Notes from Hunter Creek: The Eighteenth Amendment

By, Roger Wall

Around 1900, a lot of right wing, conservative and anti-immigration forces were gradually uniting on the one issue they could all agree upon –– the abolition of alcohol for drink. 

The language of the 18th Amendment reads as follows: 

“Beginning in one year of ratification, the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, or the importation thereof, or the exportation from the U.S., and all it’s territories is…..prohibited.”  

While the 18th Amendment banned the manufacture, sale, importation, etc. of intoxicating liquor, it did NOT outlaw the actual consumption of alcohol. 

The Amendment was ratified in 1919. 

All of these conservative forces thought the abolition of alcohol was the panacea the growing nation of the industrial revolution needed. It would cut down on crime, vagrancy, and other societal ills of the country.

There were three major problems with abolition: There was an exception for alcoholic medical prescriptions and for use in religious services.  It was learned quickly more people drank than didn’t drink. And there were three important side effects. You know when you take a prescription, it is usually a cure for what ails you, but there are always side affects. 

1. Side affect one: 

Tell people  something is off-limits, and of course, many go out of their way to cross that boundary. Thus the era of bootlegging and speakeasys were born. The three biggest speakeasys in the country were located in New York, Chicago, and, maybe the most notorious ones were located in downtown Kansas City in the twenties. 

2. Side affect two: Legal breweries and distilleries packed up and moved north of the border to Canada, along with thousands of jobs.  And for the most part, they have remained there. Examples are Crown Royal, Seagrams, and many others.

3. Side effect three: Although there were small criminal societies emerging among new immigrants (mainly Irish, Jewish, and Italians), the 18th Amendment spurred them to unite and organize crime families that traveled from the east coast to the north coast and so on. Thus, La Cosa Nostra was born. 

To combat these criminal organizations a newly-formed national police force was formed.  It was called the FBI.

And where was Mob influence the greatest? 

Naturally where the demand for speakeasy liquor was the most in demand; New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Kansas City. These national and regional crime families exerted tremendous political control and influence for well over a half-century in the United States. Mario Puzzo writes a pretty good historical novel about the Italian families with his great novel, “The Godfather”.

So, after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Congress passed the Volstead Act outlawing the distillation of all liquors, except for religious and medical purposes. 

Note: May 14

Letters to the Editor continue to pour in relating to Bob Urban’s letter.  I even felt compelled to add my two cents for what it’s worth. What amazes me is how the country is so divided, politics has encompassed the pandemic and all of it’s fallout.  Reaction to my letter was about 60 favorable, to 40 not in favor.

There are several in the area fighting tough illnesses right now. My sincere empathy to those fighting the good fight including my good friend, a retired trooper.

The bullfrogs are bellowing for a mate.  Lightning bugs have been present in the cool valley air for at least a couple of weeks.   

Now get up and go visit our beautiful Ozarks outdoors!