What led to the prohibition of alcohol in the United States?
Prohibition in the United States came as a result of a decades-long movement to ban or limit the consumption of alcohol. The movement began before the Civil War, at a moment when reform movements were beginning to confront some of the problems that faced a rapidly urbanizing America. Their concerns dovetailed nicely with the desire of capitalists to more strictly regulate their workers' habits in the newly developing factories that dotted the Northeast.
For a time before the Civil War, some states in the Northeast experimented with prohibition by refusing to license saloons and taverns. Thes laws were difficult to enforce, however, and quickly faded away. But the movement would take on a new life with the Progressive movement of the late nineteenth century. Drinking excessively had always been associated with immigrants, especially Irish immigrants, and the cessation of drinking among poor immigrants became a major focus of those middle-class nineteenth century reformers who sought to improve their lives. It was during the late nineteenth century that the anti-alcohol movement went nationwide. The Prohibition Party candidate received more than two million votes in the 1892 election, and the powerful interest group the Anti-Saloon League was formed one year later.
In the face of a new wave of eastern and southern European immigrants, the Anti-Saloon League skillfully lobbied politicians at the local, state and national levels to pass anti-liquor laws. Many Western states entered the Union as dry states, and Congress passed a law against the production of liquor as a wartime measure during World War I. In the aftermath of the war the Anti-Saloon League persuaded Congress to pass a Prohibition Amendment that prohibited all alcoholic beverages, not just liquor as many Americans had expected. Nevertheless, through relentless lobbying, they secured passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, and the Volstead Act of the same year was enacted to enforce the amendment.