On January 16, 1919 the 36th State ratified the 18th Amendment and Prohibition became the law of the land. The movement to prohibition was a long one and started in the 1780′s when physician Benjamin Rush warned of the dangers of alcohol. The real push towards prohibition began after the Second Great Awakening (1790-1840) with the rise of evangelical Protestantism. What a shock a bunch of religious zealots tried to stop other people from having fun because they were incapable of enjoying themselves. Although the reasons for the temperance movement–and eventually prohibition–were not entirely religious, those beliefs did play a pivotal role in pushing for the legislation. Anyways this evangelical movement spawned a plethora of temperance movements throughout the 19th Century. There was the Washingtonian Movement, the American Temperance Society, the Sons of Temperance, and later in the century the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Anti-Saloon League.
Although these movements preached temperance towards the end of the 19th Century they started to work towards a complete prohibition of alcohol. By 1919 the 18th Amendment was ratified and in 1920 the Volstead Act was passed to reinforce prohibition. The grand hope of prohibition was that by forcing people to stop drinking the country would enter a golden age of peace and prosperity. The truth was much different however:
Prohibition did not alleviate the problems of alcohol—instead it just exacerbated the problems. It created a black market where none had existed before, Americans drank stronger, more lethal alcohol, the purity of which was unregulated, the dosages higher, and violence and alcohol related deaths increased dramatically. Furthermore, criminal organizations were able to take advantage of this new market and rise to prominence. Their rise brought corruption into politics and law enforcement in many American cities…
Once Prohibition went into effect prohibitionists in America lauded the amendment and prophesied that a new and better day was beginning in America. One of those people was the minister Billy Sunday who proclaimed, “the reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.” Unfortunately it was quite the opposite. Prostitution and gambling had always been a staple of organized crime; but once the Eighteenth Amendment took effect organized crime found a new and much more profitable industry. As a result of completely prohibiting alcohol the prohibitionists unwittingly created a vast market; bootlegging became the order of the day and with it came an increase in violence and corruption. Organized crime was able to take advantage of high demands by the populace; and by supplying liquor and beer to citizens of all social standings criminal organizations became rich and powerful. They were able to influence everyone from judges to politicians.