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8.4: Prohibition

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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 20^{\mathrm{th}} 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 18^{\mathrm{th}} 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 It was repealed in 1933.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 18^{\mathrm{th}} 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 18^{th} Amendment on December 18, 1917. It was ratified on January 16, 1919, after 36 states approved it. The 18^{th} 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 It was eventually repealed by the 21^{st} Amendment on December 5, 1933. It is the only amendment that has ever been completely repealed.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, transportation, importation or exportation of intoxicating liquors in the United States and all its territory is hereby prohibited.

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

Section 3. This article shall have no power 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 to the States by the Congress.

Vocabulary

To ratify
to confirm or pass something, such as an amendment
Intoxicating liquors
alcohol
Article
a section or item in a written document. Until enough states ratified this amendment, it was known as an article.

Questions:

  1. What is your first reaction to the 18^{\mathrm{th}} amendment?
  2. Do you think this amendment could be passed today? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think some Americans in 1918 might have wanted this amendment?

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).

Prohibition and Health

PROHIBITION AND HEALTH

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

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

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

“Alcohol hurts the tone of the muscles and lessens the product of laborers; it worsens the skill and endurance of artists; it hurts memory, increases industrial accidents, causes diseases of the heart, liver, stomach and kidney, increases the death rate from pneumonia and lessens the body’s natural immunity to disease.”

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

“We cannot shut out of view the fact that public health and public safety may be harmed by the general use of alcohol.”

Vocabulary

Abstinence
Stopping yourself from doing something (e.g., drinking)
Consumption
eating or drinking

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: When was this document written? Was this before or after the passage of the 18^{\mathrm{th}} 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.

HOOCH MURDER’ BILL DRAFTED BY ANDERSON

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

William H. Anderson, State Superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League, announced in a statement yesterday that the organization would sponsor a measure at the upcoming State Legislature. The measure would be known as the “Hooch Murder” bill. It says a person can be tried for murder, and punished accordingly, if they are suspected of selling alcohol that resulted in the death of the person drinking it. Commenting on the measure, Mr. Anderson said:

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

....

Vocabulary

Hooch
slang term for alcohol, commonly used in the 1920s to refer to illegal whiskey
Alien
a foreigner who is not a citizen

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: When was this document written? Was this before or after the passage of the 18^{\mathrm{th}} 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).

Vocabulary

Degeneracy
being in decline; having qualities that are not normal or desirable

Children in Misery

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

Questions:

  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 20^{\mathrm{th}} 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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