Why was Prohibition repealed? 

Why was Prohibition repealed?


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jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Prohibition Act of 1920, which illegalized the sale, distribution, and manufacture of liquor, was repealed in 1933. The act was ratified as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, becoming the Eighteenth Amendment. The Twenty-First Amendment then repealed the Eighteenth.

Prohibition was repealed because it was very difficult to enact. The prohibition of the legal sale, distribution, and manufacture of liquor did not quell the public's appetite for it. On the contrary, that thirst was quenched by organized criminal syndicates. Many of history's best-known mobsters, including Al Capone, got a great deal of their business from selling liquor. 

When criminals take over a trade that is as lucrative as the liquor business, they use violence to eliminate their competition. Their competitors became their murder victims. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, led by Capone, is the most notorious example of a criminal syndicate trying to rid itself of competition in the liquor market. We can compare this with the violence we see today between drug gangs and cartels.

Speakeasies also sprang up in the 1920s. These were bars and nightclubs placed in locations where one would not expect for there to be a bar or a nightclub, such as, perhaps, an old warehouse. The name "speakeasy" is derived from the act of uttering a password to a guard from outside the door before being allowed entry.

Speakeasies were relatively safe spaces in which one could party and drink. In some instances, they were also managed by mobsters, in others, by "bootleggers." A number of businessmen in the 1920s became quite wealthy from operating speakeasies, which was considered a shameful way to make one's fortune. Bootlegging was one of Joseph Kennedy, Sr.'s many enterprises. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby's nemesis, Tom Buchanan, accuses the protagonist of acquiring his fortune through bootlegging.

There were also plenty of people neither involved in organized crime nor with speakeasies who made liquor at home. The "hootch" or "bathtub gin" that they produced was usually for their own consumption, or for that of family and friends.

The fact that there were so many people involved in either the manufacture, sale, or distribution of liquor meant that many people were arrested and imprisoned for the crime, though most offenders were non-violent. This drove up the cost of law enforcement, as more police officers, jails, and prisons were required to deal with offenders.

Another, albeit more minor, reason why Prohibition ended is that, by the late 1920s, popular support for Prohibition had waned. Initially, the cause was championed by temperance groups with both religious and moderate members. All were concerned about the negative social impacts of alcoholism and drunkenness: violence, particularly that which was directed at women and children by alcoholic husbands and fathers, homelessness, the street harassment and rape of women, and various preventable illnesses.

Secondly, a decade after the Eighteenth Amendment was enacted, the temperance movement had been overtaken by religious zealots and nativists -- that is, bigots who tried to keep immigrants out of the country.

Overall, the main reason why Prohibition did not last is probably because it is very difficult to legislate human behavior when that behavior poses no direct threat to anyone else. People wanted to drink, so they found ways to do so. In trying to legislate that desire, the government invited more crime, caused more tax expenditures, and, ultimately, did nothing to convince people to stop drinking.