23 March 2011

Crime & Law Enforcement: Prohibition

By: Elizabeth Lane

The Prohibition era lasted from 1920 through 1933. It took a Constitutional amendment to enact it, and another one to repeal it. The attempt to wipe out the "evils" of alcohol actually created more crime.

Temperance movements had thrived in the United States throughout the 19th century, but it was the First World War that provided a chance for the movement to enact a national ban on alcohol. Anti-alcohol sentiment in Congress led to the Lever Food and Fuel Control Act of 1917. This act regulated food, fuel, and other commodities that might be needed for the war effort. It was argued that the grains used to distill alcohol were needed as food and were in short supply because of the war. This temporarily shut down the country's breweries and distilleries.

In December 1917, a permanent ban on the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages was enacted by passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment was ratified in January of 1919 and took effect a year later.

Proponents of this so called "noble experiment" claimed that the nation's health would improve dramatically without alcohol, and that crime would drop. It was also claimed that other industries, like dairy, would prosper as other types of beverages increased in popularity to fill the void left by the absence of alcohol. Juvenile delinquency was also supposed to be virtually eliminated.

By the time the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, it was obvious that the measure was a failure. Instead of promoting health, the opposite was true. The illegal products brewed in hidden rooms or backwoods stills were often dangerous or much higher in alcohol content than the beer, wines and spirits they replaced.

The attempt to decrease the "evils" of alcohol actually created more - and new - types of crime. Since illegal activity was required to market the illegal alcohol, criminal activity became organized and led to the rise of powerful crime syndicates that used murder, and the bribery of public officials to move large quantities of the illegal substance. Criminals like Al Capone rose to power as gangs battled for control.

Drug use increased, with drugs taking the place of alcohol. Worker productivity did not increase. Jails filled with people convicted of relatively minor infractions of the alcohol ban.

U.S. Marshals (see photo) were the principal enforcing agents of the Prohibition laws until the Treasury Department created the Bureau of Prohibition in 1927. This brings me to U.S. Deputy Marshal Ethan Beaudry, the hero of my new book, THE WIDOWED BRIDE. Ethan comes to Dutchman’s Creek, Colorado in the summer of 1920 to break up a bootlegging ring. He meets his match in statuesque, flame-haired Ruby Rumford, who’s moved to Dutchman’s Creek to be near her brother and make a new start. But she’s a lady with secrets – secrets that cause Ethan to suspect the worst of her.

You can learn more and read an

excerpt on my website: www.elizabethlaneauthor.com

Elizabeth Lane has written more than thirty historical romances, several set in the early 20th century. Her latest is CHRISTMAS MOON, a time travel set in present day and 1870s Wyoming, available in print and Kindle from Amazon.com, and in other e-formats from E-Reads. Watch for her latest Harlequin Historical, THE WIDOWED BRIDE, in March 2011.