The Rise and Fall of Prohibition


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  • he St Valentine's Day Massacre     On St Valentine’s Day, 1929, seven men sat talking in the SMC Cartage Company garage in North Clark Street, Chicago.   Five of them were gangsters.   They were members of George ‘Bugs’ Moran’s gangland outfit.   With them were Reinhardt Schwimmer, a wealthy optician who liked to be seen with gangsters, and John May, the garage mechanic.   Two men, dressed as policemen, went into the garage.   They lined the seven men up against the wall and took their guns.       Suddenly, two hit-men - ‘torpedoes’, as they were called - burst into the garage.   One carried a sawn-off shotgun, the other had a machine gun.   They blazed away at the helpless men.   Twenty seconds later, it was all over.   One man’s head had been blown open.   Another man was slumped over a chair; shreds of skin dangled between his splintered bones and shattered teeth.   Four corpses, riddled with machine gun bullets, stared lifelessly at the ceiling.   ‘My God!’ gasped Sergeant Fred O’Neill, 5 the first real policeman to arrive on the scene, ‘What a massacre!’ In 1929, the most powerful Chicago gang leader was Al Capone.   Since 1920 it had been against the law in America to sell alcohol.   This was known as ‘Prohibition’.   Gangsters like Capone made a fortune from ‘bootlegging’ - making and smuggling booze for the ‘speakeasies’ (the illegal bars where you could still get a drink).   Capone’s speakeasies were places of luxury, with a bar and dance hall, gambling tables at the back and rooms upstairs for prostitutes.    Capone was king of Chicago.   He bribed Chicago’s politicians and judges.   Corrupt policemen guarded his gambling joints.   He controlled most of the other gangsters in Chicago.   Moran was one of the few who hadn’t fallen into line.   So although Capone had spent St Valentine’s Day in his Florida mansion, there was no doubt who had killed Moran’s men in that North Side garage.    Amazingly, one of the gangsters had survived the shooting.   Frank Gusenberg was one of Moran’s top advisers.   In hospital, Sergeant O’Neill begged him to reveal who had shot him.   ‘I’m not gonna talk,’ was all he could get out of the hardened criminal.    Then, at last, Gusenberg motioned to the officer.   ‘I’m cold,’ he whispered, ‘get me another blanket.’   But Gusenberg was already covered with blankets.   The cold he felt was the cold of death.   As it swept over him, it carried away the only witness to Chicago’s biggest gangland massacre.
  • The 21st Amendment , which was ratified in 1933, repealed the 18th Amendment. In order to get around the traditional process of ratification by the state legislatures--many of which were expected to vote "dry"--Congress instead called for ratifying conventions in each state. At the completion of delegates' voting, the national count in favor of repeal of the 18th Amendment was 73%.
  • The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

    1. 1. • A test for national democracy - a variety of people can steamroll the system to change the government• Unveils corruption in politics• Demonstrates a phenomenon wherein public opinion can swing back very quickly
    2. 2.  America thrusted in favor of Prohibition in a short period of time and pulled away from it rather quickly both of these phenomena happened in a similar way American policy makers and their constituents had spent decades finding it acceptable to tweak alcohol policy as a way to limit the social ills of alcohol in the early 20th century, a new discourse of prohibition became popular and this cue became mimicked by more and more policy makers, creating a rapid support for a drastic policy.  It was so drastic that it took a constitutional amendment, the only amendment to deny Americans individual rights - ironic because it’s a time when civil liberties are expanding
    3. 3.  President Obama ran explicitly on a promise to reform health care. For the first few months, this policy was moving pretty smoothly. Tea Party Movt - small and vocal group began speaking out against about these policies in town hall meetings and a group of influential policy makers and members of the media repeated their complaints within 6 months, Americans moved from being unsatisfied with their health care costs to significantly more satisfied than they’d been in over a decade.  likewise for the first time in over a decade the number of people who think that the govt should provide healthcare dropped under 50% (Gallup)
    4. 4.  most reform organizations approved of limiting, not eliminating, tended to be directed toward “undesirables” (AA, NA, Irish, etc.) Benjamin Rush - believed that moderation in drink was highly beneficial to individuals and society Second Great Awakening - increased emphasis on reform and human improvement, environment shapes who people are - take alcohol out of the equation and you can better people. American Temperance Society - 1826
    5. 5.  investigative problems w prohibition:  shirking, corruption, rebellion against the law recommendation -  derived from Scandinavian dispensing system - take out the profit motive - profits drive the industry, who drive the public to vote.  the govt should decide who gets alcohol and who doesn’t - the state would dispense alcohol - doesn’t go along well with a moral crusade
    6. 6.  domestic abuse and bad husbands resulted from alcohol consumption, concern for children, women in charge of finances - men were drinking away money The "Ladies of Logan" sing hymns in front of bars in aid of the temperance movement Copyright 1997 State Historical Society of Wisconsin
    7. 7.  By and large, Prohibition represented the desires of the Anglo-Saxon establishment. The typical prohibitionist was: A rural or small-town inhabitant Middle class Anglo-Saxon Evangelical Protestant Fearful of African-Americans, immigrants, Jews, and Catholics Prohibitionists had various motivations for campaigning against alcohol. Most believed that drinking liquor was immoral. Others wanted to take away the power of the urban political machines. Still others used the movement as a springboard for their personal political ambitions. WCTU, Anti-Saloon League
    8. 8.  Anti-Saloon League - carried a hatchet - loved her popularity - ended up on vaudeville vote as you pray - anything your minister tells you is how you should act people pushing for prohibition are pietistic religions - how you live in everyday life has a moral meaning
    9. 9.  The entry of America into World War I aided greatly the cause of prohibition. War time hysteria against all things foreign linked prohibition to patriotism. Prohibitionist propaganda characterized the liquor industry as foreign-controlled and pointed out that German- Americans owned and managed many of the nations breweries. Centralization of government power. During WWI, the federal government took over railroads and factories, passed a conscription act, and curtailed liberty and free speech. As an outgrowth of this centralization of power in Washington, D. C., many Americans increasingly viewed the federal government as the upholder of American morality, temperance, and sobriety. In their minds, the federal government should limit individual freedoms for the sake of higher social responsibilities.
    10. 10.  18th Amendment prohibited the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages within the boundaries of the United States. Volstead Act of 1919, also known as the National Prohibition Enforcement Act, defined an alcoholic beverage as one with an alcoholic content greater than 0.5 percent.
    11. 11.  Nucky Johnson – “Boss of the Boardwalk” Atlantic City - thrives on Prohibition bc it was based on leisure idealized resort town, became a middle class resort town bc it was so close to Philadelphia already a system of corruption in place for supporting illegal activities when prohibition was enacted
    12. 12. In 1919, the sale of “intoxicating liquors” was banned. An end to Prohibition became a campaign issue for Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) during his first run for office in 1932. On this cover, a smiling F.D.R. watches as the Republicans’ “1920 model” gets a kick from the Democratic donkey, which is fed by votes. The song’s lyrics grew serious as they welcomed the demise of bootlegging and mobsters who had profited illegally during the liquor ban. Reproduction restricted due to copyright. L.E. Benner, music, and words. “Good-Bye Prohibition.” Minneapolis: Standard Publishing, 1932. Music Division, Library of Congress (48)
    13. 13.  21st Amendment diverse factions oppose prohibition immediately  self-interested brewers, distillers, and unions, libertarians, and advocates of states’ rights crime erupted with prohibition  women and progressive reformers change their minds (including Rockefeller)  despite support for Prohibition, Hoover (Quaker) agreed to investigate it catastrophic event  like WWI, the stock market crash and he Depression created an urgency and surge of support to change the amendment - needs the money from the taxes on alcohol, need the jobs that liquor making brings, farmers could produce grain needed to make liquor, needs the solace that it provides people
    14. 14.  A Dr Seuss cartoon from 1942, attacking the "drys" who wanted to use the Second World War as an excuse to reinstate Prohibition.  "Aunt Carrie" is a reference to Carrie Nation, the turn of the century prohibition activist known for taking a hatchet to bars and saloons.  The camel was used  by opponents as a symbol of prohibition groups (the "drys") such as the Womans Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Anti- Saloon league. Cartoon from The Dr. Seuss Collection in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego (link opens new window)