Understanding the Drastic Change in Public Opinion of Prohibition

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Scharlau, Marissa
In December 1919, the United States officially added the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors. This amendment ushered in an era of controversy and rapid social change that eventually culminated in the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment within less than fifteen years. When it was first passed, national prohibition was generally popular among the public, largely due to concerns over the connections between saloons, crime, and political corruption. Over time, however, public opinion began to shift towards opposition to the amendment, as its failures became more evident. The focus of this paper is the factors that contributed to this rapid shift in public opinion. These factors include an increase in the crime rate, increased political corruption, the use of controversial law enforcement practices, and prison overcrowding. A primary source analysis of newspapers and journals from the time period will be used to obtain relevant information. The paper will first provide an overview of these four issues, and then compare and analyze different perspectives related to them found within the sources. The different controversial perspectives discussed will generally debate how prohibition impacted certain issues, such as the amount of revenue bootlegging provided gangs or the morality of killing rum-runners.