Prohibition In America: The Intersection Of Women And Capitalists

Prohibition in the US was a curious period of time in American history, coinciding with the Roaring Twenties and was repealed a few years into the Great Depression. It is fascinating display of increasing female power in social policy, the emerging federal bureaucratic state and the failure of law to cure social ills.

Overview Of The Social Forces Leading Up To Prohibition

From 1920 to 1933, federal law prohibited any production of any intoxicating liquor with an alcohol content of greater than 0.05%. For you nondrinkers out there, this is less concentration than Boone’s Farm, one of the weakest drinks out there. What this did, effectively, was put the kibosh on alcohol sales in the country, but did nothing to reduce drinking. In fact, drinking actually increased in the wake of the ban on production.

Anti-drinking sentiments always existed since the colonization of the country. Early puritans had placed bans on hard liquors – the high court in Massachusetts banned such liquors in 1657. However, the bans came and went. While there were always anti-drinking impulses—usually referred to as temperance movements—there were also strong pro-alcohol lobbies. Many Americans drank a lot of alcohol – in 1830 the average American household consumed 1.7 bottles of hard liquor weekly and that does not include beer consumption.

The movement continued to grow in the 1800’s and was often part and parcel of the female suffrage movement. The Civil War disrupted the movement but quickly gained steam during the Reconstruction period. The movement was about as diverse as you could get: Christians, primitive feminists, Klansmen, doctors and many business leaders were in the movement. They movement reached a critical mass when women got the right to vote and it was all but certain that an Amendment would get passed. While the 19th Amendment was not passed until after the 18th (Prohibition), most states allowed levels of suffrage for women. Some states, like California, already had full suffrage for women.

us is voted dry

The Prohibition Era

The 18th Amendment did get ratified by the requisite number of states and became federal law in 1920. While this was a fascinating era of American history, I will gloss over it for brevity’s sake. Women’s group were boastful of the new muscle American women were exerting over society and men. However, as usual, women didn’t understand the body politic nor men. Prohibition did nothing to curb drinking – it actually made drinking problems worse. It destroyed the industry, disintegrated communities and left families starving. Crime increased quickly, as booze running and production became serious money-makers. Organized crime rose to the occasion and many famous mobsters emerged in this era. Violence increased and social discontent increased. It spawned a good amount of jurisprudence – there still is a section in the Federal Code for prohibition law and the related cases.

Also, Prohibition helped increase the policing power of the Federal Government. Women demanded enforcement and that resulted in more police and state control over personal lives. The FBI became much more important during this era under J. Edgar Hoover. A special bureau was created to enforce the law. Constitutional law was very conflicted at this juncture of American history as the “Silver Platter Doctrine” existed. This meant state law enforcement could seize evidence in contravention with the Constitution and deliver it to Federal agents; this evidence would be admissible in federal courts. This doctrine resulted in many abuses of power by state law enforcement.

Also consider the constellation of laws that were passed before and in reaction to Prohibition. Dry counties, limits on what alcohol can be served out of, limits on when you can purchase alcohol, etc. – most of those laws came from this era. Look up the liquor laws in your state or county and check the date. It should not be surprising the law was passed in 1907 or 1921.

Briefly consider the flapper. The flapper was considered scandalous and empowered. They were often seen at speakeasies, drinking and flirting with men. The cheap credit afforded by the newly created Federal Reserve, combined with increased urbanization and loosened sexual mores created this perfect storm for young women. Of course, the Great Depression forced them to do right and become wives and mothers, but for a period of time women were afforded a level of liberty they had never enjoyed in American history.

Prohibition was ended in 1933 with another Constitutional Amendment. The lead-up to this Amendment is the passage of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized beer and wine at 3.2% alcohol content by volume. A few days later, Anheuser-Busch famously sent a team of Clydesdale horses to deliver a case of Budweiser to the White House. The legalization of alcohol sorely helped the economy by providing those factory jobs again to men. Crime lessened in the passage of the act, as gangsters could not profit from dealing booze on the black market.

ford sociology department

Analysis Of The Prohibition Movement

Prohibition represented the emerging discontent between men and women in America. Women were slowly becoming more and more upset with men. Women were being taught to expect more from marriage: more togetherness, more love and more of anything positive generally. This discontent flowing from women towards men fed the desire to ban alcohol.

Alcohol consumption by men represented a facet of society shut off to women. Women did not go bars at this time in American history. A man going with his friends after work was a way of coping with the drudgery of low-class factory work, but to women it represented men’s abdicating from his duties at home. A man coming home drunk isn’t just offensive to women about a man’s duties in the home, but it is also offensive to a woman’s concept of self. Coming home sloppy drunk in many is an affront because it suggests that his home is the place he wants to come and relax after work. It could be construed as offensive because it means he sees his wife and his family as a source of conflict, not love and acceptance.

However, what is most striking is the class issues presented in the Prohibition movement. The only lower-class women that agitated for Prohibition were jilted wives and bitter divorcee’s or widows. The primary push for Prohibition came from middle and upper-class people. During these years in America, progressives were extremely skeptical of the lower classes and wished to forcibly transform their lives. Children running through city streets inhibited movement of goods in a city; lower-class pursuits like playing baseball or boxing also cluttered city streets and not only prevented free flow of traffic, but lead directly to drunkenness and violence. All of this behavior was intolerable to upper-classes, as it prevented the lower classes from achieving their maximum productive capacity.

The drive to ban alcohol was most certainly influenced by women and proto-feminist groups, but their anger was co-opted by capitalists and progressives, who were both looking to maximize the potential of the lower classes, either for pecuniary gain or perceived social gain. Capitalists benefited from men not drinking, as they would not just be more productive not hungover, but would also spend their earnings on products produced by corporations. Progressives gained because they got to believe they were transforming the lower classes from their backwards ignorance and bigotry and into better people and citizens. The push for more public education coincided with progressive belief in social progress with capitalist’s desire for better workers.

Prohibition, in sum, was an aborted attempt by progressives—and some conservatives, to be sure—to radically transform society. While many Christians and traditionalists did support the movement, the most vocal and passionate voices were all manner of progressive social reformer. Capitalists, for their part, did support Prohibition, but that stemmed from economic harm incurred by them because of the drinking of the lower classes that worked for them. Early feminists fought for Prohibition because they thought the drinking culture of men afforded men more power than they should have. Other progressives types had better intentions of helping the lower classes, but as was seen, it backfired badly.

Most progressive movements to help society usually end up blowing up badly in the faces of liberals. You can conceive of progressives as high school kids who know just enough about science to blow up their chemistry lab. The deleterious effects of a pervasive drinking culture are obvious, but the outright banning of alcohol is just as facetious as it is ridiculous.  It did nothing to actually cure the social ills of drinking and only helped criminals and strengthened the control of the government over its citizens. Always beware of people who think that criminalization of behavior cures social ills. It rarely does.

Read Next: The Gibson Girls Of The Gilded Age

84 thoughts on “Prohibition In America: The Intersection Of Women And Capitalists”

    1. I’ll bet if they’d been getting their buttholes licked regularly they wouldn’t have felt so strongly about it.

  1. But dismantling the old is always progress! Change, for the sake of change!
    …and so the cycle continues

    1. Once we pass Obamatrade, we can create a cabinet-level Pencil Department to oversee all pencil usage and regulate it.
      Sure, pencils will cost more but that’s how we spread the wealth around. The same legislation, btw, will outlaw Bics, Watermans, Mont Blancs and other non-union competitors except for use by Congressional staffers. Some random pencils may lack erasers, others lead, but at least things will be fair.

      1. I think a better idea is for pencils and pens to be provided directly by the government. To make things fair, the government will provide everyone an equal allotment of pencils each year and we will all be taxed accordingly. Those people who protest that they don’t use pencils because they have keyboards and/or other data input devices can be locked up for non-payment of the pencil tax. They will then be put to work in pencil factories where they can continue to contribute to the common good.

  2. Let’s have the also have the:
    ” Clara Zetkin: Intersection of Feminism and The February 1917 Anti-Czarist Revolution”

  3. We see this today with the legalization of drugs. I see both sides of it, but the policies of old(war on drugs) have proven ineffective. I can only speak for myself and I think for many of my peers when I say legalizing certain drugs would not make us all run out and get high off our ass every day. Just like we can’t go get wasted every night. We have jobs, homes, families, etc… and wouldn’t go out and get baked on the reg and destroy all that. Those already prone to this destructive behavior are already finding the drugs they want.
    Now if we could only get prostitution legalized…That’s one issue i see no harm in making legal. If 2 consenting adults want to exchange money for sex, who cares.It happens all the time anyway-it’s sometimes called a “relationship”.

    1. Marijuana becoming legalized has happened in two states, Washington and Colorado. More states will legalize marijuana. Only in parts, not all of Nevada is prostitution legal. Even then it is heavily regulated and very crony capitalistic in Nevada and less regulated and crony capitalistic in New Zealand. Legalized prostitution hurts less people than marijuana use. Don’t use the venereal disease factor as legal prostitutes in Nevada, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Austrailia are cleaner than the amatuer non-whore women. Heavy use of marijuana as I’ve seen a young man go through can cause problems if one day you get into a bad car accident and no amount of pain medication can alleviate one’s pain as the doctors are too scarred to prescribe heavier dosages for fear of killing one. Keep in mind that the state I live in, Illinois, one can sign up for the Ashley Madison website or one just like it, meaning you can fuck and impregnate someone else’s wife, let her husband sign the birth certificate when your bastard child is born then cuckolded husband is responsible for raising your child making this theoretically legal while Illinois completely prohibits and criminalizes prostitution and the customer and maybe the prostitute can be convicted of a felony and be registered sex offenders the rest of their lives. Nothing will happen to you if cuckold another man this way as far as I can tell in Illinois. I live in the Chicago metropolitan area here in Illinois.

    2. Ha! You think the proto-Femmes were up-in-arms about alcohol? Their collective reaction to the decriminalization of prostitution would be similar to the most notorious scene from “Scanners.”
      As many of us have said here before, porn, prostitution and other “alternatives” are a threat. They won’t stand for it.

      1. You’re right. It would be the one time that uber-liberal femmes would unite with religious ultra right conservatives. They’d make funny bedfellows, until the femmes start looking for their free BC and their new church friends slap it out of their hands.

  4. Yes, women played a huge role in getting prohibition established. It was one of their many “great” social ideas. The issue with liberals is that they don’t understand human nature. They see themselves as a “good” person, and therefore assume all people are inherently good. Humans are not inherently good, they’re inherently selfish. That’s why children have to be told to share. Hell, that’s why most adults have to be told to share. Selfishness worked for the human species (and our ancestors) for the last several hundred million years. The instinct to be selfish, and to work in one’s own best interest, isn’t just going to turn itself off because you have a “great” idea to “improve” society. If you want people to behave a certain way then you have to provide incentive, and sometimes that means holding their feet to the flames.

    1. It seems you bought in the “Liberals are good but fail because of human nature” trope. It’s bullshit. Liberals are the most selfish of all. The working class liberals votes like a parasite, out of pure self interest. The elites know that they will get government money if government keeps growing.
      Never forget that in the communist system there is an absolute 1% : government and its friends. And they know it.
      Women didn’t vote prohibition because they were thinking about doing good. They voted it to restraint their husbands and gain power in the relationship. Pure self interest and selfishness.
      If women were really do-gooders, they would give money to homeless people. Yet in every country in the world, studies show that women shun homeless people like crazy. Women love the idea of “goodness” and “charity” because in the Chivalry era and now the White Knight era, they know charity will one day benefit THEM.

      1. Certainly there are a lot of people who vote liberal because it’s in their best interest. No doubt about that. I was talking about the SWPL liberals out in the suburbs who think a welfare state is a good idea.
        Alcoholism was a real problem before Prohibition. As useless as it was at being enforced, and as much resentment as it inspired in the law, if Prohibition did one thing it reduced alcoholism. And I think these women thought they were creating a better society because of it. Sorry, I don’t share your cynicism on this.
        I don’t think liberal policies actually do good, but I know a lot of liberals who actually think that they do. Trust me, I get into arguments with them all the time and they always use the same Appeal to Emotion “what if you needed help?” bullshit.

  5. Well, this is one surefire way to prevent many of the worst public policy: Get back to the natural order of things and allow just one vote per family. This rule will require the vote be cast by the male head of the family. No male head of the family, no vote.
    This will take care of the demands for a “woman’s right to vote.” The vote for women will not be taken away in the one-vote-per-family model. The women, her husband, and her children, will all have a right to cast a single unanimous vote.
    As cute as the idea once was, the results women’s suffrage have been disastrous.

    1. A major argument against women’s suffrage was that it, in effect, gave married men two votes.

        1. No I would argue still two votes but not how you think they would have played. Women often prided themselves in being able to control how their husbands voted during the sufferage period.

        2. I’ve honestly never heard that amongst the men I know. Even the manginas grumble about how their wives vote different than them most of the time, with men going right-wing, and women predictably going leftist (most of the time, some exceptions).

        3. I could be wrong but the Tory party in the UK is the main recipient of the white British female vote. I don’t know why they are the spine of the mainstream Conservative party but all the data shows that they are less liberal and much less socialist than blokes.

  6. Now is a good time to point out how America’s forefathers vehemently opposed women’s suffrage. Which begs the question:
    Were our ‘Founding Fathers’ needle dick basement dwellers with mommy issues or were these guys on to something?

    1. Although, it might be important to note that women were not responsible for their own debts before this time.

      1. Good point. Originally only those with skin in the game voted. When America was founded, only free white men over the age of twenty-five [who owned property and paid taxes] had the right to vote. It sounds oppressive today but it was a relatively novel concept at the time. I wouldn’t advocate for something quite as draconian but simply existing shouldn’t be the sole requirement to enjoy the privilege of voting.

        1. It would be a good idea to deny the vote to those living on federal/state transfer payments.

        2. It’s certainly a smarter way to handle things, because if you do not limit voting rights to those with “skin in the game” then you’re going to have people with no skin in the game voting themselves lots of “free” shit at other’s expense. Hence why the USA federal debt is a massive $17.6 trillion. Many of the big government countries in Europe are in even worse shape, with several having a public debt over 100% of the GDP. Greece is still at a whopping 175% GDP.

        3. It’s simple. As long as the working citizens are forced to pay 30+% taxes, voting is a right if you pay your taxes.
          Anybody not paying taxes, getting any kind of benefit more than the tax payed, no vote.
          As of retired, if one is on default minimal retirement, no vote.
          If one is on retirement that exceeds minimal because they payed higher taxes, continue the voting right.

        4. “Discrimination” will the parasitephilics cry.
          What is discrimination is this:
          My friends working full time, paying 40% tax, cannot afford their third child,
          Their neighbor (???) gets the neighbor house paid, living expenses paid, child money, leisure money, right to free TV, right to free Gym, right to free toddler school, and can easily pop out the fourth kid.
          That, is discrimination.

        5. I don’t think you should be able to vote unless you can pass a comprehensive civics test, or be bright enough to score one standard deviation above the norm in some type of intelligence test. That would go for eveybody, including me. Yes I know that would be difficult to set up and enforce and in any case would never happen. However I must say, look what low intelligence, low information voters are delivering us.

  7. The same thing happened with the pandering of the Soccer Mom vote and the War on Drugs. Anytime you hear the phrase “It’s for the Kids”, get ready to have your rights yanked because somebody’s feelings were hurt.

  8. What I get out of this blog post is that the legalization of marijuana would improve the standard of living for everyone.

    1. For those capable of balancing a check book, meeting pay roll and filing taxes correctly. The incompetent and lazy would still need to find some sort of contraband to trade in sad to say. The cops would need some other sort of contraband to catch the lazy and incompetent with “red handed”.

      1. If the incompetent and lazy don’t threaten me and my family and rob, assault, rape, and murder my friends, I say let them be. Unfortunately, the lazy and incompetent of certain races apparently cannot refrain from doing so. Better to just focus on them.

        1. That’s essentially how the drug laws work. They are applied rayciss-ly. And a good thing too.

      1. Don’t forget de-stigmatizing it. It does matter. Many societies quietly condone the use of prostitution for betas in their late teens to prevent Eliot Rodgers, Chos, and Breiviks from occuring.

        1. I doubt legalized prostitution would’ve stopped Breivik. He had a mission that had nothing to do with lack of pussy.
          European nations need more Breiviks(minus the pro zionism) and i think they are coming. Every one of those little bastards he shot is responsible for increasing rape of their own women by 3rd world mongrels.

        2. Breivik was a political actor. He wiped out the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth wing. He might be mad but the act was political dynamite. On balance it hasn’t done much damage to the reputation of nationalist party groups in Europe and it might have woken up Norwegian nationals to their demographic eclipse.

        3. I agree with Eliot Rodgers, George Sodini, but I don’t think it would have made a difference with Breivik as he was not an involuntary celibate like Sodini who was not a virgin, nor was Breivik an involuntary virgin like Rodgers. I also disagree with Cho as he was crazy from day one. None of the other 3 men were. You are right that the de-stigmitizing of men who go to sex workers particularly prostitutes needs to occur in society. Although I encourage men to learn GAME rather than go whoring, the reality is that not every man will become good enough at GAMING or seducing women so prostitution needs to be a safety valve.

        4. Breivik was for Norway what Nelson Mandela was for South Africa except white people trying to take back their ancestral homeland from the cultural Marxists is racist and killing whites in South Africa was just freedom fighting. Go figure.

  9. It’s worth looking at the history of prohibition in the US. The main strain of political organization seems to have come out of the abolitionist North East. More or less the same people who were involved in the Salem Witch Trials.

    1. And the abolition of slavery.
      It’s also interesting that the British restricted pub hours at this time. Closed in the late afternoon and shut by eleven. A curious legacy of the laws enacted during ww1.

      1. This is because WW1 was the culling of the Classical Liberal (aka the free market, free thinking types of the age of Reason) from Western society. Millions of upright men who actually believed in, and could intellectually defend, freedom were slaughtered in a war struck up by progressives and authoritarians. The void was then filled with snarling statists. The West has never recovered.

        1. WW1 was almost certainly this at least from a Western philosophical and religious aspects. Evidenced in The charge in art to Dadaism and Impressionism and with the drive towards deforming man and divorcing him from reality and nature was the goal. Before that the romantics viewed man in a far more mystical light. The nazis branded the art of the WW1 period as deviant art and artists were punished Otto Dix was a German deviant artist who gained much fame. We need a return to the classics.

        2. Absolutely agree. The fortunate thing is that we have coasted on their fumes long enough to get the Internet invented and in place. It is proving to be quite a catalyst for re-awakening the ideas that propelled us from subsistence and tyranny to a brief moment in time when some men actually managed to establish a stronghold of liberty.

        3. This war provided an impetus to raise income tax in the UK from 6% to 30%. And its pretty much stayed there.

        4. One of things that is noted that WW1 (100year anniversary this week) was essentially the catalyst for people to rid themselves of the monarchs. Who were essentially the figureheads for their respective religious head of states. So many see this as the period for the collapse of Western Christianity. What replaced Christianity was either communism or nationalism. Both had some elements of female worship socialism more than nationalism. Feminism was a huge driving force in the psyche though. As it remained without question.What we now see is purely the adoption of feminism as a means to try and keep men away from war and in check. Yet IMO the opposite has occurred.this is evidenced in art, in literature and in social sciences. The change is clear. We destroyed all aspects of looking at man as one with the spiritus Mundi and instead as man trying to rewire our brain to create one homogenous/androgynous society.

    2. A lot of those early prohibitionists were jacked on coca & opium preparations; America was a dope fiend’s paradise before the Pure Food & Drug Act. (1913, I think.)

  10. It was also intentionally anti-celtic and anti-catholic. This was, and still is, a big part of the “progressive” movement.
    Basically, the descendants of protestant and northern germanic whites wanted to crack down on those they despised, and prohibition provided the perfect opportunity to do so.

    1. Prohibition only passed because most of the breweries and bars were owned by Germans, and America was engaged in a World War with Germans at that time. Prohibition was part of the anti-German hysteria sweeping the nation at that time. Women had been trying to get Prohibition passed for decades, and the timing was just right due to the resentment against the Germans, many of whom were first generations immigrants whose loyalty was legitimately questionable.

      1. Ken Burns did an excellent documentary called ‘Prohibition’, I watched it on Netflix. The Germans were stunned that beer was included in the prohibition laws.

    2. Irony is it bought these groups especially the Irish Catholics and Italians to power in the US.not at all too different to how the war on drugs is brining the Mexican cartels power in the southern states.

  11. I think the part about “capitalists” is a bit vague and contradictory. Are alcohol manufacturers not capitalists? Would they be in favour of Prohibition? Was turning up to work drunk or hungover that much of a problem that individual managers could not discipline their workers? Did these managers not also like a drink? Who were these capitalists that supported Prohibition? I think this needs to be better explained.

    1. You wrote my very thoughts on this article as well. It would seem strange that capitalist alcohol producers, as well as teamsters/shippers, not to mention barley and hops farmers, not to mention water source suppliers, and also bottle makers, would all be for prohibition. Seems to me that they were the essence of capitalism, really.

    2. Seagrams in Canada owned by Bronfman benefitted. I’m pretty sure they supplied Capone.

    3. This is an interesting point. Adam Smith didn’t like overcapitalize d monopoly. He expected wealth to be an expression of organic community eg The Nation. He was reacting to Mercantilism and Monopoly.
      I can see how different ethnic groups like New Englanders and Germanics might try to under cut each other by going for the economic jugular of Alcohol. I can even see how a corporate culture that embraces Cocaine (Coca Cola) as a stimulant might even try to eradicate Alcohol as a competing narcotic vice. Capitalism is a win-lose binary in many cases.

  12. It doesn’t matter why the capitalists were (and are still) against liberty and are just as guilty as the progressives.

  13. Cars and everything else running on internal combustion engines can run on alcohol at least as well as they can run on gasoline. Indeed, engines were built back in 1870 that could run using either alcohol or gasoline
    Henry Ford said that alcohol was “a cleaner, nicer, better fuel for automobiles than gasoline”. The Model T Ford had a knob right on the dashboard to adjust the fuel-air mixture for either alcohol or gas.
    Alcohol does not corrode or shorten the lifespan of modern cars, and an inexpensive adjustment to regular cars will make them run smoothly and inexpensively on alcohol.
    So if alcohol can provide a cheaper and better fuel than alcohol, why doesn’t anyone talk about it today?
    Well, John D. Rockefeller, under the ruse of Christian temperance, gave 4 million dollars to a group of old ladies and told them to fight for Prohibition (they successfully used the money to buy off Congress). Why? Rockefeller owned Standard Oil, the main company pushing gas as an alternative fuel to alcohol. By getting Congress to pass Prohibition laws, Rockefeller eliminated his competition.

    1. Similarly Du Pont aided in the criminalization of hemp because it threatened their monopoly on chemicals for paper processing. Anyone could grow hemp and it was very easily made into paper as opposed to the convoluted process of turning trees into paper

  14. And those “women’s group” helped usher in a new wave of crime syndicates and created wealth for gangsters. Typical.

  15. How about the Intersection of Feminism and Capitalism:
    “Why would the Rockfellers fund feminism? Well, they wanted women in the workplace. That’s another half of the population they could tax. Their children would have to go into state run schools, they could then be ‘taught’ whatever is necessary to keep them dependent on consumerism and loyal to the state. The nuclear family would take a nose dive. It had nothing to do with ‘empowering women’. In fact, it did the opposite.
    “Destroy the family, you destroy the country.” – V.I. Lenin”
    Feminism was meant to destroy the family and it did to a great degree, but the worst is still to come. Wait till the Millennials and the new Porn-Generation are Grandparents. Heh – there won’t be a home left to visit anymore.

  16. Sound article dude but polish it up some first next time. Also…deleterious? Really?

Comments are closed.