The 18th Amendment and Prohibition

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The 18th amendment divided the country and society into the dries and the wets: those who supported the amendment and those who did not. By 1916 over half the US had prohibited alcohol, with the exception of anti-Prohibition states such as New York and Maryland that refused to give in. Many states much like these did not want to spend any money toward the alcohol ban. Maryland never even enforced the law, and eventually earned a reputation as one of the most stubborn anti-Prohibition states in the Union. States that did such believed that even though the law was put into place, it never really had an actual effect. With differing states having different opinions on the law- the temperance movement sparked. This was a social movement against the consumption of alcohol that pressed for complete abstinence. Temperance followers were often made up of churches, women who felt their husbands spent all the family income on alcohol, and organized social groups such as the KKK who felt alcohol in the hands of African Americans lead to unwanted outbursts. This movement blamed alcohol for matters such as developing fetuses prone to disabilities, boosted crime, mental and physical health issues and much more.

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With alcohol drying out from every brewery and business in the country, Americans turned to bootleggers to obtain their liquor. This became the pinnacle of organized crime. Speakeasies flourished, gangsters thrived by exploiting the profits that came with smuggling alcohol, and famous bootleggers such as Al Capone and William McCoy used this ban to their full advantage. McCoy was an American sea captain that made his fortune by smuggling whiskey into the US. He was captured on November 23rd, 1923 by a US coast guard. He plead guilty in court and was sentenced to nine months in a New Jersey jail. Around that same time, Al Capone established a multimillion-dollar bootlegging operation in Chicago, Illinois. He was later indicted for 22 counts of tax evasion and shortly after was charged with conspiracy to violate prohibition laws. Capone was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

On December 5th, 1933, the 21st amendment was ratified by Congress and signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, repealing the 18th amendment. With alcohol legalized once again, Americans everywhere poured their drinks and clinked their glasses in celebration of their regained freedom- though some weren’t so free. Prisoners previously convicted of prohibition-related offenses such as Capone were not released following its repeal. Even after the 14-year drought, some states continued enforcing prohibition through statewide temperance laws. Mississippi became the last dry state in the union and later ended prohibition in 1966. Today, we tightly control our liquor utilization by enforcing licenses, drinking age limits, and operation hours for liquor sellers.

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