The 18th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America says, “Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.”
This Amendment was made to stop the distribution, manufacturing, and sale of alcohol. However the effects of the Amendment were not what congress what hoping for, in-fact in a way this Amendment effectively boosted the business for criminal organizations. In this paper I am going to tell you why organized crime flourished so effectively during the prohibition era, and why the attempts to enforce the amendment failed.
Even though there was a ban on alcohol, that did not stop the people from wanting their booze. This created a huge opportunity for those who were willing to illegally make and smuggle alcohol in the United States. These people were known as “bootleggers”.
One group in particular that took to bootlegging was the Italian-American Mafia. The Mafia started out as rival gangs, or families, but after a power struggle in New York a mobster known as Lucky Luciano organized the families in to a central power. According to History.com, a site specializing in its studies and research on historical events, “Luciano then masterminded the formation of a central organization called the Commission to serve as a sort of national board of directors for the American Mafia, which by then consisted of at least 20 crime families across the country.” In New York, the center where all of this took place, the mafia was split up into five different families. Each of the families had say in the Commission and what the mafia would do. With the Mafia now working together, it would give a whole new meaning to the term “Crime in the U.S.”
When I sell liquor, it's called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on Lake Shore Drive, it's called hospitality.
Because people could not obtain booze legally, they turned to the mafia for their source of drink. With everyone coming to the mafia for their only source of alcohol, the mafia’s profits flourished exponentially. Due to the incredible amounts of wealth brought in by the mafia, they were able to pay off officials, causing police to look the other way at some of their dealings. Without the police to worry about, the mafia was free to operate as the chose. According to an article on the mafia in America, “With almost complete freedom, the bootleggers would often perform their work in broad daylight. It was so common, in fact, that New York tourists could take a short ride out to watch the bootleggers at work.” This shows just how little the mafia was worried about interference from the police and public officials, who were sometimes just as corrupt as the mafia!
One of the biggest names in the mafia is Al Capone. Al Capone was a the head of the mobs operation in Chicago. During his operation in Chicago Capone was making roughly 100 million a year through bootlegging and other underground acts. In the beginning of his operation in Chicago he was generally liked by the public, but that changed when he started being more violent in his dealings. One of his most famous acts during the time was known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The massacre happened because one of Capone’s rivals, Moran, had previously tried to kill him, and was after another high ranking member of Capone’s “family”. Capone and his partner McGurn decided it was time to have him killed and ordered the hit. According to History.com it says, “On February 14, 1929, posing as police, McGurn’s gunmen assassinated seven of Moran’s men in cold blood in a North Side garage. Alerted to the danger as he approached the garage, Bugs Moran escaped the slaughter. Although Capone was staying at his Miami home at the time, the public and the media immediately blamed him for the massacre. He was dubbed “Public Enemy Number One.””
“You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”
As you can see, the opportunity to sell booze illegally in the United States created the perfect opportunity for organizations such as the mafia to rise to power. With the ease of smuggling, and the lack of resistance from authorities, it fueled their claim to fame in some parts of America. With the 21st Amendment set in place to repeal prohibition it lessened the control of the mafia now that alcohol could again be obtained legally. However, the rise of the mafia will forever be a mark on the history of our nation.
“In a perfect world, once a law or constitutional amendment is passed, the resources necessary to enforce it are plentiful and effective. Prohibition, unfortunately for its supporters, was not so easily enforced. Many challenges quickly surfaced when it came time to keep demon rum from being bought, sold or imported.” (How Stuff Works). When prohibition was set in motion, the government had nowhere near enough resources or man power to enforce what they wanted. Plus, there were only a very few government and police officials in the cities that would not take bribes to look away from occurring smuggling. This crippled the already weak man power to a point of no use.
Before prohibition was set in play, less than 15,000 legal bars existed in the United States. However during prohibition that number more than doubled in illegal places serving the stuff. To add to the trouble of dealing with smuggling, law enforcement also had to deal with the rednecks making their own moonshine. Talk about a hard job to carry out.. Their job became so impossibly challenging that several states passed laws to discourage investigations in these dealings due to the fact that corrupt political officials judicial systems made convicting people nearly impossible. In fact, in a quote by the mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia, he said “It is impossible to tell whether Prohibition is a good thing or a bad thing. It has never been enforced in this country” (How Stuff Works).
Other reasons that enforcing prohibition was so hard were because the public became very adept at finding ways to pass by officers without detection. People would hide alcohol in small flasks that they hid on their hip, they would hollow out canes or other similar items and store the booze there, and they would use false books or what not to hide their liquor from officials.
Bootleggers hid alcohol in any place they could. To the left is a picture of a booze truck disguised by a bunch of bricks.
Prohibition had many mixed results in our country. Some of the positive results were that we did see a decrease in the consumption of alcohol at the time it was in play. The ban on liquor made the smuggled goods more expensive than most common workers could afford. Having less of a consumer population that can afford a good will decrease the amount of product that is purchased. Naturally this led to a decrease in sales. However, on the negative side, the people profiting from the sale of liquor were no longer businessmen, but were instead members of the mob. The sale of alcohol was also no longer available to tax by the government, meaning that while it was still being sold in our country we could no longer make a profit off of the sales. This hurt our economy and factored in to the removal of the ban on booze. Since alcohol was no longer legal, everyone that created their own was not monitored by any agencies. This meant that the booze they were making and drinking was not always safe to drink. When the people would drink the bad booze it would cause liver failure, sickness, and cases of blindness in consumers.