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Abstract

This article is intended as a short synopsis of the negative effects of the Prohibition ban that occurred in the United States during the 1920s. Although I usually put Works Cited pages on most of my articles, this article is not exhaustive and is based largely upon general and common knowledge, so a Works Cited page has not been produced. Some of the information comes from Kennedy, David M. and Cohen, Lizabeth. “The American Pageant”.

The Devastations of Prohibition

“Who does not love wine, wife, and song, will be a fool for his lifelong!” says a popular German-American folk song. There are those who agree and those who do not, but unfortunately, at one time in the United States, “those who do not” enacted their views in a manner destructive to the country as a whole. Many well-intentioned Americans realized the damages that excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages could cause, and they attempted to better society by enacting the 18th amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting sale or consumption of alcohol. But they could not foresee the even more destructive effects that prohibition would have.

Prohibition was originally a widely supported movement. In fact, the earliest prohibition attempts dated back to 1657, when a court in Massachusetts made the sale of strong liquor illegal. Benjamin Rush, one of America’s best-known and most influential doctors, widely disseminated the medical detriments of excessive alcohol consumption, a notion which was seconded and carried forward by the medical profession ever since then. Doctors, however, made an important distinction between moderate consumption of alcohol (which they did not consider dangerous) and excessive alcoholism (which they did consider dangerous), a distinction which others failed to take into account. Organized religions jumped on board the prohibition bandwagon, including most sects of Protestant Christianity. In addition to improving society, prohibition would provide organized religion with a method of carrying out its ideals of total abstinence from alcohol.

Prohibition also gained support from the short-lived progressive era. Progressives aimed at reform in all parts of society, and individual pastimes such as drinking did not escape their attention. For progressives, alcohol consumption lay at the root of many of their problems. Workers wasted their already-meager wages, defeating the purpose of lobbying for better working conditions and wages. Women and children suffered domestically under husbands and fathers who were drunk. All in all, alcoholism was a fertile testing ground for progressive reform.

Prohibition of alcohol caused more problems than alcohol originally did. Americans were certainly not going to give up their alcohol no matter what the government did, and the 18th amendment led to the emergence of a violent black market. Some of America’s most notorious gangsters, such as Al Capone and Bugs Moran, were propelled into business by illegal alcohol sales. The increased profit and power received by illegal gangs led to a drastic rise in violent crime, which rippled throughout law-abiding society as well. Former civilians turned to bootlegging and became fugitives of justice in performance-enhanced vehicles designed to outrun police cars. Often these forerunners of the modern-day Hollywood high-speed chase ended in costly accidents and death to both police officers and citizens. As if that were not enough, a huge burden was placed upon society financially, with spending for law enforcement skyrocketing and the alcohol black market competing with the rest of the economy. This situation was clearly causing more problems than intended.

Eventually Prohibition died – it signed its own death warrant with the problems it caused. Even some of the reformers who were previously most ardent about its enactment became disillusioned. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the 21st amendment into law, effectively repealing the disastrous 18th amendment. It is said that the country as a whole was enthusiastic enough about the repeal that after signing Prohibition’s death warrant, Roosevelt could fearlessly say to the nation, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” Prohibition serves as a reminder of the unintended consequences which can occur from improperly-considered actions. Sometimes, we cannot fix all our problems without causing worse problems as well.

Politics History United States


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