Tavern Trove: Prohibition

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Prohibition


By 1880 The Anti Saloon League, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and other do gooders had gained tremendous influence in government at the local and national level. One by one towns, counties and whole states were going ?Dry? by banning the sale of intoxicating beverages. At the turn of the Twentieth century nearly one in three Americans could not buy beer in their own hometown. Support for a national law banning alcohol sales grew during the early years of the century. In 1917 an amendment to the constitution (penned by Minnesota Republican Congressman Andrew Volstead) came before the United States Senate. Support for the measure in the chamber was so great that it was passed after only 13 hours of debate. A few months later the House debated the bill and again passed it in a single day.

The individual states, however, were slower to sign on. The holdouts were predictably states with large beer drinking populations. Finally the growing anti-German sentiment of World War One pushed Americans over the edge. They believed the Prohibitionists? propaganda about the German-American brewing magnates. On January 16 1919 Nebraska became the 36th state ratify the 18th Amendment to the constitution. This pushed the Amendment?s supporters past the required three-fourths majority required for it to pass. Exactly one year later Prohibition came into effect and ended the legitimate brewing and distilling industries in the United States, putting tens of thousands out of work.

Popular support for the Volstead Act was shaky from the start and dissent grew quickly. Many agreed with H.L. Mencken in 1924 when he wrote:

?Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.?


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