many religious denominations,
but was still very popular among many early Americans. Throughout the 19th
century, an increasing number of doctors began to identify potential
health risks associated with alcohol. This added fuel to the growing "dry"
movement, which advocated making alcohol illegal.
In December of 1917, the U.S. Senate proposed a constitutional amendment
which would ban alcohol from the country. This amendment was passed in
January of 1919, and took effect in January of the following year. The
eighteenth amendment to the United Sates Constitution made it illegal to
manufacture, sell, or transport alcoholic beverages of any kind (excluding
those which were used in religious ceremonies).
Despite widespread disapproval, the legislation enjoyed a high rate of
support among politicians and many of their constituents. The laws were
difficult to enforce, and this left room for thousands of "speakeasies"
which illegally served alcohol to pop up throughout the country.
Nevertheless, the laws were effective in significantly reducing alcohol
consumption throughout the States.
One of the most serious problems with the amendment was the fact that it
left a very large market demanding a product which could no longer be
commercially produced. This situation effectively founded vast networks of
organized crime. Many Mafia groups throughout the country took advantage
of the opportunity and created a lucrative underground alcohol production
and distribution industry. Following the ban, crime rates throughout the
country soared. Widespread violence was made even worse by a rising
frequency of police corruption.
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After over a decade of prohibition, the situation got to a point where
most Americans demanded a repeal of the alcohol laws - even those who were
opposed to alcohol consumption. In 1932, repealing the 18th amendment was
one of the campaign platforms of presidential candidate Franklin
Roosevelt. This was one of the first official actions he made after his
election, as he signed a bill in March of 1933 which effectively ended the
period of national prohibition.
Alcohol began being sold legally again in April of 1933, and this was a
significant boon to the country's economy. Many of the underground
activities associated with the alcohol industry were able to be taxed
again, bringing in significant revenue to a government which was in
serious need. This also had the consequence of providing many people with
legitimate work during a time of widespread poverty and unemployment. It
should be noted, however, that it took the alcohol industry several years
to recover and reach its previous levels of profitability.
Another significant effect of the repeal was a sharp decline in the
funding criminals received from alcohol sales. Some states replaced the
national repeal with their own anti-alcohol legislation, but in the areas
where legal alcohol became available it was much more desirable due to its
lower prices and lack of legal consequences.
Once these trends had begun to sink in and become publicly recognized,
many individuals and groups who initially supported prohibition admitted
to its ineffectiveness and societal harm. Even those who still believed
that alcohol was immoral or socialy detrimental realized that outlawing
its consumption was simply an ineffective and harmful way to attempt to
solve the problem.