18th and 19th amendments
The passage of these two amendments shows how much a divided
nation we were in the 1920’s. On one hand we craved the modern and
on the other we were a religious, traditional nation.
18th amendment – Prohibition
The conservatism and the fast times of the 1920’s had to clash at
some point. That point turned out to be alcohol. Many Americans saw
alcohol as an evil, to others it was a part of life. The conflict
over the use of alcohol, known as Prohibition, provided one of the
more colorful periods in American history.
In December 1917 Congress adopted and
submitted to the states the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Prohibition amendment, which
prohibited the “manufacture,
sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” Ratified by the states in January 1919, it
went into effect on January 20, 1920. Congress also passed the
national Prohibition Enforcement Act, known as the
Act, that defined an
intoxicating beverage as any beverage containing more than one half
of one percent (1 proof). The law also gave the Bureau of Internal
Revenue enforcement authority.
The passage of the
18th Amendment was the product of many years of
hard work on the part on women’s groups and religious
fundamentalists. The church
League and the
Temperance Union, which
regarded drinking as a
sin, pressured Congress and
the states t put the amendment across. Women’s groups blamed alcohol for husbands leaving their
wives and families and for the abuse of women. As far as both groups
were concerned alcohol was an evil that destroyed the American
family. By 1918 29 states
already had adopted amendments to their state constitutions
Enforcement of the Prohibition
amendment was difficult because drinking was a custom ingrained in the fabric
of social life. The saloon
had grown out of the frontier and had matched the pace of
industrialization and urbanization each step of the way. It was
almost impossible to do away with drinking, especially in the cities.
Before long law enforcement officials they were battling individuals
abusers as well as a new problem; organized crime. Gangsters such as
Capone, king of the
Chicago underworld, saw illegal alcohol importing and transportation
as a way of making a lot of money.
Bootlegging became a thriving business and national law
enforcement agencies were thrown into the full time business of
keeping the nation dry. Illegal saloons known as speakeasies dotted the cities. Bootleg gangs engaged in a
bloody war for control of the speakeasies, clubs and business
outlets. The outlets might be at the corner drug store, a gas
station, or a private individual. Then, came the St. Valentine’s Day
Massacre in Chicago in
1929. Gangsters armed with machine guns lined up their rivals and
mowed them down.
The arguments over Prohibition
reached such intensity that in 1928 President Hoover appointed the
investigate the problem. The commission responded that although
Prohibition was not working it should be continued anyway. Humorist
Franklin P. Adams commented with this poem:
flop. We like it.
It can’t stop what it’s
meant to stop. We like it.
It’s left a tail of graft
and slime, It didn’t prohibit worth a
dime, It’s filled our land with
ice and crime, Nevertheless, we’re for
difficulties and the increase in organized crime were the major
factors contributing to the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment by the
adoption of the Twenty-first Amendment. The new amendment went into effect in
December, 1933, and marked the end of the “noble experiment” to
regulate the nations social customs.
19th amendment – Women’s
As we have discussed the 1920’s were a period of great change in
America. The success of women’s groups in getting prohibition passed
was tied to the movement to gain the right to vote. The quest for the
passage of this amendment, eventually passed as the 19th,
was known as the suffrage movement.
I. Women’s Right to Vote – The 19th Amendment is passed
A. Early Efforts
1. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton – Seneca
2. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton – National Women’s
3. Lucy Stone – American Women’s Suffrage Association
4. Merger of two groups (1890) – National American Women’s
Suffrage Association (NAWSA)
B. Success at the State level
1. Wyoming territory admitted with the vote
2. Utah, Colorado and Idaho follow.
C. National Success
1. 1915 – NAWSA membership reaches 2 million under
leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt.
2. 1918 – House passes amendment, fails senate.
3. 1919 – Women help elect new Senate, passes Senate.
4. 1920, August 26th – States ratify