What were the causes of Prohibition in the US?What were the causes of Prohibition in the US?

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brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The movement towards Prohibition started back in the mid-1800s, among religious Americans and women's groups like the WCTU, and it happened primarily because alcohol was the nation's largest drug problem of the time.  Americans drank much more in those days than they do now, and the effect this had on the family, on family finances, and on domestic violence (not illegal at the time) was devastating in many cases.  So groups organized around the idea it was a Christian movement, that temperance, or avoidance of alcohol, was a conservative social value, and that they were addressing the biggest drug problem we had.

This was accelerated by immigration, as mentioned above, since many recent immigrants from Europe saw no issue with alcohol, and people in northern cities responded with more availability, more saloons.  The Anti-Saloon League joined with the WCTU largely because of this.

The last push Prohibition needed was World War I.  Since it took millions of pounds of barley to make beer each day, people believed Prohibition was an act of patriotism, and the barley could be made into millions of loaves of bread instead, for our soldiers and for the suffering populations of Europe.  The 18th Amendment was ratified soon after war's end.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of course, there were a lot of causes of the prohibition movement in the US.  I'll mention the two I think most significant:

  1. The power of women.  Women (especially the middle class women involved in Progressive causes like settlement houses) believed that alcohol was a cause of the abuse of women and children in poor families.  They thought that prohibition would stop men from beating their wives and from wasting their money on alcohol.
  2. Anti-immigrant sentiment.  Drinking was associated with immigrant groups and was, therefore, unpopular.  This was especially true as WWI got under way and Americans became more anti-German (most of the big brewers were of German descent).
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is interesting to compare the situation with prohibition with other problems that the US faces today, such as drug use. However, I am sure that any "solution" will be very different from the Prohibition Laws. For me, the immigration issue is key - some immigrant groups were used to drinking a lot as part of their culture, which went in the face of the White American Christian lobby, who tended to view alcohol as, metaphorically, the "root of all evil", which added pressure to bring about the Prohibition laws. Likewise the power of women already alluded to was key - their perception of the negative impact of alcohol on the family was another spur.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My understanding has always been that the driving force behind Prohibition was the Women's Christian Temperance Union. The WCTU's campaign against the legal sale of alcohol was fierce and unrelenting.

Abuse of alcohol by men had a devastating impact on their families, because men were the breadwinners. It was extremely difficult for a wife to manage, even with a job, if her husband was an alcoholic and drank away his paycheck. This practical impact, coupled with the sincere efforts by churches to mitigate the effects of "demon rum," was one of the driving forces that galvanized women to campaign for Prohibition.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All excellent points and analysis.  I would only add my emphasis to the religious aspect of this movement.  It's true that families, finances, and physical safety were sacrificed for the "demon rum."  It's also true that women were often forced to become the heads of their homes, shouldering responsibility in a world where they had minimal rights either by law or by practice.  Where did they turn for help?  The church, of course.  The problem was not necessarily a spiritual one, but help often came from the church and it became a rallying point from which to fight the "evil" of alcohol.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Puritanical culture of Early America retained its hold and was a driving force for the women in the push for prohibition. This stranglehold yet exists in the Southeast where there are still "dry" counties and churches that absolutely forbid drinking of any kind.  Alcoholic beverages are perceived as sources of evil.  (Ironically, the largest percentage of alcoholics are in the Southeast.)

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When looking back and thinking about this time in history it is amazing that a group of women were avle to be sucha driving force. At this time they were also fighting for their right to vote.

epollock | Student

Prohibition was basically caused by the views that immigrants and other "non-Americans" were consuming most of the alcohol, and prominent women's groups also played a huge role, though probably not as much as others. It would be hard to say that most women were taken seriously in this era, though they were getting more rights as the years went on.

krishna-agrawala | Student

Prohibition means legal ban on drinking of alcoholic beverages.  In the USA it als0 refers to a period in the history when such laws were in force.

In the USA, an amendment  introducing prohibition was added to the Constitution in 1920.  This amendment was abolished in 1933.  It is the only amendment to the U.S. Constitution that has ever been repealed.

In 1820's people in the United States were drinking, on average very large quantities of alcoholic beverages, This raised concern among some doctors and ministers about damage to people's health and moral behaviour. Such people, at first advocated temperance, but later tried to end the use of alcohol.  In response to this during the 1850's, about a dozen states passed prohibition laws, led by Maine in 1851.

Support for prohibition declined after the Civil War began in 1861.  To revive support for prohibition a number of organizations to promote liquor reform were established starting from 1869. These organisation and other social reformers blamed Alcohol fro may ill such as poverty, health problems, neglect by husbands of their wives and children, and reduced safety and productivity of workmen. Also many people considered drinking as immoral. During 1900's some felt that drinking was excessive among new immigrants and wanted to control the same.

Between 1880 and 1914, many states adopted either statewide, or local-option prohibition.  In December 1917, the U.S. Congress approved the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, transportation, import, and export of "intoxicating liquors."  This Amendment came into effect in 1920.