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The start of the twentieth century was an era where people were beginning to enjoy the smaller things in life. From dinners to dancing or hanging out with their colleagues after work, all these meetings had one thing in common, alcohol. Around 1900, Chicago was consuming alcohol at an increasing rate which led to drinking becoming a daily ritual in people's lives. In the span of a decade, liquor and alcohol became the main topics of legislations, election campaigns, and a few political debates (Buenker 363). When the word "prohibition" started being used in 1907-1918, people only reacted because the word had such a negative connotation.
When the law on prohibition came into effect in 1919, the police started closing down all of the large saloons. This was followed by the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920 (Carter 189), which stated that the sale of alcohol and liquor was prohibited, and that anyone caught selling it would be severely punished (Tomkins 15-16). From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the term prohibition played an important role in the windy city of Chicago, as well as in a few other states such as Maine and North Dakota (Brown 722). However, despite the laws on prohibition, some proprietors still sold alcohol to private guests in underground saloons, making double than when the solicitation of alcohol was still legal. With so many people being arrested, the public began to question how the government was benefiting from the amendment.
Although Chicago was the popular city in the Prohibition era, United States as a nation was also affected by the Eighteenth Amendment. The illegal sale of liquor was recorded even before the amendment had passed in 1919. As mentioned above, the law was being carried out by the police, shutting down saloons and seizing any liquor that was sold. In 1911, Georgia had found nine hundred and one bottles of illicit distilling, which was the highest number caught illegally distilling alcohol (Brown 727). It was around this time that a lot of the public started to feel cornered which resulted in the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment eight years later, in 1919.
But did prohibition cause so much havoc that the states went from maintaining order and peace to a point where people developed the underground saloons? Or did Chicago's gangsters bring about chaos by 'muscling in' and making the state of Illinois concerned? (Landesco 120). After observing the research the question is, what was the significance of prohibition that led to destabilizing the society of (Chicago and United States) in the 20th century? What was so significant about prohibition that it ended up destroying the peace and harmony among societies of Illinois and the rest of the country?
The significance of prohibition was to get people to stop drinking because of all the violence it created. John Buenker talked about how prohibition parties were made from the older population of Illinois who were known as the "natives." These people and the state thought the incoming German, Irish, and Italian immigrants needed to learn the American way because they felt that the immigrants were "threatening" the traditional American values (Buenker 364). According to Buenker, Illinois natives believed that the immigrants were the evil because they and the second American generation were a part of the two thirds of the population who rejected the idea of prohibition (Buenker 369).
However, despite the population's rejection, prohibition was working. Writers were regulating at regular saloons and people were starting to spend their money wisely, that is until underground saloons started to appear and sell liquor at a higher price to people who could afford it (Brown 703). Even in the bad economic times near the great depression, prohibition was upheld in New York by the writer who arrested people for using profanity while under the influence in New York (Carter 192). This showed prohibition was in affect and people were being punished for disobeying the law. Even though the numbers in states like New York and Illinois came down and even though prohibition had a good effect on the people, it also had a down side in Chicago and other cities around the nation.
In Chicago, prohibition was taking a toll on its citizens. For example, after the ratification of the eighteenth amendment, the homicide rate rose from 1.2 in 1900 to 4.2 in 1920 (Landesco 128). Paul Carter showed that in order for anyone to run in a campaign, the [wet] democrats would have had to get rid of Prohibition if they wanted any future goals to be accomplished (Carter 189). Carter stated that previous goals have been incomplete and that if there was any hope for democrats to retrieve power, the first rule of thumb would be to demolish any kind of prohibition. Though for democrats this would be such a difficult task because they were against prohibition from the start, the republicans, on the other hand, were for it.
The arrest made in New York made it seem like prohibition was working, in favor of the republicans, until the organized crime rates started to rise. In Chicago, two different kinds of homicides had risen; one was gang feuds, killings over territories and bootlegged sales of liquor and the other was writer, aids and civilians who were pro-prohibition (Landesco 127). Not only did gang crimes go up but killing of prohibition enforcements which were about "1550, including 494 officers and aids and 1,056 civilians" went up as well (Landesco 127). These numbers are ground breaking but unfortunately these numbers only went up from this point. Landesco was not the only one who saw destabilization in Chicago. Silas Swallow not only shared his opinions but he also saw another quality of prohibition that showed how prohibition affected the United States.
Swallow begin his article by explaining how too much drinking was not beneficial to anyone, and that it ruined the human mind, body, ethics, and the economy even (Swallow 550). Swallow noticed that alcohol not only affected the drinkers but the sober ones as well. It was like the saying "if one suffers we all suffer", or in Swallow's words "innocent must suffer with the guilty" (Swallow 550). Swallow, pointed out when prohibition went into effect the "innocent" or the nondrinkers also had to pay the heavy tax that was levied by the government. And as if that was not enough, employers were firing people because they claimed to have an over production problem in their factories. But it was not the over production they had to worry about, it was the under consumption that was the problem because the population was not buying the copious amount of liquor and alcohol needed to meet the regular demand, even though suppliers were producing as they should (Swallow 553). While under consumption took a toll on people, states like Illinois and Maine were coming under heavy attacks from the gangs over illegal alcohol sales.
Majority of organized crimes began to take shape in the form of gang killings which overwhelmed law enforcement everywhere because gangs were now targeting anyone who took away their alcohol in addition to the rival gangs. If this was not a wakeup call for Chicago and all of the United States, then how much more does the lower class have to suffer before the congress realizes how prohibition is taking over everything; peace is starting to vanish and crime is taking its place. This is how states like Illinois started to lose control, and thousands of lives were compromised just so that the state and the country's distribution of alcohol and liquor could be stabilized.
The most cost effective approach to handling the menace, intoxication, and the violence was for prohibition to set some limits concerning the distribution of alcohol. Yet, the harder the raids were, the more violence occurred as a result. During the early 1900s, many people, instead of embracing different ethnicities, pointed fingers at immigrants and blamed them for all the wrongs that were being committed in their town, which also contributed to the increase in crime rates. Illinois and Maine were both caught in a significant number of raids, arrests, and seizures of illicit sale and distribution of alcohol and liquor. Analysis mentioned above explained the significance of prohibition which led to good but also created turmoil in Illinois and rest of the United States. Some writers saw both sides of prohibition, one writer was Silas Swallow. He found that workplaces preferred that the employee they hired was not a drinker, resulting in their employees receiving benefits from insurance companies for maintaining that lifestyle. About "eight hundred thousand, out of twelve hundred thousand" American railway employees were told to practice abstinence from liquor and alcohol. They were given heavy penalties or even fired from their respectful jobs if they were found in a bar or anywhere liquor was sold (Swallow 551). Since, employers were becoming strict, Tomkins saw the better side in prohibition rather than what everyone else saw prohibition as a setback.
Tomkins is another writer who saw how the prohibition law affected the people of the United States. He found that even though the crimes were rising, the wages earned were being used efficiently since prohibition was in effect. People were paying their debts on time and they had more money saved up and the money that was spent at saloons was now going straight into consumption for the household or spent for one's self-interest (Tomkins 18). Another issue that was starting to pop around the prohibitionist states was the liberty and freedom of choice when it came to alcohol and liquor.
Carter quoted prohibitionist Harry Warner, who stated "Prohibition was the liberation of the individual from the illusion of freedom that is conveyed by alcohol" (Carter 192). This quote explains how prohibition was taking the liberty of individuals and giving them this false hope of freedom which was carried by alcohol. Warner argued that even though man is a citizen of a community he also needs to be balanced with values of society and family (Carter 193). Warner debated that although humans have liberty to do what they want at any given time or place, a man is tied to his society and the family he belongs to. Men do not have the liberty to cause chaos when they are under the influence and blame their freedom of choice on alcohol or liquor. This results in their freedom being taken away by the law, whose sole purpose is to protect and serve the people who may need protection from the drunkards or the violence that gangs cause due to bootlegged distribution. Tomkins also supports Carter's argument about the significance of prohibition that stabilized the country socially and economically (Tomkins 16).
Warner, who was quoted by Carter in his article Prohibition & Democracy, also agrees with Swallow, when he explains how prohibition took away the liquor and punished the drunkards and the people who abstain from liquor and alcohol. These people carry the heaviest burden because they pay for the people who choose to drink and not care about the consequences that society must deal with as a result (Carter 193). Another example illegal distribution of alcohol by Brown, who mentions the growing numbers of illegal sales in Maine, shows that in 1907 there were about four hundred and forty one arrested for illegal sales and in 1908 the number skyrocketed to seven hundred and seven illegal sales (Brown 718). So no matter how socially and economically well the states and the country had been performing, illegal sales of liquor in Maine and gang violence in Illinois were two factors that kept rising. These factors only add fuel to the fire that had been burning since the ratifying of the eighteenth amendment. Statistics have shown that the significant causes of destabilization came from prohibition, but they also showed how unstable Chicago was, but prohibition was a law that was put into effect to minimize public intoxication, drunkards, and illegal distribution of alcohol and liquor. Instead of achieving any of these goals, prohibition ended up hurting Chicago and the entire nation with gang violence, law enforcement, aid and civilian killings.
The research mentioned above, showed Tomkins' view towards the existence of prohibition but Tomkins failed to note that while prohibition laws were in effect, organized crimes increased because the police chiefs only went after the big underground saloons, which helped them seize gang members and the containers in which the liquor was held (Landesco 120). The smaller saloons in Illinois and the rest of the United States were still in business but only because they did not require the same amount of liquor and alcohol compared to larger saloons. As a result, violence started to increase and more gangsters were being hired in the saloons as a means of protection and to aid in capturing the bigger saloons (Landesco 121). While Tomkins explained the reasons behind prohibition in Illinois and United States, Carter and Brown looked at the numbers concerning crime and violence- and more arrests usually meant that the temporary control of the streets was back in the hands of the citizens. While the weakness in Tomkins' argument does not show how bad the violence spreads, Carter explains in his article how prohibition was a good thing, but he never mentions the government's reasoning behind prohibition until near the conclusion of his article.
The significance of prohibition which led to destabilization is shown by every author who is mentioned above. Also the same authors have pointed out how prohibition was fixing some issues and why prohibition led to higher crime rates, increasing gang violence and people maintaining their savings. Even though Buenker failed to observe how prohibition affected other states, Brown suggested that in other states like Maine and Kansas, there were more divorces and higher suicide rates compared to states that were legally allowed to sell alcohol and liquor (Brown 720). The weakness in Brown's argument is that even though divorces were higher, crime were rising at the same rate. One would fight to keep the crime rate low while divorce rates can only decrease if people worked out their individual issues.
Carter saw that prohibition also affected the people by efficiently stabilizing each person's wages, but unlike Tomkins, Carter saw prohibition as a psychological way of getting rid of individual treatment for alcohol related problems using prohibition as a universal treatment instead of an individual one (Carter 200). This was one of the ways the government tested how prohibition would work if alcohol and liquor were taken away. Nonetheless, prohibition showed more people paying off their debts, more people saving and less people getting sick. But how did the government turn the other cheek when it came to places like Illinois and Maine where gang wars were rising, bootlegged sales of alcohol and killing of law enforcements were occurring. In exchange of all that chaos, all the government received in return was social stability among some of society, but the rest resulted in more homicides.
The government was trying Pareto efficiency, which meant that they were trying to make one side better without making the other worse off. I believe this is why prohibition was invented which led to the eighteenth amendment. Prohibition led to destabilization in Chicago and the rest of the nation in the 20th century. Republicans thought the country was doing great because people were paying off debts, there was less public intoxication, fewer people using profanity under the influence, and people were spending more time with their families. Instead the busts, raids, and arrests led to more violence in Chicago, which later resulted in underground saloons and bootlegged sales of alcohol and liquor. Gang members were already involved in other crimes and getting into selling alcohol and liquor illegally was just outside their reach of normal organized crime (Landesco 124). Although prohibition was a famous movement in the 20th century, it was not the most effective movement. Trading social factors for high homicide rates was not the result that the government was looking for, even thought they were not the ones who dealt with it. It was the people who sacrificed their lives to stand by the prohibition law and risked their lives every day who dealt with the repercussions of the prohibition movement.
Brown, Ames L. "Prohibition." North American Review 202.720 (1915): 702-29. Jstor. Web. 12 Apr. 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/25108648>.
Buenker, John D. "The Illinois Legislature and Prohibition, 1907-1919." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 62.4 (1969): 363-84. Jstor. Web. 12 Apr. 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/40190889>.
Carter, Paul A. "Prohibition and Democracy: The Noble Experiment Reassessed." Wisconsin Historical Society 56.3 (1973): 189-201. Jstor. Web. 5 May 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4634793>.
Landesco, John. "Prohibition and Crime." American Academy of Political and Social Science 163 (1932): 120-29. Jstor. Web. 04 May 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1017691>.
Swallow, Silas C. "Prohibition: Why?" University of Northern Iowa 179.575 (1904): 550-54. Jstor. Web. 5 May 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/25105303>.
Tomkins, Floyd W. "Prohibition." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 109 (1923): 15-25. Jstor. Web. 12 Apr. 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1014989>.