The Eighteenth Amendment

These criminal syndicates had successfully shifted into a centralized set-up and had been so well-entrenched that these forces were still in existence even after prohibition was repealed. Their heirs were to be “the Italian-Jewish syndicate of New York and Florida, the Cincinnati-Detroit-Canadian gambling group, the remnants of the Capone mob in Chicago, and the Chinese-American syndicate on the Pacific Coast. ”33 Prohibition also partly contributed to the decline in trade union memberships from five million to less than three and a half million during the 1920s.

Unions were no longer seen to be effective as union leaders were tainted with corruption from closed-door meetings and arrangements with employers and with the mob. This, thus, gave a semblance of industrial peace as disputes were now being settled through force, extortion and bribes. Labor which used to be inviolable had now been infiltrated by racketeering. To address this corruption, labor leaders began attacking prohibition as a class legislation that favored the rich who can easily obtain decent liquor. It soon created resentment between workers and their employers.

This added to the arguments calling for the repeal of prohibition. 34 The journalist Franklin P. Adams and his cronies made up a song about the Prohibition which went like this: Prohibition is an awful flop. We like it. It can't stop what it's meant to stop. We like it. It's left a trail of graft and slime It don't prohibit worth a dime It's filled our land with vice and crime, Nevertheless, we're for it. While meant to ridicule, this ditty gave a relatively accurate description of how Prohibition was viewed and its perceived defects.

The Eighteenth Amendment cleared up the city of its saloons and its drunkards littering the streets, or if able, walking unsteadily all the way home. However, these were all cosmetic. They were merely driven underground. What was evident was the rise of additional criminal cases to about forty-nine thousand more due to the prohibition law. Just two years after its came into effect, liquor violations comprised seventy per cent of the Federal indictments and liquor smuggling had been declared by the Department of Justice as the biggest criminal problem.

There were still ten more years before the law was repealed. During that time, a new criminal class had risen that was connected to violations of the Prohibition Law. It created moon shiners and bootleggers. This criminal class had gained a certain mystique rather than censure. It pitted government officials against each other between those who were corrupt whose numbers had increased and those who were not. It bred ill will against the upper class who did not seem affected at all by the law. They merely kept their liquor under the table ready to be pulled out as soon as the police had been paid off.

It contributed to immorality especially among the youth based on the rise of social diseases. It was the youth who perpetrated the violent crimes hoping to gain acceptance into the seemingly glamorous world of organized crime. It bred antagonism from the public against the government who passed a law that encroached a personal and private choice. In 1933, the law was finally repealed. By then it had already made its mark and left lasting effects. The criminal syndicates were here to stay easily shifting from bootlegging to protection rackets, slot machines, gambling and continuing with labor racketeering.

The Great Depression had already settled in and the public consumers, the accomplices to the nationwide violation were at first enthusiastic but soon turned indifferent. The poor, the respectable, the women and the young drank as much as they did during prohibition. In the same year, Franklin D. Roosevelt took office. On his inauguration on March 4, 1933, he declared, “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and prosper…The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”.

The huge liquor revenues the government will be receiving with the repeal will certainly help the treasury. The nation did endure notwithstanding the damage done by the National Prohibition Law.


Primary Sources Book Beman, Lamar T. , comp. Selected Articles on Prohibition: Modification of the Volstead Law. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1924. [An informative compilation of the various testimonies to the Senate Committee hearing about arguments for the modification of the Prohibition Law] Beman, Lamar T. , comp. Prohibition: Modification of the Volstead Law. New York: H. W. Wilson,1927.

[This volume is designed as a supplement to the Handbook on Prohibition: Modification of the Volstead Law that was published in December, 1924. ] The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States. Introduction by Pauline Maier. New York: Bantam Books, 1998. [Text of the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence] Feldman, Herman. Prohibition: Its Economic and Industrial Aspects. New York: D. Appleton. , 1927. [This is an excellent compilation of the impact of the prohibition on the economy and industry with a provision for numerical data].