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Prohibition: When Alcohol Was Illegal

The government banned alcohol for 13 years, but it failed to end drunkenness.

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Alcohol is highly regulated in the United States today, but did you know it was once illegal? The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol nationwide in 1920, beginning the time called Prohibition. But it didn’t work, so it was repealed in 1933 with the 21st Amendment.

The idea of making alcohol illegal in the United States was nothing new in 1920. During the 1800s and early 1900s, many anti-alcohol groups sprang up, and in many ways the movement was led by women. Eventually, Congress listened, and alcohol was made illegal across the nation. But Prohibition ultimately failed, and we’re still dealing with the consequences today.

Prohibition Just Didn’t Work

A lot of people simply ignored the laws. To make matters worse, Prohibition gave rise to illegal, hidden bars called speakeasies, which served alcohol to customers in secret. Bootleggers were people who made and transported alcohol during Prohibition. A lot of this alcohol was made as quickly and cheaply as possible, and thousands of people were poisoned by bad drink.

The Rise of Organized Crime

Prohibition helped create organized crime as we know it today. Thousands of gangs sprang up or became more powerful thanks to the money they made selling alcohol. By the 1930s, this had spread everywhere. Rival gangs fought each other – and the police – in the streets.

A Government “Solution” to a Government-Created Problem

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Firearms Act (NFA) as part of his “new deal for crime.” The NFA was supposed to stop or at least slow the gang violence. It was the first national gun control law, but it was not the last.

Prohibition only lasted 13 years, officially, but in practice it never fully went away. Even today it is a federal crime to distill any amount of alcohol for human consumption without a distribution license. Guns are heavily regulated, compared to before Prohibition.

Ten states still have dry counties, in which the sale of alcohol is illegal. Gangs and other organized crime problems never went away. All in all, it was a huge failure that we’re still paying for today.

James Fite

James is our wordsmith extraordinaire, a legislation hound and lover of all things self-reliant and free. An author of politics and fiction (often one and the same) at and, he homesteads in the Arkansas wilderness.

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