Yes, Virginia, National Prohibition was a Disaster

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Virginia has long been a stronghold of temperance sentiment. So many Virginians were opposed to the sale of alcohol that they had established state-wide prohibition in 1914, well before the country followed suit in 1920.

There was a strong belief in the state that outlawing the sale of alcohol would lead to less crime, better health, higher morality and the protection of young people. Reality proved otherwise.

Those residents who chose to continue drinking instantly became criminals and those who chose to satisfy the brisk demand for alcoholic beverages were also criminals.

Illegal producers and sellers of alcohol generally had to bribe law officials and others in order to operate. It was a business expense but not a deductible one because now all profits from alcohol were unreported illegal income that deprived the state of much-needed taxes.

As knowledge of corruption spread, respect for law declined and it became fashionable for women, for the first time in history, to drink. It became an easy way to rebel and spread to college campuses.

Prohibition also promoted a new and dangerous drinking pattern - consuming less often but much more heavily. People didn't go to a speakeasy to saver a drink leisurely over a meal but to guzzle it quickly while it was available. For the first time in history, drinking became fashionable among women and young

Moonshine was quickly made and often contained toxic lead compounds from careless production methods as well as creosote and often embalming fluid.
Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness and even death.

It became increasingly apparent that Prohibition didn't decrease crime but dramatically increased; didn't lead to better health but sometimes led to paralysis, blindness and even death; didn't raise morality but to lowered it; and didn't protect young people but threatened their well-being.

As Virginians realized that Prohibition was not only ineffective but actually counterproductive, they voted by a 63 percent margin for Repeal.

 

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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