AMERICAN MOSAIC #815 - Prohibition

By Nancy Steinbach


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Libya. Ghayda Alali asks about the time in American history when alcohol was banned. That time period is called "Prohibition." The word means the ban on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic drinks.

Such drinks were very popular in America in the Eighteen-Hundreds. Alcoholic drinks were often safer than water or milk. They were less costly than coffee or tea. Experts say that by the Eighteen-Twenties, Americans were drinking an average of about twenty-six liters of alcohol per person a year.

Some people became concerned that Americans were drinking too much alcohol.They believed it damaged health and led to crime and violence. At first these activists urged people to drink less. Later they tried to stop all alcohol use. About thirteen states approved laws banning alcohol in the Eighteen-Fifties.

After the Civil War in the Eighteen-Sixties, people who supported banning alcohol formed a number of organizations. The Prohibition Party supported candidates for political office. Other groups were formed by women. They included the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League. This group tried to close drinking places.

Many people supported national prohibition by the early Nineteen-Hundreds.They blamed alcohol for poverty and health problems. They believed it caused men to mistreat women and children. Businessmen felt that alcohol use threatened their workers' safety and their companies' production.

In Nineteen-Seventeen, Congress approved the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment banned the production, sale, transportation, import and export of alcoholic drinks. It was approved by the states the next year, and went into effect in Nineteen-Twenty.

History experts say most Americans honored the law at first. Later, however, citizens believed that prohibition gave the government too much control over their lives. During prohibition, many people made their own alcohol. People sold alcohol illegally. And it was brought into the United States illegally from Canada.

During the Nineteen-Thirties, the nation's economy suffered. Some people believed that producing and selling alcohol would improve the economy. The government found it increasingly difficult to enforce the law banning it. So Congress approved the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution that ended prohibition in Nineteen-Thirty-Three.

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