Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America

by Edward Behr

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The story of the disastrous attempt to outlaw alcohol: “Informative and entertaining from start to finish” (Publishers Weekly).
A companion to the A&E show, this is a rip-roaring history of the US government’s attempt to end America’s love affair with liquor—which failed miserably. On January 16, 1920, America went dry thanks to the passage of the Volstead Act. For the next thirteen years, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the making, selling, or transportation of “intoxicating liquors”—heralding a new era of crime and corruption on all levels of society. Instead of eliminating alcohol, Prohibition spurred more drinking than ever before.
Formerly law-abiding citizens brewed moonshine, became rum-runners, and frequented speakeasies. Druggists, who could dispense “medicinal quantities” of alcohol, found their customer base exploding overnight. So many people from all walks of life defied the ban that Will Rogers famously quipped, “Prohibition is better than no liquor at all.” Here is the full, rollicking story of those tumultuous days, from the flappers of the Jazz Age and the “beautiful and the damned” who drank their lives away in smoky speakeasies to bootlegging gangsters—Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone—and the notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. In this “excellent and honest book,” journalist Edward Behr paints a portrait of an era that changed the country forever (The New York Times Book Review).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628721065
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: 05/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 261,953
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Edward Behr, a veteran journalist and war correspondent, was the author of several books, including The Last Emperor, Prohibition, and Hirohito: Behind the Myth. He died in 2007.

Read an Excerpt



There was a time in America when liquor was regarded as God's gift to mankind and a panacea for almost every type of ailment. The last half of the eighteenth century was "the most intemperate era in American history." The going price for a muscular slave was twenty gallons of whiskey; farmers found whiskey distillers gave them a far better price for grain than millers; and the "good creature of God" — aqua vitae, the very stuff of life — was food, medicine, and, even more than in Europe, the indispensable lubricant for civilized, enjoyable social intercourse.

From the time they were born, Americans acquired a taste for liquor: as babies, their bottles were laced with rum to keep them "pacified"; later, "able-bodied men, and women, too, for that matter, seldom went more than a few hours without a drink." Here is the Old American Encyclopedia (1830) describing pre-independence drinking habits:

A fashion at the South was to take a glass of whiskey, flavored with mint, soon after waking. ... At eleven o'clock, while mixtures, under various peculiar names — sling, toddy, flip, — solicited the appetite at the bar of the common tippling-shop, the offices of professional men and counting rooms dismissed their occupants for a half hour to regale themselves at a neighbor's or a coffee-house with punch. ... At the dinner hour ... whiskey and water curiously flavored with apples, or brandy and water, introduced the feast; whiskey or brandy and water helped it through; and whiskey or brandy without water secured its safe digestion. ... Rum, seasoned with cherries, protected against the cold; rum, made astringent with peach-nuts, concluded the repast at the confectioner's; rum, made nutritious with milk, prepared for the maternal office.

Most early settlers were hard drinkers, and while the Puritans preached against every form of pleasurable self-indulgence, they outlawed drunkenness, not drinking. This would have been unthinkable, for the Bible itself was full of references to the joys, and blessings, of liquor. The Book of Proverbs contains this eulogy, that would have been in its place on the wall behind every bar in the land: "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy heart. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more."

With this type of biblical leitmotif, it was no surprise that clergymen were among the biggest tipplers of all. At every house-call they were offered drinks, rum or cider was served almost continuously during their stay, and when they left they had to take a farewell drink for politeness' sake. Some clergymen made twenty such calls a day. No wonder a noted Temperance figure in Albany noted in 1857 that to his knowledge, "fifty percent of the clergy, within a circuit of 50 miles, died drunkards." The Reverend Leonard Woods, professor of theology at Andover Seminary, recalled in 1880 that among his acquaintances were at least forty ministers, "who were either drunkards, or so far addicted to drinking, that their reputation and usefulness were greatly impaired, if not utterly ruined."

City authorities invariably granted licenses to saloons close to churches, the rationale being that the priest and his flock would meet there between services. All ordinations, weddings, and especially funerals turned into prolonged drinking bouts, some of them phenomenal. In The Great Illusion Herbert Asbury cites the cost of liquid refreshment at a Virginia funeral at four thousand pounds of tobacco, and at a preacher's widow's funeral in Boston, the mourners put away over 51 gallons of Malaga. Any communal physical effort — whether harvesting, road-building, or wood-cutting — was an excuse for a binge. Workers' wages came, in part, in the form of liquor, and days off to get drunk were part of an unwritten agreement between employer and laborer.

The massive consumption of hard liquor had been a feature of "New Continent" life ever since the earliest colonization stages: as early as 1630, Peter Stuyvesant noted that "one quarter of New Amsterdam (as New York was then called) is devoted to houses for the sale of brandy, tobacco and beer." In pre-independence times, the colonies' judges were so frequently drunk at the bench that heavy fines were instituted for those proved incapable during court proceedings.

In some parts of rural America, liquor was used as currency, with prices displayed in terms of whiskey pints or gallons. Farm laborers, including slaves, got ample liquor rations. Kegs of whiskey, with tin cups attached, were at the disposal of ships' crews and passengers on flatboats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. There were barrels of rum on tap in shops for favored customers, and even court sessions were an excuse for drinking: the liquor consumed by judge and jury during proceedings was a legitimate court expense. With rum, applejack, and blackstrap (rum and molasses) a few pence a quart, eighteenth-century Americans, whether rich or poor, slaves or free men and women, appear to have gone through life in a semiperpetual alcoholic haze. In the early nineteenth century, Asbury noted, "so much rum was available in the Massachusetts metropolis that it sold at retail for fourpence a quart. West Indian rum, supposed to be better than the New England product, was only twopence more."

The New Continent passion for liquor reflected the settlers' own cultural origins — in no way was it sui generis. The early immigrants came from a land — Britain — where eighteenth-century pub owners routinely displayed the notice "Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for twopence." Hogarth's "Gin lane" immortalized the degradation of London's wretched "lumpen proletariat." Cheap gin first made its massive appearance in London in 1724, and became an immediate addiction (much like crack or heroin today) to wretched, underpaid, unrepresented slum dwellers, so much so that the "Gin Act," passed by Parliament, attempted to contain this plague — to little effect, for, as Henry Fielding, the writer and social reformer, noted in a pamphlet published in 1751, "should the drinking of this poison be continued at its present height, during the next twenty years, there will be by that time very few of the common people left to drink it." Some at least of Fielding's "common people," intent on a different, less miserable life, must later have joined the ranks of America's eighteenth-century settlers.

The taverns where Americans did their drinking were little different in their squalor from the inns described by eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century travelers in Europe, with the exceptions that at first rum, and not gin, was the staple liquor; that hard liquor and beer (not wine) prevailed; and that it was all absurdly inexpensive. At first no licenses of any kind were required, no taxes imposed. The only pro-viso was that, as in Europe, saloons and bars had to be lodging houses as well — all drinking establishments were expected to provide meals and living quarters. These were, almost invariably, as in Europe, on the sordid side.

Long before the Revolution, there were big differences between European and American attitudes as far as drinking practices were concerned. Temperance — and later, Prohibition issues — from the eighteenth century on, rapidly became "the most important question in American life." The reason why is still a matter for endless debate. The puritan ethic largely explains why the Temperance issue was to become a constant religious obsession. But perhaps the simple, largely overlooked answer is that unlike Europe there were no other major issues that warranted equal concern — no wars (until the Civil War), no major social upheavals, no immediate, overwhelming cause around which public opinion might be mobilized in the interests of justice and freedom. The Prohibition issue became America's lasting preoccupation largely by default.

New Continent saloon keepers had far more clout and from the start were far more involved in the political process than their European counterparts. This, too, was an example of the idiosyncratic social context of the land, where political ideology mattered far less than in Europe.

In America, from independence onward, the saloon keeper became a key figure in local politics. He delivered the vote — usually to the highest bidder, whose political views mattered far less than his personality, his prejudices, and the amount of jobs and money at his disposal. As John Adams, America's second president, wrote of saloons in his diary in 1760:

The worst effect of all [is that] these houses are become the nurseries of our legislators. An artful man, who has neither sense nor sentiment, may, by gaining a little sway among the rabble of a town, multiply taverns and dram-shops and thereby secure the votes of taverner and retailer and all; and the multiplication of taverns will make many, who may be induced to flip and rum, to vote for any man whatever.

This lasting connection between politics and liquor, predating the Prohibition era by 150 years, was what made American drinking habits unique. In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European literature, there are few references to the political clout of English publicans, or of French café or German Bierstube owners, though there are endless examples of European social, literary, and political groups meeting in drinking places, from Dr. Samuel Johnson's London pubs to Hitler's Munich Bier stub en.

The drinking habits of Americans in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries must be seen in this special social context. America was an overwhelmingly rural, vastly underpopulated country. Unlike Europe, it was not permanently wracked by bitter ideological conflicts (except for the issues culminating in the Civil War). The social and political life of small communities, scattered over a vast expanse of land, centered, far more than in Europe, around those twin meeting places, the church and the tavern, and it was no coincidence in an age devoid of radio, television, mass advertising, and mass-circulation newspapers that tavern keeper and preacher were key community opinion makers — influential figures whose views were taken seriously and discussed interminably. (The status of the saloon keeper would change in the second part of the nineteenth century, as increasingly they were foreign-born, reflecting the urban immigration waves that changed the composition of American society so dramatically from 1850 on.)

The early political clout of the tavern owner — and later of the brewing or liquor conglomerates that would take them over — was intolerable to idealists such as Adams. In a letter to a friend in 1811, he wrote:

I am fired with a zeal amounting to enthusiasm against ardent spirits, the multiplication of taverns, retailers, dram-shops and tippling houses, and grieved to the heart to see the number of idlers, thieves, sots and consumptive patients made for the physician in these infamous seminaries.

With time, drinking habits changed. Americans continued to drink inordinately, but, as also happened in Europe, rum and gin became working-class staples, whereas the wealthy indulged in increasingly fashionable Madeira, port, and Malaga. (Beer was not consumed in large quantities until much later, with the nineteenth-century arrival of German immigrants.) Hard cider had been a staple since the early eighteenth century, and whiskey made its first appearance about 1760 (the first distillers were in western Pennsylvania, but many farmers made their own). The Whiskey Rebellion occurred in 1794 when the federal government, discovering for the first time the milch-cow opportunity of liquor taxation as a source of revenue, imposed a small excise tax on distilled spirits. The "whiskey war" was brutally put down by the militia. Although the farmers eventually paid the tax, "every family in Western Pennsylvania operated its own (illegal) still."

In 1810, the total population of the United States was still only slightly above the 7 million mark, and though statistics were, by today's standards, primitive, they reveal that per capita consumption of liquor was huge. According to a report published in 1814 by the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance (one of the first of the Temperance movements), "the quantity of ardent spirits consumed in the country surpasses belief." Over 25 million gallons were consumed locally, it claimed, but

considering the caution with which accounts of property are rendered to government through fear of taxation; considering also the quantities distilled in private families ... there is a high probability that millions might be added to the account rendered by the marshals. Let it stand, however, as it is, and add to it eight million gallons of distilled spirits in the same year imported, and the quantity for home consumption amounts to 33,365,559 gallons (or 4.7 gallons per person).

Another Temperance society (Connecticut, May 19, 1830) reported that "in one of the most moral and regular towns of Lichtfield County, whose population is 1,586, the amount of distilled liquors retailed during the last ten years has been 36,400 gallons." Later reports from other local temperance societies claimed that the "1,900 inhabitants of Dudley, Massachusetts, drank ten thousand gallons of rum" and that "the population of Salisbury, Connecticut, consumed 29.5 gallons of rum for each of its thirty-four families" in 1827. According to the Albany (New York) Temperance Society, its 20,000 inhabitants (in 1829) "consumed 200,000 gallons of ardent spirits" — ten gallons a head of what must have been mostly whiskey, rum, or gin. The average (white, adult, male) yearly per capita consumption, in the years 1750-1810, has been roughly estimated at between ten and twelve gallons of "ardent spirits."

Long before American independence, local authorities and their London masters made sporadic efforts to reduce the scale of drinking, with little success. In theory, regulations abounded: drinking shops could serve only limited quantities to each customer, who could remain there for only an hour or two (both times and quantities varied from place to place). However, the rules were rarely enforced. In Massachusetts, habitual offenders were pilloried, and made to wear hair shirts inscribed with a large D or the word Drunkard.

In Georgia, when drinking assumed such alarming proportions that news of it reached London, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1734 enforcing Prohibition (though beer was exempt), and a ban on exports of rum and brandy to Georgia, regarded by London's colonial authorities as the most turbulent part of the colony, was put into effect. Effective in 1735, it lasted eight years and was only rescinded in 1743 after reports reached London that Georgian farmers were abandoning their crops to concentrate on moonshining, and that contraband liquor from South Carolina was entering Georgia on a huge scale. This earliest Prohibition experiment revealed, in this Georgian microcosm, almost all of Prohibition's inherent failings: bootlegging and moonshining apart, Georgian juries systematically refused to convict offenders, and some colonial enforcers of the law took bribes to look the other way. Over a century and a half later, history would repeat itself on a much vaster scale.

From the very earliest settler times, a small minority of Temperance activists tried to fight the tide. These were invariably Puritan leaders, such as Increase Mather and his more famous son Cotton, whose concern was less the physical than the religious health of their parishioners, Increase Mather preaching, for instance, in 1673, that "the flood of excessive drinking will drown Christianity." But even Cotton Mather was unable to fight the tide completely: at a "private fast" in Boston, he noted in his journal, after prayers, "some biskets, and beer, cider and wine were passed round."

The Methodists were to become the avant-garde of the Temperance movement, but their use of the word excessive was significant: social drinking was so prevalent that outright Prohibition was unthinkable, except to a few mavericks. So strong were the rules of social behavior that even the most abstemious preachers found it difficult to refuse a drink. Increase Mather himself put it eloquently in his sermons: "Wine is from God but the drunkard is from the devil."

The most revered American of all, George Washington, was no role model for Temperance activists. A notorious drinker — in his first few months as president, about one fourth of his household expenses were spent on liquor — he may well, if his generals' testimony is to be believed, have conducted part of the war against the British in an alcoholic haze, for, as General Marvin Kilman, a commander in the Continental Army, was to write, "Much of George Washington's continuing good cheer and famed fortitude during the long years of the war, caused to some extent by his overly cautious tactics, may have come from the bottle."


Excerpted from "Prohibition"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Edward Behr.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1 The Good Creature of God 7

2 Fervor and Fanaticism 21

3 The Women's War 35

4 The Lineup 45

5 Prohibition's First Victims 63

6 America Goes Dry 77

7 The Providers 91

8 Harding and the Racketeers 105

9 Remus Unravels 121

10 The Adventurers 129

11 "Prohibition Works!" 147

12 "Prohibition Doesn't Work!" 161

13 Chicago 175

14 Remus on Trial 195

15 Remus Redux 209

16 A Fatal Triumph 221

17 The Aftermath 237

Notes 245

Bibliography 251

Index 253


Early one fine autumn morning -- October 6, 1927 -- a stocky, middle-aged man named George Remus ordered George Klug, his driver, to overtake a taxi in Cincinnati's Eden Park. He had been tailing it ever since it had left the Alms Hotel with its two women passengers. After driving alongside, and motioning it to stop -- it failed to do so -- Remus got the driver to swerve suddenly, forcing the taxi off the road.

The cabdriver swore and hit the brakes, barely avoiding a collision, and the two women were shaken nearly off their seats. The older one, Imogene, was Remus's wife, and she was on her way to her divorce court hearing. By today's standards, she was distinctly on the stocky side, but her opulent figure, ample curves, and huge, gray-green eyes were typical beauty canons of the time, and her clothes -- a black silk dress, patent leather black shoes, and black cloche hat from Paris -- identified her as a woman of means. The younger woman, her daughter Ruth by an earlier marriage, was a slightly dumpy twenty-year-old.

As Ruth would later tell the court, at Remus's trial, Imogene gasped, "There's Remus," when she first spotted the overtaking car. Imogene got out of the stationary cab as Remus emerged from his car, a gun in his right hand (the defense later challenged this evidence, for Remus was left-handed). Ruth recounted: "He hit her on the head with his fist." Imogene said, "Oh, Daddy, you know I love you, you know I love you!" Remus turned to Ruth. "She can't get away with that," he snarled.

Imogene shrieked, "For God's sake, don't do it!" as Ruth, also spotting the gun, shouted, "Daddy, what are you going to do?" Then Imogene screamed, "Steve [the taxi driver], for God's sake, come over and help me!" But the driver stayed put. He heard George Remus shout, "Damn you, you dirty so-and-so bitch, damn you, I'll get you."

Imogene then rushed back into the cab, pursued by Remus. That was when he shot her, once in the stomach. She had the strength to get out of the other side of the car, running, her hands above her head, with Remus still in pursuit. She then got into another car, which had come to a halt behind the stalled taxicab, and collapsed.

Rather than confront the driver, Remus walked away. Shortly afterward, he gave himself up. As the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote the following day (October 7, 1927), "Thus did the much tangled domestic affairs of George Remus, once the multi-millionaire bootlegger king of Cincinnati, come to a sudden -- and dramatic -- climax."

The trial of George Remus for his wife's murder -- and its spectacular conclusion -- became the 1920s equivalent of the O. J. Simpson case. Reporters arrived from all over the United States, Canada, and even Europe -- a special press room was set aside for them in the tiny courthouse. Proceedings were reported extensively in newspapers nationwide, the Cincinnati Enquirer running an almost verbatim account of the trial, from beginning to end.

George Remus would have remained an obscure Chicago criminal lawyer with an interest in law reform and a passionate opposition to the death penalty had Prohibition not turned him, in the space of four years, into a megastar millionaire. His crime passionnel stemmed not only from this sudden change in fortune, but from Imogene's sudden passion for Remus's nemesis, handsome young Justice Department agent Franklin Dodge, and her own considerable greed. Overwhelmingly, American men sided with George Remus, and even many staid, middle-class American matrons felt that Imogene "had had it coming to her."

For all the sordid details revealed during the trial, enabling Remus to present his case as an avenger rather than a murderer, Prohibition itself was the real culprit. Had there been no Volstead Act, he told the court, "I would not be here." The "greatest social experiment of modern times," as President Calvin Coolidge described it, brought with it irresistible temptations in the wake of unprecedented corruption.

The story of George and Imogene Remus is all part of that "noble experiment." George Remus's background, as a German-born "new American," was relevant to the unprecedented (and, to most Europeans, at least, deluded) attempt at the regulation of social behavior, for with hindsight, the Prohibition phenomenon can be seen not just as a well-meaning, albeit absurd, attempt to stamp out drunkenness, then regarded as society's most devastating scourge (graver even than TB, the other great affliction of the time, for it affected the mind as well as the body), but as a watershed marking the end of one American era and the beginning of another.

Beyond the debate on the rights of reformers to regulate social behavior by force, restricting individual freedom in the name of better health, morality, and godliness, Prohibition was the rearguard action of a still dominant, overwhelmingly rural, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment, aware that its privileges and natural right to rule were being increasingly threatened by the massive arrival of largely despised (and feared) beer-swilling, wine-drinking new American immigrants.

Old-established Americans, most of them Protestants, of overwhelmingly British lineage, regarded themselves as the natural guardians of traditional values, and were determined to maintain their moral and religious standards by almost any means. They were also intent on preserving their own considerable privileges. As historian Andrew Sinclair later wrote, the Prohibitionists' victory in 1920, turning the whole of the country dry, was "the final victory of the defenders of the American past. On the rock of the 18th Amendment, village America made its last stand."

America's Marxists, a very small minority even in the heyday of Marxism, saw Prohibition in a very different light. For them it was a deliberate attempt on the part of the "dominant bourgeoisie" to duck the real issues -- poverty, slum housing, economic exploitation of all kinds -- using the Prohibition campaign as a pretext to deflect attention from the fact that the working classes were paying a huge price for the American industrial revolution. They argued that the ideals the Prohibitionists considered most important -- godliness, industry, sobriety, thrift -- were deliberately, and with consummate hypocrisy, advocated to compel the underprivileged to accept their fate and inferior status. Sobriety was simply a "plutocratic weapon" employers used to make wage slaves work harder and faster on the factory assembly lines. The underlying assumption was that if the workers refrained from drink, their one easily available pleasure, they could then get by on their miserable wages.

The story of Imogene and George Remus, and of their nemesis, Prohibition -- in retrospect one of the greatest of American disasters, and in its day "without a doubt the most important question in American life" -- is oddly relevant today. In its simplistic determination to strike at the root of a "social evil" without any thought of the consequences, or of the means required to enforce it, Prohibition was a striking example of the American propensity to believe that society was infinitely malleable and that all it would take to rid America of its blemishes and turn it into a promised land would be a few well-meaning laws.

It also embodied a number of righteous beliefs -- in the perfectibility of human nature and the legitimacy of the moral imperative to improve the health and well-being of the masses whether they liked it or not -- that revealed a perennial American naiveté of the type embodied by successive generations of idealist-politicians.

The persistence and skill with which the architects of Prohibition pleaded their cause over most of a century, winning state after state until an overwhelming majority in Congress voted for the Eighteenth Amendment, was a textbook example of successful lobbying. All practitioners of that art have since, consciously or unconsciously, emulated the tactics of the Anti-Saloon League and its ruthless legal adviser and political power broker Wayne Wheeler. But the incompetence that followed was equally exemplary -- as if the very politicians who had brought Prohibition into being were determined to do everything in their power to ensure its failure.

Despite its almost risible collapse, Prohibition's lessons are valuable -- and have still not been learned. Some of its methods were strikingly similar to those used today to fight drug abuse, with equally disappointing results, and today's controversy over drugs could, with only minor semantic changes, apply to the Prohibition controversy almost a century ago. "Prohibition is what makes drugs so profitable, yet the thought of legalizing their distribution, even with rigid controls and treatment programs, arouses the fear of infecting millions of addicts," wrote Max Frankel in the New York Times Sunday magazine recently. That fear, if valid, explains the central dilemma expressed two years ago by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. "The nation's choice of policy," he wrote -- legalization or prohibition -- "offers a choice of outcomes." Neither alternative seemed to him entirely satisfactory: legalization entailed increased public health problems, whereas prohibition led to an enormous increase in crime. Identical concerns were expressed by equally-baffled social reformers as far back as 1890.

For all its outrageously intolerant overtones, its hypocrisy and double standards, Prohibition represented a genuine attempt to better the lives of people. That it did them instead untold harm -- that America has never fully recovered from the legacy of those thirteen years -- should come as no surprise. As history keeps telling us -- but do we ever listen? -- the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Excerpt copyright © 1996 by Edward Behr. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Arcade Publishing, Inc.

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Prohibition 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
I have learned I enjoy reading history. My family record reveals some “investment” by various family members in the production of whiskey - before, during and after prohibition. Most of those family members considered their making corn whiskey was not a crime but a means to feed their families in a region where “cash jobs” were few and subsistence farming often fell short of producing enough to sustain a large family through the lean months. Seeing this volume in a dealers’ store awoke a desire within me to learn more about this era in American history that is largely shrouded in myth, distorted by the entertainment media and not a period covered in my educational past. I am glad I read this work, as it lifted some of the darkness around this time in history. For a volume that is as thin as is this one, the book is surprisingly thorough in its detail. The first four chapters are background to the how and why of prohibition in America. There was an active movement to ban alcohol from the United States early on in our past. In 1735, Parliament enacted Prohibition (except for beer) in Georgia due to the amount of alcohol consumed and the effect it had on productivity and health in that region, that law lasted until 1743. In 1814, a report was published that, in Massachusetts, each person drank, on average, 4.7 gallons of distilled spirits in that year. Americans, it seems, have always liked to drink alcohol. It was not until the religious community began to embrace the Temperance Movement that it the idea of Prohibition gained traction. In 1830 “churches began equating drunkenness with damnation, abstinence with salvation.” (p.22). This idea was “supported” by tales of alcohol causing “spontaneous combustion” in drinkers, in addition to a host of other physical and mental disorders. Because of this energy, alcohol quickly became a religious rather than a political or social problem. Had it not been for the focus upon the Civil War in the 1850’s, Prohibition would have occurred decades earlier. The final push for establishing the 18th Amendment was caused by women organizing and taking action (often very physical action) against “demon rum.” The Volstead Act was doomed to failure very nearly from the start. Law enforcement was ill-prepared for the lengths to which individuals would go to continue drinking. The statutes connected to the Act were so vague that enforcement was close too impossible. The money that could be made in the production, distribution and selling of alcohol was too great for there not to have been a well-organized alliance to supply alcohol as it was in higher demand after Prohibition than it was before. This demand was sparked by the illicitness now attached to an action that had been routine for generations. “It became the thing to do, among students, flappers, and respectable middle-class Americans all over the country, to defy the law – as much a manifestation of personal liberty as a thirst for alcohol.” (p. 89) The largest supplier of alcohol during the early days of Prohibition was George Remus, a lawyer, pharmacist and entrepreneur who made Cincinnati THE place for liquor distribution in North America; he did so by buying the whiskey from the U. S. Government!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hopefully, once and for all, this country has seen enough bloodshed to last a lifetime in the form of Prohibition in which corruption of the Prohibition Bureau, local cops,politicians (the worst of the breed) judges, juries,gangsters and the common public was so rampant that it walked in common toe against the status quo of the puritanical ways of church-goes, the KKK and women who crusaded against the 'noble experiment.' The hypocrisy that was the Volstead Act led to the most sweeping cultural, political, sexual, drugs, corruption, and gangland violence change that still permeates this country. May Harding and Wheeler rest in slavery equal to Hell. It was a sea-change, sometimes literally with rumrunners and the criminals they were helping like the indomitable George Remus and mythic Al Capone. I was fascinated that Cincinnati played such a huge part in Prohibition, since not much else has happened to the Queen City besides Manson, Doris Day, Cincinnati Zoo, and of course, the Reds. Glad we put something on the map!