To try and understand ‘prohibition’ and its impact upon the country and its people we need to first have a look at some background information of events that led up to Prohibition becoming law in 1920, and how organised crime played its part in undermining these laws. Between 1901-1913 1. 1 million Sicilians emigrated abroad, 800,000 of these end up on American shores. Inevitably with such large numbers arriving, it was only a matter of time before communities started to appear.
Within these communities still lay the ideologies of their previous existences, with Sicilains the main ones being organised crime and protection rackets.This was something they were used too and to a degree probably expected, even with their new start. With the majority of Italian Immigrants landing at Ellis Island, New York it was only a matter of time before they made their presence felt. With language and cultural barriers to overcome they tended to stick together in their newly formed communities. One of the main communities they formed, which was to be known as ‘Little Italy’ was situated in the Mulberry bend area off Mulberry Street in New York. This was a run down area which had been an Irish slum since the 1830’s.
The Irish start to vacate this area once the Sicilians move in. When they do the standard of living increases substantially, house and rental prices start to rise, sanitation is introduced as well as education. This area is made more famous by the 2002 film ‘Gangs of New York’ directed by Martin Scorcese, in which it shows the battle for the streets around the infamous ‘Five points’.
This is a very good film that shows the hardships, crime, racial segregation and violence and hatred that was going on in the U. S at this time, especially towards immigrants. Now this area is becoming more prosperous the ‘Mafia’ now become very interested in it. At first they only concentrate on certain trades such as Olive oil and artichokes, which leads onto the ‘Artichoke War.
Eventually when the ‘Capos’ earn enough money they expand their organisations and move to new areas. So between 1900-1910 there is a slow growth in organised crime. To try and combat this rise in organised crime the U. S government started to set up special agencies to try and deal with them.People like Joe Petrosino began to become pioneers in the fight against organised crime using new techniques of policing and a lot of undercover work.
He was very successful until his assassination in Sicily on March 12th, 1909 whilst on an undercover mission. By the time the prohibiton law is introduced into the U. S the mafia have grown in influence and numbers. By 1914 New York has the largest numbers of Sicilians in the U. S. and more and more of New York is now controlled by gangs, not just mafia, but Jewish and Irish also.
After the end of WW1 the mafia now has access to semi automatic weapons as well, making them more feared and deadlier than before. With money seemingly no object they grow their sphere of influence throughout most of the U. S major cities. They begin to infiltrate the police forces, even intimidating witnesses or buying juries off with sums of money to avoid prosecution. The mafia now control the cities. The F.
B. I is set up around 1911 to try and combat organised crime within the U. S. When Prohibition finally comes to the U. S. this just ultimately provided another opportunity for organised syndicates to cash in.Between the years 1919-1933 the sale, transportation, and manufacture of alcohol was prohibited throughout the United States.
This was fuelled by a Temperance movement within the States at this time. A temperance movement is a social movement urging reduced use of alcoholic beverages. Temperance movements may criticize excessive alcohol use, promote complete abstinence, or pressure the government to enact anti-alcohol legislation.
The prohibition laws were taken that seriously that just before it was introduced there was an amendment to the Constitution.Eighteenth Amendment. While the manufacture, sale and transport of alcohol was illegal in the U. S. , Section 29 of the Volstead Act allowed the making at home of wine and cider from fruit (but not beer). Up to 200 gallons per year could be made, and some vineyards grew grapes for home use.
Also, one anomaly of the Act as worded was that it did not actually prohibit the consumption of alcohol; many people actually stockpiled wines and liquors for their own use in the latter part of 1919 before sales of alcohol became illegal the following January.So people now throughout the United States were unable to purchase alcohol, well legally anyway. For most alcohol was an escape from the drudgery of their lives. For the poor living conditions were terrible, wages were low, life was just an endless slog of working to try and survive. Now the one thing they had to ease this burden was taken away from them also. In steps the organised crime bosses, mainly the mafia. The mafia now set up bootlegging alcohol industries to provide alcohol for the people, illegally of course.
They control the drinks industry.People now start to ‘soften’ their attitudes towards the mafia somewhat. The fear is still there but now they can be provided with the one thing their Government had taken away, Alcohol.
Some start seeing the mafia as the ‘good guys’, rebelling against the government and other large corporate industries at this time. So alcohol is now freely available on the Black Market. During the prohibition , the mafia make an astonishing two billion dollars from the sales of alcohol alone.
The government had now handed the mafia the chance to basically print their own money and become as powerful as they wanted or needed to be.This of course was not confined to just New York, but also carried on throughout other major U. S cities. The authorities realised they had to try and stop this illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol. In Chicago probably the most destructive and successful towards the mafias bootlegging operations was American Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness.
He was the leader of a team of law enforcement agents knows as ‘The Untouchables’. This team of agents were later to be made famous on the big screen in Brian De Palmas superb film, ‘The Untouchables’.The film depicts life through the 1920’s prohibition era in Chicago and the bloody violence that seems to become everyday occurence from both sides in the fight against the mafia. A lot of the alcohol that was being produced Illegally was being transported in from Canada. Of course the laws didn’t apply to them being outside the U. S so this was seen as the best and quickest way of bringing in the illegal booze. After Edward Prince of Wales, returned to Britain following his 1919 tour of Canada, he recounted to his father, King George V, a ditty he’d heard at a border town: “ Four and twenty Yankees, feeling very dry,Went across the border to get a drink of rye.
When the rye was opened, the Yanks began to sing, “God bless America, but God save the King! ” (Arthur Bousfield, 1991) The leading mafia figure of this time was ‘Al Capone’. After leaving school at 14 to pursue his life of crime he moved to Chicago in his twenties to take advantage of the liquor smuggling trade, his rise to top mafia boss is portrayed in several Hollywood movies. As with all mafia operations they had seemingly legitimate businesses to launder their ‘ill gotten gains’ through and to many Capone was seen as a bit of a modern day Robin Hood.
He was a highly visible public figure who entered into many charitable endeavours as a front for his other illegal businesses. This at the time for the American people was a complete U turn in many ways. The mafia had now gone from murdering thieves and criminals and had been elevated to a more glamorous plateau, seen by many as helping the American people rather than trying to take from them. Finally Capone was caught out and in May 1932 he was sent to prison.
The only safe way of obtaining a conviction was to try and link him not to numerous deaths and murders but with Tax evasion.Ness and his men were finally successful in this and Capone spent 7 years of an 11 year sentence behind bars including a stint in ‘Alcatraz’ Americas toughest prison. He died on January 21 1947. The prohibition, or “dry”, movement began in the 1840s, spearheaded by pietistic religious denominations, especially the Methodists. The late 19th century saw the temperance movement broaden its focus from abstinence to all behavior and institutions related to alcohol consumption. Preachers such as Reverend Mark A. Matthews linked liquor-dispensing saloons with prostitution. Prohibition is not limited though just to this new law passed in 1920.
In 1850, Maine became the first state to introduce prohibition, although it was repealed again in 1856, the trend had been set. In 1881 Kansas became the first state to outlaw alcoholic beverages in its Constitution. In the Progressive Era (1890–1920), hostility to saloons and their political influence became widespread, with the Anti-Saloon League superseding the Prohibition Party and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union as the most influential advocate of prohibition. So as we can see the writing could be said to be on the wall as far as a total alcohol ban in the U. S. Maybe previous presidents had toyed with the idea but merely used or persuaded the likes of Kansas or Maine to be ‘Guinea pigs’ to see how the public would react.
When Woodrow Wilson finally brought the ‘Blanket ban’ into effect, I’m not sure wether he could have foreseen the impact it would have on not only the American people but also the monetary fortunes of the U. S. The annual budget of the Bureau of Prohibition went from $4.
4 million to $13. 4 million during the 1920s, whilst Coast Guard spending on Prohibition averaged over $13 million per year.The price of beer increased by more than 700 percent, and that of brandies increased by 433 percent, but spirit prices increased by only 270 percent, which led to an absolute increase in the consumption of spirits over pre-Prohibition levels . According to Thomas Coffey, “the death rate from poisoned liquor was appallingly high throughout the country. In 1925 the national toll was 4,154 as compared to 1,064 in 1920.
The homicide rate increased to 10 per 100,000 population during the 1920s, a 78 percent increase over the pre-Prohibition period. Prohibition quickly filled the prisons to capacity.By 1932 the number of federal convicts had increased 561 percent, to 26,589, and the federal prison population had increased 366 percent. Prohibition not only created the Bureau of Prohibition, it gave rise to a dramatic increase in the size and power of other government agencies as well. Between 1920 and 1930 employment at the Customs Service increased 45 percent, and the service’s annual budget increased 123 percent.
In all, the era of prohibition cost the American Government $500 million nationwide annually to police the bootlegging and in lost taxes.. (Source of Information.The Cato Institute) On March 22, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law an amendment to the Volstead Act known as the Cullen-Harrison Act, allowing the manufacture and sale of certain kinds of alcoholic beverages. On December 5, 1933, the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment.
However, United States federal law still prohibits the manufacture of distilled spirits without meeting numerous licensing requirements that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal beverage use. At the end of Prohibition, some supporters openly admitted its failure.A quote from a letter, written in 1932 by wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
states : “When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.
Okrent, 2003) To try and draw a conclusion then. To me it seems the Prohibition Laws introduced into the United States in 1920, seemed to be a social experiment undertaken by the Government under growing pressure from Anti Alcohol groups and leagues of the time. Although the health justifications seem to be the over-riding reason to introduce this Law, the other social and economic factors of the time seem to far outweigh its legitimacy.The American Government must have known about the growing influence of the Mafia and other organised criminals of this time, so why offer them another opportunity to increase their powers of earning?. Maybe they thought they could police the situation better and that the normal man in the street would just roll over and accept this big change in their social structure imposed upon them.
In reality the ‘experiment’ if I can call it that backfired. The wishes of the authorities to reduce the amount of Beer consumed merely led people onto harder liquors, whiskies etc.The American people never really backed or agreed with the Prohibition laws or the fact that the Government was trying to take away their own personal responsibility and judgement in the consumption of alcoholic drinks. Freedom of choice and speech was always the American way, but now this freedom to choose how much and even if they even could drink alcohol was taken away,this didn’t sit well with the American public. Most of the figures I have studied show a dramatic drop in alcohol related diseases and deaths at this time such as cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease, but a massive increase in the rates of homicide and suicides.
So nothing gained there then. Ultimately Prohibition was a logistical nightmare in terms of enforcement. There were never enough law enforcement officers to control all of the illegal operations associated with prohibition and many of the officials were themselves corrupt. I think in all as I stated earlier this was a Social and political experiment undertaken by the Government which ultimately backfired and led to more problems than were solved.