It’s February 13th, 1929, and a police car arrives in front of the garage on North Clark Street in Chicago. According to witnesses, five men exit a car and entered into garage while two of them were dresses as police officers. After less than ten minutes shots had been fired and police officers left the building leading three civilians with hands raised up. The car drove away, the public was shocked and newspapers were full of the articles. There were a lot of blood, six dead bodies and one severely wounded man who were lying on the ground of the garage. Six of them were members of George ‘Bugs’ Moran’s gang who came there because liquor trade. Another one was a harmless bystander. Today we know that shooters were Al Capone’s gun men and accident was a planned assassination targeted against his rival. Moran was supposed to be there but he arrived at the scene later. Despite a lot of clues which led to Al Capone’s guilt he was never convicted for this crime. This essay will prove that the Prohibition of alcoholic beverage did not fulfilled its expectations and caused the higher criminality.
In January 16, 1920, The Eighteenth Amendment to The United States Constitution went into fact and banned producing, transportation, exportation, importation and selling of intoxicating liquors. Every beverage that contained more than 0,5 percent of alcohol was considered as an intoxicating liquor from that day. Prohibition was based on the earlier Temperance campaign supporters who saw alcohol as the social evil and claimed that alcohol consumption led to decrease of mental and physical health of the population and further it is responsible for high criminality, poverty, unemployment and violence in families.
Statistics of annual per capita alcohol consumption from 1910 to 1929 have shown a considerable drop during the first year of the Prohibition. However as Mark Thornton pointed out the drop had been falling before Prohibition and after roughly a year it had increased again but did not exceeded Pre-Prohibition levels. Experts agree that consumption of alcoholic beverages is closely related to the cirrhosis of liver disease. The default point of prohibitionists was outcome of a death rates caused by this disease. Cirrhosis death rates during prohibition 1920-1933 period counted 7,3 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants while average values from Pre-Prohibition and Past-Prohibition years was 11,5 per 100,000. After Prohibition was repealed a cirrhosis death rates started slowly increase. However, as figure have shown significant cirrhosis death rate drop had begun before Prohibition turned into a law so merits should not be accredited only to Prohibition.
The rapid increase of consumption of alcoholic beverages should be attributed to the illegal liquor producers and speakeasies owners. Since Prohibition went into fact prices of alcoholic beverages rapidly increased. The most increasing price of alcoholic beverages inflected beer thanks to its bulk manufacture and lower percent of pure alcohol, which was value of price. Spirits and wines were easier to manufacture. Distillery could be hidden much easier and thanks to its higher contain of pure alcohol opposed to beer, these kinds of alcoholic beverage were mainly sold. Once a manufacturing were restricted there existed just a few regulations for composition of alcoholic beverages. This fact was significant threat for public because products from amateur moonshiners could poison or kill a consumer. In 1920 the number of deaths connected with consumption of poisoned liquor was 1,064 opposed to 4,154 in 1925. Previously favored saloons were replaced by secret bars known as Speakeasies which were spread across the whole United States and in 1925, New York alone had among 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasies. Prohibition suppressed alcoholic consumption, however it did not turn most of previously consumers into abstainers. It rather stimulated them to find new places were to have a drink and they found it in speakeasies. Moreover during Prohibition more women started visiting speakeasies together with men. Mrs. Murphy quoted that the women drinking were not custom in Pre-Prohibition era “then everybody had to taste and see what it was” described a demand for banned products in Butte, Montana. Women were not the only type of people who had started drinking due to Prohibition. Alcohol had begun attractive even among the youth. Mrs. Sabin says in her statement to the House Judiciary Committee, that she and other mothers asks for Prohibition repeal since drinking of young boys and girls is becoming ordinary in the speakeasies across the United States and they want to protect their children.
Prohibitionist Billy Sunday had been celebrating enforcement of the Eighteen Amendment by sermon to about 10,000 people, where he was predicting that poverty and criminality will be eliminated and society will be happier without alcohol. Actually since illegal liquor manufacture had been raising, the Congress spent high efforts to fight against law-violating criminals. Nevertheless the higher enforcement had been performing, the higher growth of crime happened. During the first year of Prohibition (1920-1921) the study of 30 major cities in the United States revealed that crime numbers increased by 24 percent. The homicide rates in large cities during 1910-1945 period have shown slowly increase from 5,6 homicides per 100,000 people to nearly 10 per 100,000 until the Prohibition was repealed. Then homicide rates quickly fell to 5 homicides per 100,000 people to 1945. Homicides in large cities is closely related to organize gangs which greatly grown thanks to prohibition. This information is based on The Chicago Historical Homicide Project which records particulars of all homicides in Chicago during 1870-1930 and proves the involvement of organized crime in these accidents. Gangsters saw in liquor prohibition possibility to make a lot of money and therefore distilling and bootlegging became important activity along with gambling and prostitution. Organized gangs received liquors from their own hidden distillers but mainly by smuggling them from abroad. Liquors came to the United States mainly from Canada on the north border and from Mexico on the south border. Rum were smuggled from Cuba and whisky came from Europe.
It requires large amounts of money to keep illegal manufacture, distribution and transportation in secret and possibility of loss led gangsters but also moonshiners and speakeasies owners to bribing. Bribes were taken by public, police officers, judges, politicians but also prohibition agents. The Bureau of Prohibition tried to fight with corruption in their own office by reorganization but unsuccessfully. Commissioner of Prohibition Henry Anderson said that public started to ignore not only prohibition law but other laws as well, with increasing efforts of Bureau of Prohibition. Further he added “Public corruption through the purchase of official protection for this illegal traffic is widespread and notorious.”
Criminality neither poverty had not decreased during prohibition as prohibitionists expected. From 1925 to 1930 the number of convicts for breaking Prohibition laws grown to 1,000 percent. By the same number increased expenditures for maintenance penal institutions in 1915-1932 period. But even this high expenditures did not stop prisons from overcrowding and in 1929 for instance Leavenworth prison which official capacity was 1.560 prisoners had to keep 3.723 of them. Atlanta Penitentiary reached approximately same numbers.
National prohibition had terrible impact on the American economy. About 236 distilleries, 1,090 breweries, 177,790 saloons and other alcohol related businesses had to close due to prohibition and lot of people became unemployed. The anti-prohibition groups Association Against the Prohibition Amendment and Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform highlighted that United States lost almost one billion dollars during 1929 due to missing income taxes from alcoholic beverage and by expenditures for law enforcement. Total loss of tax revenue from banning alcoholic beverage is estimated about 11 billion dollars. The Bureau of Prohibition was not the only enforcement department which fought with those who tried breaking prohibition laws. The United States government had to raise annual budgets and personnel of the Coast Guard and the Custom Service which watched over smugglers along the border or in the waters. The Coast Guard personnel increased by 188 percent during 1920 and since 1915 to 1932 its budget exceeded staggering 500 percent, while the Custom Service personnel had grown to 45 percent and its budget increased 123 percent in the 1920-1930 period.
In 1932 while United States had been suffering with the Great Depression a Prohibition repeal was inevitable, because of creation new jobs and revenue from the liquor industry. With president elections in full swing Franklin D. Roosevelt easily beat over his opponent Herbert Hoover and repealed the Eighteenth Amendment by Twenty-first amendment which came into a fact in December 1933.
Prohibition was called the “The Noble Experiment” by then president Herbert Hoover. And it look like the nation of the United States was something as a laboratory mice. Alcoholic consumption and cirrhosis death rate maybe shown some improvements during the Prohibition but substantial decrease of this problems had begun with the World War I. This pros are only small patches in compare with the higher number of cons. Public morale felt down, people rather than abstinence found various ways how to get to alcohol and the youth found their way too. Criminality increased thanks to more frequent cases of smuggling, moonshining and liquor selling. Organized crime became more serious in large cities and beaten path to drug trade which is problematic even today. Finally prohibition enforcement cost government a lot of money and economics had been bleeding due to the unemployment and loss of tax revenue from alcoholic industry. These evidences prove that Prohibition disturbed morale of society, deteriorated economy and led to higher criminality.