With the recent Dutch law on alcohol use under eighteen alcohol has gained even more attention. But why was there a ban on the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol from 1920 until 1933?
Of course, there were a lot of causes of the prohibition movement in the US. I'll mention the two I think most significant:
- The power of women. Women believed that alcohol was a cause of the abuse of women and children in poor families. They thought that prohibition would stop men from beating their wives and from wasting their money on alcohol.
- Anti-immigrant sentiment. Drinking was associated with immigrant groups and was, therefore, unpopular. This was especially true as WWI got under way and Americans became more anti-German (most of the big brewers were of German descent).
More about The power of women:
thousands of women began to protest and organize politically for the cause of temperance. Their organization was the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Abuse of alcohol by men had a devastating impact on their families, because men were the breadwinners. It was extremely difficult for a wife to manage, even with a job, if her husband was an alcoholic and drank away his pay check. This practical impact was one of the driving forces that galvanized women to campaign for Prohibition.
By the late 19th century the WCTU could claim some significant successes, it had lobbied for local laws restricting alcohol and created an anti-alcohol educational campaign that reached into nearly every schoolroom in the nation. Its members viewed alcohol as the underlying source of a long list of social ills. But the WCTU's ultimate goal, a prohibition amendment to the constitution, still seemed impossibly out of reach. It would take a new organization, the Anti-Saloon League (ASL), for this dream to enter the realm of the possible.
The ASL became the most successful single issue lobbying organization in American history. With the ratification of the income tax amendment in 1913, and the federal government no longer dependent on liquor taxes to fund its operations. Most politicians dared not defy the ASL and in 1917 the 18th amendment sailed through both houses of Congress. On January 17, 1920, the amendment went into effect and Prohibitionists rejoiced that at long last, America had become officially dry.
The anti-immigrant sentiment:
As anti-German opinions came up all around the country because of the American entry into the First World War, ASL propaganda effectively connected beer and brewers with Germans in the public mind. This way alcohol became filthy, an act of treason. The views that immigrants and other "non-Americans" were consuming most of the alcohol changed the opinions of most nationalist American men. It wasn’t American to drink alcohol because immigrants did it.
Of course the prohibition had consequences, besides leading to lesser alcohol consumption it unfortunately had bad results too. The best known is the rise of alcohol in the criminal circuit. Gangs supplied secret underground cafés known as ‘speakeasies’ of alcohol in exchange for cash. A significant number of citizens went to these bars to consume alcohol. Usually the bar owner had someone stand at the door to let people in who knew the secret password.
Because of the rise of criminality and various parties in favour of bringing alcohol back, the repeal of Prohibition in the United States was accomplished with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 5, 1933.