why was prohibition called the noble experiment

With the passage and ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919, law enforcement officials all over the nation were charged with stopping:. the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States. for beverage purposes. Congress and the states were left with the task of figuring out how to prohibit alcohol from the public a public that was still deeply divided about the evils of alcohol. Liquor stores and saloons were shut down. But it was not long before illegal stills were set up. Speakeasies sprang up, hidden saloons where you quietly whispered a password to a bouncer at the door to get in. Organized crime moved in on the illegal, but popular, trade in alcohol. And law enforcement agencies from DC to Douglas County, Nebraska, raided stills and warehouses, often at gunpoint. President Herbert Hoover called prohibition The Noble Experiment and many observers seemed to agree with this assessment. Noble because the goals of keeping families together and reducing or eliminating alcohol abuse were noble goals. An experiment because most observers felt like it was an experience that failed. Too many in the country saw nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation. In fact, many people voted for the amendment thinking that it would still allow light beer and wine which had low alcohol contents. During World War I, there had been an alcohol act that allowed people to drink beer and wine but outlawed hard liquor (which has more alcohol). After passage of the 18th Amendment, it was up to Congress to set the maximum alcoholic content in beverages. They passed the Volstead Act that was more severe than many expected. The Act put the maximum alcoholic content at 0. 05 percent. By comparison, today s beers have between 4 and 6 percent alcohol, 100 times more than the Volstead Act allowed.


Whiskey had around 50 percent alcohol. So, many were shocked when the Act put the alcohol content so low. A
Literary Digest poll taken in 1922 found that 40 percent of respondents favored allowing light beer and wine. The poll also found that 62 percent of working men favored lenient enforcement of prohibition. Before the amendment, everyone from presidential candidates to song writers had been labeled as either wet or dry. Historian David Kyvig, in his book Repealing National Prohibition, suggests that there was a huge group in the middle that he calls moists. These were people who may have wanted to regulate and limit the effects of alcohol, but who did not think outright prohibition was right or enforceable. That sentiment continued to grow as more and more speakeasies were built, as bathtub gin was brewed in ordinary bathrooms, and as organized crime became richer and more violent. Comedians began to ridicule prohibition. Groups of men and women began to organize. And as the Great Depression hit, people looking for work thought that legalizing breweries again might create new jobs. By 1932, newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw his weight behind repeal of the 18th Amendment. Congress went along in 1933 and sent the issue to the states. Nebraska was not one of the 36 states (out of 48 total, then) who voted in special constitutional conventions to ratify the repeal in 1933. However, in 1934, Nebraskans did vote to repeal the state s constitutional prohibition by a 60 to 40 percent margin. The Noble Experiment was over. Prohibition was the so-called "noble experiment" which had some rather ignoble consequences. as Mo Rocca will remind us: The nightclub. the speedboat. the mob. men and women drinking together. the spread of jazz. the booze cruise. the powder room. the cocktail.


What do they all have in common? They're the results - direct and indirect - of Prohibition, the nearly 14-year period from 1920 to 1933 when the manufacture, sale or transportation of "intoxicating liquor" was illegal in this country. The nightclub - the "speakeasies" of the time of Prohibition - led to the nightclubs of modern times. The speedboat made its debut during Prohibition; it was the transport mode of choice for crime groups smuggling liquor into the United States across the Great Lakes and other bodies of water. "Booze cruises" would take passengers beyond American territorial waters - and out of the reach of the law - so that patrons could enjoy alcoholic beverages. Before the era of Prohibition (which took effect about the time the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920), saloons were largely a "men only" affair. Speakeasies, on the other hand, were frequented by men and women alike. Jazz was often provided as entertainment at these clubs, dancing was common, and - as more and more women frequented these establishments - powder rooms became de rigueur. Since much of the illegal liquor sold in the United State during the time of Prohibition was less than top quality, mixed drinks. cocktails. grew in popularity, allowing bartenders to mask the taste of poor quality booze with juices and other beverages. "Why do you love the story so much? " Rocca asked Daniel Okrent, author of "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. " "It's the answer to that question, how the hell did that happen? " he replied. "I mean, it's just so improbable. How did this freedom-loving country put into the organic law, into the Constitution, this unbelievable stricture that said that you can't have a glass of beer?


It's really hard to believe. " Part of the reason was simply that Americans liked to drink. a lot. "This country was very, very drunk," Okrent said. "In 1830 the average American over 15 years of age drank 7. 3 gallons of pure alcohol a year. That's the equivalent of 90 fifths of 80-proof liquor, 1. 8 bottles per week for every drinker in the country. " "We shouldn't forget that alcoholism is a serious social problem. It was a social problem in the 19th century which prompted Prohibition, it is today" said filmmaker Ken Burns. Burns and producer Lynn Novick have collaborated on documentaries about jazz and baseball. In their newest film, airing tonight on PBS, they take on Prohibition. Prohibition was billed, they point out, as the "one-size-fits-all" cure for the ills of American society. "Prohibition was really sold as not just that it would solve the problem of alcoholism, it would solve poverty. It would solve child labor, it would solve prostitution, it would solve crime, it would get rid of slums," said Novick. With so many problems to address, it's not surprising that the Dry coalition was dizzyingly diverse. Suffragettes who originally wanted the vote so they could outlaw demon liquor. small town Protestants threatened by the wave of Catholic immigrants and their city saloons. the Ku Klux Klan, who exploited the pernicious stereotype of the dangerous black man with a bottle. even Broadway producers who wanted patrons out of bars (and in their theaters). It was, Rocca noted, the epitome of strange bedfellows. Okrent agreed: "If you can imagine a very large bed that accommodates, you know, some guy wearing a KKK uniform, somebody from the Industrial Workers of the World, Jane Addams, and J. J. Shubert of the theater chain, that's a very strange set of bedfellows. "

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