Enforced Morality On An Unwilling Public: The Wets Vs The Bone-Drys

January 16th, 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified. So began the great moral experiment where the federal government would begin enforcing the moral code of those who viewed the consumption of alcohol as a nefarious plague on the society of the United States.

The American people have said that they do not want any liquor sold, and they have said it emphatically by passing almost unanimously the constitutional amendment.” Judiciary Chairman Andrew Volstead of Minnesota https://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1901-1950/The-Volstead-Act/

With a Republican majority in the House, the law passed the chamber convincingly on July 22, 1919 with a vote 287 to 100. The Volstead Act remained in effect until the passage of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in 1933.” Ibid.

The advocates of this prohibition felt that their sovereign god could not bless this nation as long as alcohol was available to stupefy the alky in his unsavory ways and tempt the youth, both young men and women, into the desolate wasteland of drink. The holy crusade found its champions with the politicians and religious leaders across the land who supported their righteous cause.

Prohibition only drives drunkenness behind doors and into dark places, and does not cure it or even diminish it.” Mark Twain July 1867, SMITHOSIAN January-February 2020

Hans Brinker

Unfortunately, enforcement of the morality of temperance on the whole populace would prove to be a catastrophic leaking dam which even the mythological Dutch boy Hans Brinker’s finger would not be able to plug. The dam broke, and the flood of myriad speakeasies, unchecked bootlegging, immeasurable corruption, and wholesale murder became the commonality during these years.

The newspapers and magazines of the 1920s were saturated with the stories of decadence which was befalling society. Preachers ranted about the moral decay and prognosticated the divine judgements to come.

In some cases, audacious open displays of alcoholic sales defied the law of the land. Many lined their pockets with the illicit gains from the pernicious business, and their profit was a crucifix where their scruples hung in shame.

Realizing the ultimate failure of Prohibition and the loss of morals in the rise of organized crime and rampant alcohol consumption as well the precious tax revenue, Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th Amendment on February 21, 1933 and it was sent to the states for voting.

Presidential Proclamation 2065, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the repeal of Prohibition December 5, 1933

I ask the whole-hearted cooperation of all our citizens to the end that this return of individual freedom shall not be accompanied by the repugnant conditions that obtained prior to the adoption of the eighteenth amendment and those that have existed since its adoption. Failure to do this honestly and courageously will be a living reproach to us all.

I ask especially that no State shall by law or otherwise authorize the return of the saloon either in its old form or in some modern guise.

The policy of the Government will be to see to it that the social and political evils that have existed in the pre-prohibition era shall not be revived nor permitted again to exist. We must remove forever from our midst the menace of the bootlegger and such others as would profit at the expense of good government, law, and order.

I trust in the good sense of the American people that they will not bring upon themselves the curse of excessive use of intoxicating liquors, to the detriment of health, morals, and social integrity.

The objective we seek through a national policy is the education of every citizen towards a greater temperance throughout the Nation. https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/repeal-prohibition

So ended the great moral experiment in temperance. In many ways the national temperance movement never recovered from this deleterious blow.

Many people on January 1st, 2020 welcomed back the “Roaring Twenties” without realizing the cataclysmic history of that tragic decade. The kaleidoscope of the 1920s may seem like a joyful time of great music, dancing and other human indulgences, but the reality of what happened to this country during Prohibition and the countdown to the Great Depression may not be what people want to repeat in the “Roaring Twenties” of the 2020s.

G. D. Williams © 2020

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The Temperance Movement

“Women were strongly behind the temperance movement, for alcohol was seen as the destroyer of families and marriages. Men would often spend their money on alcohol, leaving women with no money to provide for their children. Factory owners also supported temperance as well because of the new work habits that were required of industrial workers – early mornings and long nights.” https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/volstead-act

The temperance movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries was an organized effort to encourage moderation in the consumption of intoxicating liquors or press for complete abstinence. The movement’s ranks were mostly filled by women who, with their children, had endured the effects of unbridled drinking by many of their menfolk. In fact, alcohol was blamed for many of society’s demerits, among them severe health problems, destitution and crime. At first, they used moral suasion to address the problem.

A U.S. organization that became international was the national Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1874. The WCTU employed educational and social as well as political means in promoting legislation. During the 1880s the organization spread to other lands, and in 1883 the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was formed.

During the early nineteenth century, many citizens of the United States became convinced that many Americans were living in an immoral manner. These people feared that God would no longer bless the United States and that these ungodly and unscrupulous people posed a threat to America’s political system. To survive, the American republic, these people believed, needed virtuous citizens.


The culmination of nearly a century of activism, Prohibition was intended to improve, even to ennoble, the lives of all Americans, to protect individuals, families, and society at large from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse.

The culmination of nearly a century of activism, Prohibition was intended to improve, even to ennoble, the lives of all Americans, to protect individuals, families, and society at large from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse.

When looking into the prohibition and bootlegging as a whole the
Bondurant brothers are usually a name that comes up. These brothers were known for their ruthlessness and passion for moonshining in Franklin County Virginia.

Virginia at the time of these brothers would come to be known as the wettest county in the world. These 3 men bootlegged gallons and gallons of moonshine all over the state of Virginia and were some of the best at it. They are best known for the Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy.

The Depression made it hard for the German-Catholic immigrants who settled in the area to make a living, but Prohibition created a market for illegal booze, and some of these pious churchgoers jumped at the chance.
As stills fired up and the moonshine flowed out of barns and faux cheese factories, family secrets, attacks by federal agents, Al Capone sightings and even murder were the result.

“This joint resolution proposed the Eighteenth Amendment. A joint resolution is a formal opinion adopted by both houses of the legislative branch. A constitutional amendment must be passed as a joint resolution before it is sent to the states for ratification.

“This resolution was submitted to the states on December 18, 1917, proposed amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” The amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919. “Prohibition” ended in 1933 when the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th.” https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/18th-amendment

This joint resolution proposed the 21st Amendment. A joint resolution is a formal opinion adopted by both houses of the legislative branch. A constitutional amendment must be passed as a joint resolution before it is sent to the states for ratification.

This resolution was passed on February 21, 1933, and sent to the states for ratification that same day. Ratified on December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment is unique for two reasons. It is the only amendment to repeal another amendment (the 18th, which legalized Prohibition). Secondly, it was the only amendment to be ratified by state conventions assembled specifically to vote on it, rather than by state legislatures. https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/21st-amendment

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