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8.4: Prohibition

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Since the founding of the republic, some Americans advocated temperance—limits on the consumption of alcohol. Temperance organizations formed and then unified into the American Temperance Union in 1833. In the early 20th century, the cause morphed into the Prohibition movement, which had the support of diverse constituencies including Progressives, many southerners and women, pietist Protestant denominations (for example, Methodists), and the Ku Klux Klan. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1919, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol. It was repealed in 1933. The documents below include the 18th Amendment, several prohibitionist posters, and an article from the New York Times. Read these documents to find out what problems some people saw in society and why they favored Prohibition.

The 18th Amendment

Source: The United States Constitution.

The US Senate passed the 18th Amendment on December 18, 1917. It was ratified on January 16, 1919, after 36 states approved it. The 18th Amendment, and the enforcement laws accompanying it, established Prohibition of alcohol in the United States. Several states already had Prohibition laws before this amendment. It was eventually repealed by the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933. It is the only amendment that has ever been completely repealed.

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2. The Congress and all of the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Prohibition and Health

Source: Read at the Eighth Annual Meeting of the National Temperance Council, Washington D.C., September 20, 1920. The National Temperance Council was created in 1913 to work for Prohibition. (Figure below).


Alcohol poisons and kills; Abstinence and Prohibition save lives and safeguard health....

The decision of science, the final opinion of our nation after a hundred years of education upon the subject, was thus stated by Dr. S. S. Goldwater, formerly Health Commissioner of New York City.

“It is believed that the diminution of the consumption of alcohol by the community would mean less tuberculosis, less poverty, less dependency, less pressure on our hospitals, asylums and jails.”


“Alcohol impairs the tone of the muscles and lessens the product of laborers; it deprecates the skill and endurance of artisans; it impairs memory, multiplies industrial accidents, causes chronic diseases of the heart, liver, stomach and kidney, increases the death rate from pneumonia and lessens natural immunity to infectious diseases.”

Justice Harlan speaking for the United States Supreme Court, said:

“We cannot shut out of view the fact within the knowledge of all, that the public health and the public safety may be endangered by the general use of intoxicating drinks.”


  1. Sourcing: When was this document written? Was this before or after the passage of the 18th Amendment?
  2. Sourcing: Why might the National Temperance Council still meet in 1920? What do you predict they will say?
  3. Close Reading: What does the National Temperance Council claim is caused by alcohol? Do you find these claims convincing?

“Hooch Murder” Bill – New York Times

Source: The New York Times, November 14, 1922.


Anti-Saloon Head Aims to Reach Those Whose Drinks Cause Death.

William H. Anderson, State Superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League, in a statement yesterday announced that the organization would sponsor at the upcoming Legislature a measure which, he said would be known as the “Hooch Murder” bill, providing that any one selling anything purported to be drinkable alcoholic liquor that resulted in the death of the person or persons drinking it might be tried for murder and punished accordingly. Commenting on the measure, Mr. Anderson said:

“This bill is intended for whoever it may hit, but is especially directed at the unscrupulous foreigner, usually an alien, who has largely stopped killing with the stiletto from hate or with a gun for hire, and has gone into the preparation and indiscriminate peddling of poison for profit.”



  1. Sourcing: When was this document written? Was this before or after the passage of the 18th Amendment?
  2. Close Reading: What is the “Hooch Murder Bill”?
  3. Close Reading: Based on this document, who is the Anti-Saloon League blaming for the sale of alcohol during Prohibition? Why do you think they’re singling out this group?

Alcohol and Degeneracy

Source: Poster published in 1913 by the Scientific Temperance and American Issue Publishing Company.(Figure below).

Children in Misery

Source: Poster published in 1913 by the Scientific Temperance Federation and American Issue Publishing Company.(Figure below).


  1. Sourcing: When were these posters made? Was that before or after the passage of the 18th Amendment?
  2. Sourcing: Who published these posters? What was their perspective?
  3. Close Reading: According to these posters, what are two reasons why Prohibition is a good idea?
  4. Close Reading: Look at the words used in Document C. These were considered “scientific” categories. What does that tell you about science at this time?
  5. Context: Using these posters, explain some of the beliefs about children that were common in the early 20th century. Do you think these beliefs are silly or reasonable? Explain.

Section Question:

  1. People who supported Prohibition thought it would solve a lot of society’s problems. Use the documents to explain what problems they saw in society and why they thought Prohibition would solve these problems.

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