The Inspiration for the American Temperance Movement

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The inspiration for the American temperance movement dates back to the 1840s when masses of German and Irish immigrants moved into the country. These immigrants populated urban cities where high crime rates and violence followed. Many organizations blamed the consumption of alcoholic beverages on these wrongdoings. These groups believed alcohol was the source of all evil and they sought to have all of it destroyed (Dannenbaum, 1984). Prohibition first began on a state level when in 1851, Maine banned the manufacture and sale of all intoxicating liquors. They enforced the law by awarding fines to the prosecuting officers of those arrests due to the temperance movement. By 1855, thirteen states had enacted prohibition legislation. The National Prohibition Party was founded in 1869 and they successfully persuaded communities and counties to ban the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. Since women were commonly abused by drunken men, the Women’s Christians Temperance Union was formed in 1870 to protect women from abusive men. When World War 1 started, the War-Time Prohibition Act was passed to save grain used from making alcohol to help make food for soldiers at war. According to the newspaper The Alabama Citizen, the amount of grain used in making alcohol, if used to feed men, could supply enough energy to support 1,296,467 soldiers a year (Senator Lodge And War Prohibition, 1917). The push for prohibition had become very popular in the United States. It would all come to a head with the passage of the 18th amendment in 1917. In December 1917, Congress passed the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, transportation, and sales of intoxicating liquor.

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Although he insisted it would take seven years to process, prohibition got plenty of support from the Drys. On January 29, 1919, the 18th Amendment was ratified and no fewer than 33 states in America carried out their own legislation. Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, which provided guidelines for the federal enforcement of Prohibition (History) in October 1919. It was commonly called the Volstead Act because of Representative Andrew Volstead of Mississippi, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (History) and the author of the National Prohibition Act. President Woodrow Wilson also supported the prohibition in hopes to reserve grains for food, during the wartime. Written on the Volstead Act, the government prohibited the intoxicating beverages and turned its alcohol into other materials, CHAP. 85.-An Act To prohibit intoxicating beverages, and to regulate the manufacture, production, use, and sale of high-proof spirits for other than beverage purposes, and to ensure an ample supply of alcohol and promote its use in scientific (Volstead Act). This act will dealcoholize spirits, beer, and other liquors. Many people will have to change their actions from their work practices to their lifestyle.

Physicians will only be able to prescribe liquor to whom is found impracticable, then upon the best information obtainable, he in good faith believes that the use of such liquor as a medicine by such person is necessary and will afford relief to him from some known ailment. (Volstead Act). To translate, liquor was only exceptional for severely ill if used strictly for medicinal use. Advertisers were also affected when it became unlawful to advertise liquor for manufacturing, machinery, and sales. Needless to say, it was illegal for brewers and household to possess liquor, Any room, house, building, boat, vehicle, structure, or place of any kind where intoxicating liquor is sold, manufactured, kept for sale, or bartered in violation of the War Prohibition Act, and all intoxicating liquor and all property kept and used in maintaining such a place, is hereby declared to be a public and common nuisance (Volstead Act). Investigations and reports were handled by the Commission of Internal Revenue (IRS). The IRS was also involved with officials whose duty it is to enforce criminal laws, shall have all the power for the enforcement of the War Prohibition (Volstead Act). The government plunged more than three hundred billion dollars to administer the Prohibition Act.

Although the Drys had succeeded in achieving a federal prohibition of alcohol, the lawlessness, and violence that were to follow were consequences that few of them foresaw. However, there was historical evidence to suggest that Prohibition might not be as well received as Drys might have hoped, such as when Maine had attempted to prohibit alcohol in 1851, only to have the law poorly received, ultimately being repealed after a riot in 1855 that resulted in bloodshed (Lerner, Michael). Once Prohibition was fully underway, it became clear to many that it was not working as intended. Perspectives varied greatly on whether Prohibition was a success or a failure. Some, such as Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot, was in favor of Prohibition from the beginning and argued that it was a success, as he wrote in 1925, If the Eighteenth Amendment were a failure, which it is not, Pennsylvania would be a natural place for it to fail. In Pennsylvania, it is not a failure but a success. If progress can be made in Pennsylvania it can be made in any state (Should Prohibition Be Repealed?). Others such as Packard Motor Car Company President Henry Bourne Joy, someone who had supported Prohibition initially later wrote, Five years have rolled by, and many think that Prohibition has had its chance.

Many have come to think and believe that after the most diligent effort for five years by the government of the United States of America to enforce bone-dry prohibition upon our people, it has totally failed. (Should Prohibition Be Repealed?). The country was split over the issue, with a great many still supporting Prohibition for moral reasons and a great many still opposed to it, some who had been opposed from the start and other, like Henry Bourne Joy, who came over to the other side when it was clear that it was not working as intended. During the prohibition era, many people were not happy. In fact, many people rebelled against this. Although the law states that it’s not illegal to consume alcohol, it is only illegal to make it, that meant people would be making it and selling it illegally because people were not happy about the new amendment. People began to illegally make alcohol and illegally sell it as well. This only created a bigger problem. People like mobsters made millions of dollars from illegal alcohol sales. In addition to the rise of the mob-run black market, many citizens simply ignored the law. According to writer Daniel Okrent, Loopholes ” like obtaining a prescription to purchase alcohol from a pharmacy ” kept distilleries in business. (Okrent).

Something that came out of the prohibition era, were speakeasies. Speakeasies were private, unlicensed barrooms how low you had to speak the password to gain entry so as not to be overheard by law enforcement (The Mob Museum). There were speakeasies every corner you turned. Speakeasies were the most famously known illicit bars from the prohibition era, however, there were some more with different names. Some include blind pigs and gin joints. These places were extremely popular, even though they were secret. Something else that resulted from prohibition, was bootlegging. Bootlegging is the illegal making, selling, and transporting of illicit goods, such as alcohol in this case. Bootlegging became very popular during this era because everyone still wanted to drink, and it was basically the only way to access alcohol unless you could get it prescribed by a doctor. Which was hard to do. During prohibition, crime rates went up. Because alcohol was basically made illegal, everything to do with it became illegal. The demand for alcohol also went up, so many people found they could make a lot of money with such a high demand. They were willing to take the risk of getting in trouble with the law, for money and happy drunk people. Even criminals had recognized that Prohibition represented a marvelous business opportunity; in major cities, indeed, gangs had quietly been stockpiling booze supplies for weeks. (Sandbrook). Al Capone, a well-known criminal, was said to be raking in some $100m a year from casinos and speakeasies. (Sandbrook).

Another thing is that death rates went up during prohibition. Due to many things, like people drinking so much they would die of alcohol poisoning. They also died from The bad stuff, such as Smoke made of pure wood alcohol, killed or maimed thousands of drinkers. (The Mob Museum). Overall, prohibition was not America’s greatest idea. Many people were not a fan of it and rebelled against it in many ways. Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, with the ratification of the 21st Amendment (Library of Congress Information Bulletin). The impacts of prohibition were negative. It was repealed for a few reasons, one being it caused many deaths from drinking too much and having alcohol poisoning. Another, one of the main reasons Prohibition was repealed was because it was an unenforceable policy.(The Huffington Post). It was practically impossible to get everybody in the world to stop making alcohol and selling it, let alone drinking it. In many ways, it only worsened the very social ill it sought to cure and created a host of other problems. Prohibition is a good lesson of how good intentions and an underestimation of a problem can lead to a horrible outcome if caution is not taken, and hopefully this country will never again endure a period of lawlessness and turmoil like it again.

Works Cited

Dannenbaum, Jed. Drink and Disorder: Temperance Reform in Cincinnati, 1841-1874. 1978 Senator Lodge And War Prohibition. The Alabama Citizen. August 1, 1917 Prohibition., A&E Television Networks,

Volstead Act of 1919. Volstead Act of 1919, Aug. 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost,

Lerner, Michael. Prohibition: Unintended Consequences. PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, Should Prohibition Be Repealed?, America In Class, Okrent, Daniel. Prohibition: Speakeasies, Loopholes And Politics. NPR, NPR, 10 June 2011,

The Speakeasies of the 1920s. Prohibition: An Interactive History, Sandbrook, Dominic. How Prohibition Backfired and Gave America an Era of Gangsters and Speakeasies. The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 Aug. 2012,

Primary Documents in American History. Planning D-Day (April 2003) – Library of Congress Information Bulletin, Victor,

Rosenfeld, Derek. 80 Years Ago Today We Repealed Alcohol Prohibition, Now It’s Time to End Drug Prohibition. The Huffington Post,, 4 Feb. 2014,

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The Inspiration for the American Temperance Movement. (2019, Jul 15). Retrieved December 6, 2022 , from

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