What accounts for the success of the prohibition movement during the Progressive Era?
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To progressives, alcohol and the liquor business were associated with "bossism," (the reputation for corruption attached to political machines such as Tammany Hall) and special interests. Also, saloons in general held a bad reputation. It was easy to portray a man wasting his substance on strong drink in bar rooms while his children starved.
The progressive era was in itself an idealistic movement which crusaded for social justice and the elimination of child labor, poor working conditions, especially for women, urban political corruption and robber barons. The progressives believed that society would "progress" by eliminating these social ills. The temperance movement had been around for many years; but gained traction with the progressive movement, as alcohol could be easily portrayed as yet another social ill. The progressives were largely responsible for the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1913. It was not ratified until nine years later; but by that time most states had gone "dry" on their own initiative. Passage of the 18th Amendment was largely the work of the Anti Saloon League, which campaigned heavily against the evils of alcohol.
Nothing that the first post says is wrong, but this post does not address one of the major reasons for the success of the movement -- anti-immigrant feeling, particularly during WWI.
Drinking was associated with immigrants. It was seen as something that immigrants did to excess and something that made them unable to be as responsible as "native" Americans. Therefore, saloons and such needed to be closed so that immigrants would not get drunk, commit crimes, waste their money, and come to work drunk, all of which were seen as problems associated with drinking.
When WWI came around and anti-German feeling swelled, prohibition became more attractive. The main brewing companies were run by Germans and so support for prohibition became a sign of patriotism.
Thus, prohibition succeeded in part because drinking was associated with immigrants, and particularly with Germans, during a time when immigrants and Germans were viewed with suspicion.
Tacking on to post #3, prohibition was viewed as patriotic during World War I, as the barley, corn and wheat used to make beer and hard liquor could make bread and foodstuffs for the troops and war-torn Europe.
What many people forget about this time as well is that by the time the 18th Amendment was passed, much of the country already had prohibition. It had been passed at the local, county and state levels, a true grass roots movement. It is the only amendment to come from state conventions to Washington DC for approval instead of the other way around.
One of the aims of the Progressive Movement was to improve public health, and alcohol drinking was seen as a major impediment to the nation's health, especially to that of the men. It was women who felt this most dramatically and thus women who added fervently to the success of Prohibition as was evidenced by The Woman's Christian Temperance (alcoholic abstinence) Union.
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