Why Did Prohibition Fail

Why did prohibition fail? There was a national amendment. A large number of Americans became lawbreakers. There are some similarities to those who use illegal drugs today.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Prohibition failed for a variety of reasons.  Let us examine some of the most important of these.

One reason Prohibition failed is that it did not have enough support in the public.  Not enough people thought it was wrong for them to drink.  It is true that an amendment was passed, but the fact that the amendment passed did not necessarily mean that all Americans, or even most Americans, believed that drinking was wrong.  Many Americans did believe that all drinking was wrong.  However, many others believed, for example, that other people’s drinking was bad while their own was benign.  In other words, they might have believed that the immigrant workers who drank in saloons had problems but that it was okay if they themselves had a drink or two with dinner at a restaurant.  Because many Americans did not believe that their own drinking was wrong, they did not stop.  Alcohol consumption is believed to have dropped to about 30% of what it had been before Prohibition, but it did not entirely stop.

Another reason Prohibition failed is that it hurt governments economically.  Governments had gotten a lot of their money from taxes on alcohol.  After Prohibition, this source of revenue was gone.  This weakened support for Prohibition among political leaders.

A third reason Prohibition failed is that it was not well-enforced.  There were very few federal Prohibition agents, not enough to effectively patrol the whole country.  Police officers were also not well-paid during this time and were relatively easy to bribe.  The people running illegal alcohol operations had plenty of money with which to pay such bribes.  Because there were few federal agents, and because local police were often easily bribed, the law was not enforced very strongly.

Finally, Prohibition failed because it gave rise to tremendous amounts of organized crime.  With alcohol illegal, but still in demand, organized crime gangs arose to get alcohol to the people who wanted it.  The most prominent of these gangsters became very rich, and there was a great deal of gang violence in the streets.  This worried Americans and they came to believe that Prohibition was not worth it if it resulted in this rise of organized crime.

For all of these reasons, Prohibition failed even though there had been enough votes to pass the 18th Amendment.