prohibition

prohibition, legal prevention of the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages, the extreme of the regulatory liquor laws. The modern movement for prohibition had its main growth in the United States and developed largely as a result of the agitation of 19th-century temperance movements. Historians have pointed out that alcohol consumption rose dramatically in the 19th cent., particularly as waves of immigrants moved to America's cities, many opening saloons in their new homes. To some degree the movement to ban alcohol was the result of a social backlash by America's small-town white Protestant population against the urban immigrants and the changes attendant to their new culture. A number of states passed temperance laws in the early part of the century, but most of them were soon repealed. A new wave of state prohibition legislation followed the creation (1846–51) of a law in Maine, the first in the United States. Thus, emphasis shifted from advocacy of temperance to outright demand for government prohibition. Chief of the forces in this new and effective approach was the Anti-Saloon League. Prohibition had become a national political issue, with a growing Prohibition party and support from a number of rural, religious, and business groups.

The drive was given impetus in World War I, when conservation policies limited liquor output. After the war national prohibition became the law, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution forbidding the manufacture, sale, import, or export of intoxicating liquors. In spite of the strict Volstead Act (1919) (see under Volstead, A. J.), law enforcement proved to be very difficult. Smuggling on a large scale (see bootlegging) could not be prevented, and the illicit manufacture of liquor sprang up with such rapidity that authorities were unable to suppress it. There followed a period of unparalleled illegal drinking (often of inferior and dangerous beverages) and lawbreaking on a large and organized scale. Meanwhile, speakeasies flourished and provided a new venue for sexually integrated social interaction. In 1933 the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing prohibition, was ratified. A number of states, counties, and other divisions maintained full or partial prohibition under the right of local option. By 1966 no statewide prohibition laws existed. Prohibition laws were passed in Finland, the Scandinavian countries, and most of Canada after World War I, but were repealed, partly because of serious consequences to the countries' commerce with wine-exporting nations.

See Report on the Enforcement of the Prohibition Laws (1931) by the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (Wickersham Commission); C. Warburton, The Economic Results of Prohibition (1932, repr. 1969); H. Asbury, The Great Illusion (1950, repr. 1968); A. Sinclair, Prohibition, the Era of Excess (1962); J. H. Timberlake, Jr., Prohibition and the Progressive Movement (1963); J. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade (1963); H. Waters, Smugglers of Spirits (1971); J. Kobler, Ardent Spirits (1973); D. Okrent, Last Call (2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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