25 February 2007

The Dry and Lawless Years

On January 16, 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment, also known as The Volstead Act, better known as Prohibition, went into effect. As of that day, the possession of alcohol became illegal except for medicinal purposes.

The ink wasn't even dry on the bill before organized crime stepped up to the plate and filled the gap left by Volstead. Speakeasies sprung up basically overnight, and they needed someone to supply them with alcohol, the mobs were more than happy to comply. Things started out fairly well, with each mob faction dividing a city into parts and doing their bit to keep the masses in illegal hooch. But, greedy ambition soon made cities battlegrounds between different gangs and too often, innocent bystanders were stuck in the middle.

The Eighteenth Amendment seems to have done more to promote drinking than anything else in the history of our country. Young women broke the restraints of society and enjoyed freedoms never experenced in previous generations. Smoking and drinking became fashionable for both men and women, as did raw, earthy jazz music and crazy fads and dances. The 1920's ushered in a whole new mindset, introducing a hereto unheard of thing called a generation gap. It was a golden, frantic decade. In retrospect, it was destined to self-destruct.

In October of 1929, the Wall Street bubble burst, contributing to the great depression of the 1930's. In December of 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified, effectively repealing the Eighteenth Amendment and making alcohol again legal. Ironically, the people most sorry to see it go was the criminal element.


DeborahBrent said...

Some states went dry long before Prohibition. Tennessee became a dry state ten years before the Volstead Act.

There are lots of counties in TN that are still dry. They have private clubs where you bring your own hooch that you bought in another county or made in the local secret still. Yes, they are still around. But, the cash maker is pot and meth.

Deborah Brent

Jacquie said...

Thanks for the excellent post, Delia.

I wonder if Prohibition actually promulgated the rebellion against tradition--the straight dresses instead of the pinched waist, the heavy makeup on both men and women at a time when only "loose" women wore it, and the sexual freedom the young people took, to the utter astonishment of the older generation.

Could you speak to correlation between the new attitudes and the government's attempt to legislate morality?


Marjorie Jones said...

Great post. My heroine in The Flyer, due out this fall, is of this generation and mindset, faced with 'going back in time' (not really) when she ends up in Western Australia toward the end of the decade. Talk about a culture shock.

One of the interesting things I found in my research, which surprised the hooch outta me, was a reference to it being illegal to SELL booze, not to possess it. Bathtub gin for personal consumption, or sharing with guests at no charge, was legal, but bottling it and selling it to your neighbor was not.

And speaking of dry counties in Tennessee...how about Lynchburg. Yep, the home of Jack Daniels is dry as a bone.

DeborahBrent said...

The workers at the Jack Daniel's plant get a bottle of the brew each payday. My DIL grew-up there.