of the Prohibition
2.2. Volstead Act
2.3. President Harding
2.4. Development of the organized
2.4.1. Breeding ground Chicago
2.4.2. Al Capone
2.5. People´s attitude towards
7 . Bibliography
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“. 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
In fact, Wheeler was its true architect, who was also responsible for the
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.“
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“ 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
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
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
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“ 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
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
The poet Car Sandburg once described Chicago as the “ stormy, husky,
brawling city of the big shoulder“1,
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
Usually bribed officers warned the
owners of illegal bars or brothels before the search so the police work was
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
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.
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
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
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
Furthermore Capone always regarded himself as a business man rather than a
“ 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
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
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.
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
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
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,
Therefore illegal bars offered
completely new possibilities of interaction being much more experimental and
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
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
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