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Prohibition



Prohibition

2.Course of the Prohibition

2.2. Volstead Act

2.3. President Harding

2.4. Development of the organized crime

2.4.1. Breeding ground Chicago

2.4.2. Al Capone

2.5. People´s attitude towards alcohol

7 . Bibliography _______________________________________________________________________

2.2.

In 1916 - when 23 out the 48 states were already dry as two- thirds of the politician elected for Congress were ASL- supporter but mainly for the reason that Prohibition was the vote winning topic.. Therefore it is no wonder that on December 22, 1917, the Congress added the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited “ the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors“[5]. This was a little more specified in the “Volstead Act“ written in 1919 that defined “intoxicating liquors“ as alcohol except for medical or industrial use. Furthermore the production of “near- beer“ was still permitted, which should only contain 0.5 % alcohol. Penalties for violations were $1,000 or 30 days prison for the first offence and up to $ 10,000 and a year for further convictions.

Andrew J. Volstead Act, who the Volstead Act is named after, was only its facilitator.

In fact, Wheeler was its true architect, who was also responsible for the act being

hopelessly inadequate as he believed in the peoples´ unwillingness to break the law which resulted from the naive American belief that the Americans´ moral conviction would be stronger than wish for personal liberty.

For example the act did not concern the actual consumption of liquor in private homes therefore the New York Daily News could give its readers its readers useful advice how to survive Prohibition. 2

An other wrong decision Wheeler made was putting the Prohibition Bureau under the authority of the Treasury Department instead of the Justice Department and excluding Prohibition agents from the Civil Service. Very early on, this decision proved disastrous as the Prohibition agents in every state were recruited by the political authority, which changed every now and then. Moreover the employers did not regard the personal qualifications or references of their applicants and the maximum wage was only about 2,300 $, which was barely enough to live on. Therefore it is no wonder many of them turned to corruption which explains why this job was so wanted. “In any one year, there were 10,00 applicants for 2,000 jobs, and the average length of service was only a few months - most agents being “let go “ for corrupt practices that could not be satisfactorily proved or prosecuted.“[6]

2.3.

The disaster of Prohibition could only happen because of its weak politicians and the unscrupulous counselors behind them. This catastrophe could even be found on highest level : President Harding, who was “ certainly the weakest, most indecisive president in American history“[7] was completely dependent of his friends.

Warren Harding grew up the small town Marion in Ohio, where his father earned his living as a junk dealer after failing as a homeopathic doctor. His son Warren preferring billiards, poker and gossip to books was perfectly happy with his first job as an editor of a small local paper.

At the age of 26 he married the seven years older rich widow Florence Kling even though she was “lacking any kind of charm“ but her fortune meant a financial and social stepping- stone for Harding..3 However, he had to bare her constant grumbling, that brought about the wish to get away.

Because of his immense personal charm and his good position it was only a small step for Harding to enter politics. A friend of his once noted: “ His conception of political progress was to make no enemies.“[8]

Though Harding had little interest for state politics the Republican Party asked him to go to Washington as a senator due his good looks and “statesmanlike ( if spurious ) “presence“ “8

After realizing that the Senate was some kind of luxury club for poker- and sports- loving

self- protectionists he soon started to feel very comfortable especially when his wife - he used to call her “The Duchess “ was not around.

Usually he spend most of his time on the golf course, in the Senate bar or poker games instead of doing his job.

Like most other Congressmen he only supported Prohibition to get vote whereas he was a steady drinker in his private time.

Quite soon after the beginning of his political career in Ohio two men noticed Harding´s political potential and their chance to have great influence on the country behind his back.

The one was the lawyer and failed politician Harry Micajah Daugherty, who had full insight into the corrupt machine of the Republican Party. As he was completely aware that he could only make a career as the man behind the scene therefore he had to become someone‘s counselor and strategist.

The other person behind Harding was Jess Smith being twelve years younger than Daugherty and looked after Harding´s financial affairs in the late 1890s.

As Harding´s two ambitious helpers were always very close to him, he could not keep any secret to himself. They knew for example about Harding´s relationship with the 20- year old shop- girl Nan Britton that started in 1917 and went on for years. Of course, Harding was well aware that the liaison would spoil his political future if it became known publicly therefore knowledge gave Daugherty and Smith the power to put him under pressure if he did not agree with their feelings and dealings.

During Prohibition the two men accepted among others huge sums of hush money from influential criminal overlords, that wanted to buy immunity from prosecution that way.

After the first World War Harding became the presidential candidate of the Republicans due to the backing of his two advisers and the lack of more convincing opponents.

Now it was Jess Smith ´s turn to play an important role as Harding´s campaign manager.

As people were tired of “heady interventionist days of Woodrow Wilson, the trauma of the Great War, and the unprecedentely violent strikes“[9] of the previous year the people very positively responded to Smith´s election campaign picturing Harding as the kind small- towner he was. Slogans used by Smith were for example “ With Harding back to normal.“ or “ Think of America first.“.

Harding´s election victory very clearly shows how strongly the American wished to withdraw from the troubled scene of world politics and explains why Prohibition, that promised a return to small town virtues such as a family- and church- orientated life, had a great force of attraction .

Very soon after his election Harding realized that he was not able to cope with the duties of a President even though he could fool the public.

After his death during his third year in office Jess Smith and Daugherty were questioned in series of investigations that exposed the huge depths of Harding´s administration.

Of course, even during Prohibition there were some law- abiding officers as for example

Eliot Ness, the head of an incorruptible nine-man team of law officers called the 'Untouchables,' who opposed Al Capone`s underworld network in Chicago.

2.4.1.

Behind New York, Chicago was the most populated city of the United States with scarcely two millions inhabitants. Due to its location on the south- western tip of Lake Michigan, Chicago became the main trading center for the grain and livestock of the growing Midwest in the 19th century.

Later heavy industry, warehouses and rail yards crowded the banks of the Chicago River.

The poet Car Sandburg once described Chicago as the “ stormy, husky, brawling city of the big shoulder“1[0], which is very correct as violence and corruption had always been a normal part of the Chicagoans life due to its hasty growth when the second European immigrant wave flooded America from 1880 to 1900 causing a very high population density and social tension: the differences between the new and the old lifestyle often undermined families.

As the newcomers outnumbered the old Anglo- Saxon establishment by about 75 % they hardly adjusted to their value system. Furthermore many of them had great difficulties with the language and hardly any knowledge of democratic principles therefore many politician consolidated their power by sending out fellow member, who got special privileges if they collected many votes.

Chicago´s Mayor during the Prohibition era - “Big Bill“ Thompson - was very similar to Harding. He only entered politics because of a lost poker game and owed his election to his great charm and popularity among the gangland. It is true that Thompson promised to reform the corrupt police department but after his election victory nothing changed.

Usually bribed officers warned the owners of illegal bars or brothels before the search so the police work was very pointless.

If an underground figure was arrested by accident because the raid was led by an idealistic newcomer, who had not yet adjusted to the rules of the organized crime, he usually came free very soon as the gangsters also owned the greatest part of the administration of justice.

Till the beginning of Prohibition most gangland leaders earned their fortune by owning several of the numerous brothels and casinos of Chicago´s red light district, which was greater and freer than any other one in the world.

2.4.2.

Al Capone was born in Brooklyn on January 17, 1899. His parents had immigrated from the slums of Naples to the ghetto of Brooklyn´s shipyard area at the peak of the Great Depression in 1893.4 As children of Italian immigrants Capone and his eight brothers and sisters grew up in the worst part of Little Italy. At the age of fourteen Al Capone left school without having any qualifications and joined a youth gang called “Five Pointer“.

Members of those gangs did not necessarily have to become criminals for the rest of their adult lives, as membership in such a gang was the only way to survive in the ghetto.

Capone, however, strived to emulate his boss Franky Yale, who earned his living as a blackmailer with a reputation for his cruel treatment of his victims and his generosity towards his companions.

In a fight in a brothel, a young bruiser slashed Capone’s left cheek with a knife, leaving a the scar that gave Capone his later nickname 'Scarface“. Nevertheless Capone asked that man to become one of his bodyguards at the height of his power.

Due to his lack of experience, young Capone got arrested three times, of which twice he was suspected of manslaughter.

Later Capone came under the influence of Neapolitan gangster John Torrio, who strongly influenced the criminal development and tactics of his younger friend and protégée.

After marring the Irish girl Mae Coughlin on December 19, 1917, who gave birth to their son Sonny the following year, Capone had to flee to Chicago because of a triple murder suspicion.

In his new home town Capone joined the gang of the powerful brothel and casino owner

John Torrio and helped him to broaden his influence by bribing and blackmailing police officers and businessmen. In 1920 Capone´s share of Torrios’ illegal business amounted to $ 25.000, which equates to an approximate 25 % of their total profit.

Capone and Torrio immediately realized the opportunity of building a new revenue stream out of bootlegging that presented itself with the introduction of Prohibition. By co-operating with Joseph Stenson, the leading brewery owner in the Chicago area, Capone and Torrio could extend their influence to four more breweries and a few small distilleries.

The power of the Torrio- Capone- gang was so great, that the highest local politicians and authorities protected them against police raids. Especially the influence on the mayor, the chief of the police department and on other important local figures was the main source of Capone´s organizational success.

In Cicero, one of Chicago’s neighboring cities, Capone’s wishes held more sway than the law. At times the gang went as far as to store their liquor in the cellar of the town hall.

His personal power, which Capone had gained by undermining the administration, gave him the ability to built up a huge but very disciplined criminal organization, that was characterized by great team cohesion. Capone himself behaved like a generous father figure very much resembling a Mafia Godfather as portrayed in the three episodes of “The Godfather“.5

Furthermore Capone always regarded himself as a business man rather than a gangster:

“ I make my money by supplying a public demand.

If I break the law, my customers, who number hundreds

of the best people in Chicago, are as guilty as I am. The

only difference between us is that I sell and they buy.

Everybody calls me a racketeer. I call myself a business man.“1[1]

Unfortunately Capone´s great success as a businessman finally led into his ruin: Even though he was arrested many times he only went to prison once: for tax evasion. This fact impressively demonstrates, that his influence on the police, judges and lawyers was so immense, that could even save him from going to prison for the numerous murders he ordered during the gang warfare between 1924 and 1931:

Like all other business man the bootleggers were depended on competition as the base of their price and quality level therefore each of them was interested in being the only one to sell liquor in a specific area.

In 1920 Torrio had already negotiated a contract with the other important gangs , that regulated the territorial inviolability of their area of influence.

In case of violation the offender should be punished by the criminal alliance.

Thanks to their contract the different gangs were able prosper without disturbances till

the O´Donnell gang started to raid other gangster’s beer transports and to sell them in Torrio’s influential area. After many men lost their lives in the following gang warfare the O´Donnells finally surrendered. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the trouble as the Irish O´Banion gang was even more dangerous for Torrio´s and Capone´s illegal business: By underselling O´Donnell succeeded to take market share from Capone.

Therefore more fighting followed, amounting into the infamous St. Valentin´s massacre :

Members of Capone´s gang brutally gunned down workers of the O´Donnell gang, who had been lured into a remote storehouse.6

On the order of the American President Hoover tax officers finally succeeded to set an end to Capone´s criminal career. After many fruitless raids the police got hold of evidence, that proofed, that Capone had not paid any taxes on his huge profits.

In October 1931 he was found guilty, and sentenced to 11 years in prison and $80,000 in fines and court costs. He entered the penal institution of Atlanta in May 1932 but was transferred to the new Alcatraz prison in August 1934. In November 1939, suffering from a late stage of syphilis, he was released and entered a Baltimore hospital. Later he retired to his Florida estate, where he died as a powerless hermit in 1974.

2.5.

Even though people knew about the weaknesses of Prohibition by the mid- 1920s even Americans like the civil libertarian Clarence Darrow believed that “Even to modify the Volstead Act would require a political revolution.“1[2] Therefore it is quite surprising why Prohibition was finally abolished with such a suddenness.

One reason might be the change of that many Americans, who had demanded the suppression of saloons, were now shocked by the violence of the organized, the corruption and the governmental incompetence.

Furthermore the Victorian values of the ASL as for example the protection of family and faith in God and progress became more and more unpopular. That is mainly due to the fact, that especially young members of the middle- class started to be attracted by the rising consumer culture. Now the old values were replaced by the wish for self- fulfillment and entertainment. Consumerism flourished as the new religion of the middle class.

In contrary to the old saloons, that were mainly used for working- class recreation, the flourishing “speak- easies“ offered more sensibility and a faint touch of illegal adventure.

An other difference to the past saloon- times was, that women were welcomed in the new bars.7 Before Prohibition time drinking had been a strictly gender- segregated activity: men drank in saloons, women, if they did, at home.

Therefore illegal bars offered completely new possibilities of interaction being much more experimental and entertaining.8

Nevertheless it is only a legend, that people drank more during Prohibition, as it was only the middle- class exposure to drinking, that grew. Even the old people adjusted to the new values and preached for moderation not abstinence.

However, the strongest arguments against Prohibition was the shocking power of organized crime and the need for tax money to finance the interaction into World War II.

Therefore, the Democratic Party adopted a platform calling for repeal in 1932 and their victory in the presidential election in the same year meant the beginning of the end of the Eighteenth Amendment.

In February 1933 Congress adopted a resolution adding the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution to repeal the Eighteenth. On Dec. 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, and repeal was achieved

2. Advice by the New York Daily News:

You may drink intoxicating liquor in your own home or in the

home of a friend when you are a bona fide guest.

You may buy intoxication liquor on a bona fide medical

prescription of a doctor.

You may consider any place you live permanently as you home.

If you have more than one home, you may keep a stock of

liquor in each.

You may manufacture, sell or transport liquor for non- beverage

or sacramental purposes provided you obtain a Government permit.

You cannot store liquor in any place but your home. You cannot remove reserve stocks from storage. 2

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