Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
A brilliant, authoritative, and fascinating history of America’s most puzzling era, the years 1920 to 1933, when the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict one of America’s favorite pastimes: drinking alcoholic beverages.
From its start, America has been awash in drink. The sailing vessel that brought John Winthrop to the shores of the New World in 1630 carried more bee...more
The 18th Amendment also known as The Volstead Act tried to do something that politicians have been trying to do since the founding of the nation. It tried to legislate morality. Its a fact that before Prohibition Americans drank a lot and new Americans drank even more than most, but the 18th Amendment sought to punish everyone for the personal failings of some and in the process made things worse.
Here's a small list of things(both good and bad)that Prohibition gave us: Orga ...more
Daniel Okrent weaves a brilliant tapestry of the many threads that brought the 18th Amendment into being. But this is not [AHEM!] a dry read. It's full of lively, often astonishing characters like the indomitable Carrie Nation who carried a hammer around, smashed up saloon after saloon and launche ...more
The bottom line of prohibition is that is was a massive failure. It singlehandedly created organized crime, cost the government lots of money in lost taxes and enforcement, and failed to stop pretty much anyone from drinking.
I found the history of alcohol consumption in the U.S. to be of particular interest. See the following link to a graph showing the history of U.S. Alcohol Consumption:
LINK: U.S. Alcohol Consumption
After looking at the above graph one might wonder if our founding fathers were drunk. Up until 1839 Americans were drinking about three times the alcohol that is currently consumed per capita. This book suggests that the primary reason for the drop off after 1839 was the shift to drinking beer rather than distilled liquor due largely to German immigrants, and to the beginning of the Washingtonian Movement (proponents of temperance but not necessarily prohibition).
Another reason for high alcohol consumption then was cheap prices and abundant supply for distilled liquors. The abundant supply was caused by the farmers out west (beyond the Appalachian Mountain Range) having plenty of grain but nobody to sell it to. There was no economical way to transport the grain to eastern markets at a time before canals, developed roads and river boats. Converting a wagon load of grain into a couple jugs of liquor made shipment of a marketable product back east much more feasible. Thus there was a surplus of liquor which resulted in low prices.
Those of you who remember your American history lessons will recall President Washington's problems with the Whiskey Rebellion. That was caused by the Federal Government taxing the whiskey being brought over the mountains from the west. Alexander Hamilton justified the whiskey tax as being fair because it was a commodity that was purchased by almost everybody.
It took an incredible confluence of interests to permit the passage of the 18th Amendment. Many today may forget that it was not just a law, it was actually a part of the Constitution. Getting an amendment added to the Constitution is not an easy thing to do. Then once it's passed, getting the amendment removed is just as difficult as passage was in the first place. This books tells the history of how this all happened.
Some things I learned from this book:
1. Reapportionment as called for in the Constitution following each census did not take place following the 1920 Census until 1929. Why the delay? Everyone knew that reapportionment was going to reduce the influence of western rural states that just happened to be the strongest supporters of Prohibition.
2. Prohibition supporters included some strange bed-fellows ranging from northern progressives to the Klu Klux Klan. (The Klu Klux Klan had significant growth of members in the northern states during this era because of its anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant positions.)
3. If you were a supporter of Prohibition in 1920 you most likely were White Anglo-Saxon Protestant living in a rural part of the country.
4. If you were opposed to Prohibition in 1920 you were likely to be Catholic, of Irish or Italian ancestry, a first or second generation immigrant, and living in an urban area.
5. The Prohibition movement was a significant cause for the initiation of the income tax in the United States. It was needed to make up the difference from the lost revenue from taxing booze.
The failure of prohibition is perhaps an indication of the folly of trying to legislate morality against the will of a large portion of the population. There are still plenty of people around who still want to do it today in other ways.
The following link is to an excerpt that discusses American intoxication in the early 1800s. It's taken from another book.
But Wheeler is not the only prohibition-era titan to have utterly vanished from our national memory. There was Frances Willard, “immortal foun ...more
Though the anecdotes regarding bootleggers and rum runners are entertainin ...more
The political maneuvering and the influence of pressure groups such as the Anti-Saloon League,the Wo ...more
Okrent's insights regarding the rise and fall of prohibition ...more
The movement for Prohibition made for some odd bedfellows. It came hand-in-ha ...more
"The story of the War on Alcohol has never needed to be told more urgently—because its grandchild, the War on Drugs, shares the same DNA. Okrent alludes to the parallel only briefly, on his final page, but it hangs over the book like old booze-fumes — and proves yet again Mark Twain's dictum: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
With the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1921, the dysfunctions of Prohibition began. When yo ...more
Carrie Nation: The Famous and Original Bar Room Smasher
Agent M.T. Gonzaulles: The Lone Wolf of Texas
Agent William R. Hervey: The Kokomo Schoolmaster
Agent Samuel Kurtzman: The Plague of the North
Agent Al Wolff: Wallpaper (because when he raided a joint, he packed up everything but the wallpaper)
Agent Daisy Simpson: The Woman with a Hundred Disguis ...more
It's organized into 3 parts:
First: It starts with the very beginning of the dry movement, explains how in order for the 'dries' to get prohibition passed they needed to first ensure that women had the vote (since women and children were often the ones hurt by their husbands' alcoholism); it explains how World War I with its anti-German and antisemitic prejudices helped to move the movement forward (since mos ...more