Temperance & Prohibition: When the U.S. went dry

There was a time in the United States when many religious groups spoke out about alcohol consumption in the country. These powerful groups believed that alcohol was the work of the devil, and that it needed to be stopped in order to save the country. These groups were part of a temperance movement that begin in the late 1800's and carried forward into the early 1900's. The supporters of the temperance movement became so vocal that they convinced the government to prohibit the sale, distribution and consumption of alcohol. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was the National Prohibition Act, was signed on January 16, 1919 and went into effect on January 16, 1920, and the United States was a dry country.

Although the 18th Amendment made the sale, distribution and consumption of alcohol illegal, it did not stop people from getting served alcohol if they knew where to find it. Since prohibition was only in the United States, alcohol was continued to be manufactured in neighboring countries of Canada and Mexico, along with other foreign countries. This created opportunities to sneak alcohol into the country and have it sold discreetly. This led to clubs known as speakeasies opening up. The speakeasies offered patrons illegal alcohol, but also many offered other activities such as food, entertainment and gambling. Most of the speakeasies were operated by organized crime figures, and they were constantly being raided by federal authorities. However, it did not stop the alcohol from flowing, and throughout the Roaring Twenties people enjoyed partying and consuming alcohol.

Prohibition was a noble attempt to rid the evils of alcohol; however it created several new problems. Alcohol was still readily available and the proceeds were going to organized crime. The alcohol manufacturing industry in the United States had shut down which amounted to huge job losses. The U.S. government was spending money trying to shut down the illegal flow of alcohol but it was a losing proposition. And, the moral fabric of the country was deteriorating faster than if prohibition was not enacted. Faced with the realization that prohibition was not working, the government signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which allowed the manufacture and sale of beer and light wines on March 23, 1933. This led to the eventual repeal of the 18th Amendment on December 5, 1933, when the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was signed.

The era of prohibition was one of the most colorful times in United States history. The roaring twenties provided opportunities for inventive criminals, opportunities to have fun in an unlawful environment and creative ways to transport liquor across borders. The crime sprees of the 20's have been subjects of criminal justice schools since that time. However, the government was not happy with the results of prohibition, and will never repeat the same mistakes of past administrations.