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Joseph Kaminski

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August 21, 2017

Why Did the Prohibition Movement Gain Support Between 1900 and 1920?


Prohibition Poster

Cardboard Prohibition poster urging a “No” vote on liquor by indicating the harmful effects on families with children. — Image by © David J. and Janice L. Frent Collection/Corbis

The temperance movement, which at its peak was known as the prohibition movement, discouraged the use and consumption of alcoholic beverages throughout the United Sates.

Since the use of alcohol was often associated with poverty and insanity, considerable social ills throughout the states, reform movements oftentimes had temperance within their platforms. The prohibition movement didn’t necessarily advocate or emphasize prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic drinks, but by the latter half of the 19th century local and state levels allowed for the concept of temperance to reach a new level. Prohibition would become a national movement by the 20th century.

The prohibition movement managed to gain support through progressive reforms, as it was concerned with the “moral fabrics” of society. Primarily supported by the middle class, it was aimed at controlling the interests of liquor distillers and their connections with corrupt politicians throughout all levels of legislative and executive government. The overall hatred for Irish and German immigrants also fueled the prohibition movement, as most breweries were owned by said races.

As America entered the Great War, prohibition became much more noticeable. In 1918, Congress passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution – which completely prohibited all sectors of the trade for alcohol. From manufacturing, transporting, selling, or consuming alcoholic beverages, the states agreed to ratified the amendment within less than a year.

The effort to conserve materials that were necessary, led by Herbert Hoover in an attempt to create rations for the American people during a time of dire need, eventually led to the initial widespread popularity the movement needed to keep the amendment under the law. However, the enforcement of prohibition soon became difficult, as the idea of making something illegal increases profits tenfold. Hoodlums and gangsters become increasingly powerful, trafficking alcohol from the Caribbean and Canada to America. By the 1930s, the majority of Americans had grown tired of the “noble experiment”, as described by Herbert Hoover, as had the 18th Amendment repealed. Thus, the attempt to control the morals of American society through conserving materials, oppressing immigrant races through businesses, and ending the low-life societal concerns revolving around alcohol soon fell onto the wrong side of history.

temperance movement

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