For Your Society

share this with the people

The Bitter Aftertaste of Prohibition in American History

For many, Prohibition recalls a freewheeling era in American history with speakeasies, bootlegging, gangsters and G-men. But new scholarship shows that several factors beyond the obvious underlay the 1920 ban on the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages.

“They’re fighting over alcohol, but they’re also fighting over immigration and identity in the country,” says Jon Grinspan, a curator of political history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, who appears in the new two-part Smithsonian Channel documentary miniseries on the era, “Drinks, Crime and Prohibition.”

The American push to ban alcohol for health and moral reasons had been growing since the days of the temperance movement in the mid-19th century. While individual states and localities went dry, it wasn’t until 1917 that Congress passed a resolution to submit a constitutional amendment for a ban that was sent to the states for ratification. Thirty-six states needed to ratify, and in 1919 they did. Prohibition officially began the following year, bringing with it a number of changes to the country, from the rise of organized crime to the concomitant increase in federal policing.

But, as Grinspan says in the documentary, “alcohol is not the central story of Prohibition. There are people who are fighting alcohol, but what they are fighting about is a clash of two civilizations in America.”

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union with signs in their Seattle office (Courtesy of Ohio History Connection – AL07629)

The enemy is not just alcohol, but European immigrants, the documentary argues. Between 1892 and 1920 almost 12 million immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island.

“Organizing around alcohol is in some ways a politically correct way to go after other immigrants,” Grinspan says in the documentary. “It’s not entirely polite to say, ‘I want to get all of the Catholics out of America.’ But it’s very polite to say, ‘Alcohol is ruining society.’”

“That’s one of the big changes in recent scholarship,” says Peter Liebhold, a curator in the division of work and industry at the American History Museum, who is also featured in the series. “A lot of people are looking at the success of the temperance movement as an anti-immigrant experience. It becomes code for keeping immigrants in their place.”

Grinspan is first seen in the series displaying a cast iron axe meant to poke fun


READ MORE @

Facts are under attack! Support Real Journalism.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/bitter-aftertaste-prohibition-american-history-180969266/

  • Respect (0%)
  • Funny (0%)
  • Disappointment (0%)
  • Anger (0%)
  • Stress (0%)
  • Whatever (0%)

For Your Society is a media organization that brings you curated news from trusted and reputable sources. We encourage you to support these publications and their journalists by subscribing to their services. Our intent is to stand up for facts, and to present them in an appealing and condensed way that doesn’t waste your whole day. We bring you news that focuses on politics, American culture, foreign policy and the world, science and more.

We also produce podcasts focusing on facets of American society. Premiering soon will be a new series called Whiskey and Immigrants, in which we sit down with real immigrants to hear their stories. Shortly after that we will debut a podcast unlike any other, called Unite or Die. We’re keeping the details of that one under wraps, but we think it will truly benefit society.

We try not to be too annoying with ads or pop-ups, so we mostly rely on your purchases from the FY Society Store and donations through Patreon to sustain our non-profit operations, please consider doing what you can.

WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu