HIST 4306 Research Paper
Dr. Keith King
Impact of the Great Depression and the Repeal of National Prohibition In 1933
Although both the coming and the arrival of the Great Depression did have some influence over the decision to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment, other factors played a part – most importantly the simple fact that prohibition didn’t work. In the early 1920s and throughout the 1930s America suffered through a period of economic decline, and because of this, the government in particular, was in need of funds to fuel its weakening economy. Taxation on alcohol would contribute towards the resources for relief, and prevent higher taxes in other areas of ...view middle of the document...
Levine and Reinarmann conclude that rather than instigating it, “the Great Depression provided the necessary context for repeal”. Other factors working against the Eighteenth Amendment preceded the economic crisis of the 1930s, and the anti-Prohibition feeling was strong before this time with groups such as the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment and the Moderation League of New York, formed as early as 1923; thus showing that the Great Depression was more a catalyst than a cause of the Twenty-first Amendment.
In 1925, journalist H.L Mencken summed up the effects of the 18th Amendment in his declaration that “Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, one benign effect: they have completely disposed of the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great booms or usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for the law has not increased, but diminished.” Put simply, Prohibition didn’t work. This was the main cause of the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and a factor which brought about many others. Prohibition failed to achieve most, if not all, of its aims during the 13 years it was enforced in the United States.
The Great Depression clearly went against the “economic boom” promised by many of the Prohibitionist leaders: between the years 1929 and 1934 the GNP of America dropped 29%, and although this many not have been directly caused by national prohibition, the ban on alcohol for beverage purposes added to it. Leading businessmen and industrialists such as J.D Rockefeller soon changed their view from a pro-Prohibition approach to one strongly opposed to it, thus showing the drastic change in attitude towards prohibition from a financial point of view. The results socially were little better. Although some improvements were seen with regard to health, with fewer hospital admissions to treat alcoholic psychoses – figures dropped from 9.3% in 1913 to 2.0% in 1920 when Prohibition was introduced – there were many detrimental effects the law brought about. Many of the new brands of alcohol brewed at home had dangerous consequences on the health such as “Jake”, a beer brought over from Jamaica which often led to paralysis. It was clear that although some effects of alcoholism had been reduced, it caused many other, much more severe, side effects.
Adding to this, the belief of the prohibitionists that a ban on alcohol would reduce levels of crime in America was proved to be a drastic misjudgment. Across most of America, the law was obeyed and levels of crime dropped dramatically; however in many of the larger cities, such as New York and Chicago the illegal alcohol industry boomed and brought about the emergence of the much more dangerous gang crime. Between...