Florida's Experience with National Prohibition and Its Repeal

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Florida has a long history of supporting temperance. For example, Dade County voted itself dry in 1913, years before National Prohibition went into effect in 1920. Residents hoped that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, improve health, and protect women and young people.

However, many residents and visitors objected to prohibitions on what they saw as their right to drink. South Florida's proximity to the Caribbean with its legal alcohol made the area a natural location for bootlegging and Miami Beach openly flaunted the law.

Where the law wasn't openly violated, illegal producers and sellers bribed police and other officials, which was apparently easy to do. In Fort Lauderdale, the sheriff, the assistant chief of police, and seventeen others, including policemen and deputy sheriffs, were arrested on charges of conspiracy. Farther up the coast in South Jacksonville, practically the entire city administration, including the mayor, the chief of police, the president of the city council, the city commissioner, and the fire chief, were indicted by a federal grand jury.

Those law enforcers who were not corrupt frequently violated law to enforce Prohibition. In 1923, a U.S. Coast Guard boat off South Florida had orders to capture a rumrunner in international waters - in violation of international law - if necessary. It opened fire on the rumrunner in international waters, where he was illegally captured.

Widespread corruption as well as illegal and often violent enforcement activities led to a lack of respect for Prohibition in particular and law in general. It became fashionable for women, for the first time in history, to drink and it created an undesirable pattern of drinking -- consuming less often but much more heavily. People didn't go to a speakeasy to enjoy a drink leisurely with a meal but to guzzle alcohol while it was available.

Moonshine was hastily made and often contained lead toxins from careless production as well as creosote and occasionally even embalming fluid.
Customers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness or painful death.

As time passed, the problems caused by Prohibition increased. Residents saw that it didn't reduce crime but created it, didn't improve health but endangered it, and didn't protect women and young people but threatened them. In short, they realized that Prohibition was counterproductive.

Floridians voted over 80% for Repeal and an end to that disastrous social experiment called National Prohibition.

 

Additional Reading:

  • Asbury, Herbert. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition.
    New York: Greenwood Press, 1968 (Originally published 1950).
  • Behr, Edward. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY:
    Arcade, 1996.
  • Cashman, Sean D. Prohibition: The Lie of the Land. New York:Free Press, 1981.
  • Clark, N. H. Deliver Us From Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition. New York: Norton, 1976.
  • Furnas, J. C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. New York: G. P.
    Pumam's Sons, 1965.
  • Kerr, K. Austin. Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League. New haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.
  • Kobler, John. Ardent spirits: the rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P.
    Putnam's Sons, 1973.
  • Krout, John A. The Origins of Prohibition. New York: Knopf, 1925.
  • Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
  • Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League.
    NY: Columbia University Press, 1928.
  • Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York University Press, 1996.
  • Sinclair, Andrew. Prohibition: The Era of Excess. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., 1962.
  • Willebrandt, Mabel Walker. The Inside of Prohibition. Indianapolis, IN:
    Bobbs-Merrill, 1929.

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