"Both Sides of the Question" cartoon

When most Americans think about this country's experience with Prohibition, they remember it as an ill-conceived experiment and an undeniable failure. A prime reason for this attitude, of course, is that the Prohibition amendment was repealed thirteen years after its passage. However, the dismissal of Prohibition as an embarrassing mistake, a shameful blot on America's legislative record, is too simplistic. A more thorough examination of Prohibition reveals more success than expected and a contentious scholarly debate about its impact. It also demonstrates that the battle over alcohol provided an arena for the mounting conflicts between modern and traditional, urban and rural, immigrant and native, Catholic and Protestant. The use of alcohol sharply divided American society; alcohol became a symbol for larger cultural clashes.

After a nearly one hundred year history in America, the temperance movement culminated in a constitutional amendment, passed in 1919, that mandated national Prohibition. The amendment forbade the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. Temperance was a popular reform movement in the nineteenth century when many predominantly Protestant Americans responded to the problems created by drunkenness. Temperance was associated with many other forward-looking reform movements of the 1800s, including women's rights, abolitionism, and education reform.

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