The Truth About Prohibition
Through the years, there has been a useful body of pertinent research done by well-recognized historians on the general background of Prohibition.
For example, Bernard Weisberger, a nationally- recognized historian who writes a current-events column ("In the News") for the popular historical journal American Heritage, recently addressed the widespread (mis)conception that Prohibition "didn't work." Among the facts cited by Weisberger are:
"Prohibition did reduce drinking. The average annual per capita consumption of alcohol by Americans of drinking age - that is, the total alcoholic content of all the beer, wine, and distilled spirits they consumed - stood at 2.60 gallons" in 1910. In 1934, after more than a decade of prohibition, Weisberger reports the per capita average of 0.97 gallons.
"Census Bureau studies show that the death rate from chronic or acute alcoholism fell from 7.3 per 100,000 in 1907 to 2.5 in 1932, Prohibition's last year. Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver, one cause of which is alcohol abuse, dropped from 14.8 per 100,000 in 1907 to 7.1 in 1920 and never rose above 7.5 during the 1920's. Economic studies estimated that savings and spending on household necessities increased among working-class families during the period, possibly from money that once went to drink." These are not the propaganda of some biased zealot, but the factual report of a nationally known historian. Furthermore, Weisberger reports that one reason why Prohibition may be commonly thought so unsuccessful is that even the above improvements were achieved with a minimum of enforcement. He continues:
"Drinking might have been cut back even further if more resources had been devoted to enforcement. In 1922 Congress gave the Prohibition Bureau only $6.75 million for a force of 3,060 employees (including clerical workers) to hunt for violators in thousands of urban neighborhoods, remote hollows, border crossings, and coastal inlets. State legislators were equally sparing: in 1926 state legislatures all together spent $698,855 for Prohibition work, approximately one-eighth of what they spent on enforcing fish-and-game laws. Even so, by 1929 the feds alone had arrested more than half a million violators. "
Nor is this "new" information; a 1968 article by historian of science John C. Burnham of Ohio State University in the Journal of Social History revealed even more data along the lines Weisberger adduces. To imply that attempts to restrict alcohol sales can't be effective ignores the available evidence. Professor Norman H. Clark's 1976 study, Deliver Us From Evil, makes a persuasive case that during Prohibition, arrests for drunkenness and alcohol-related crimes declined markedly.
Of course, a much earlier author reminds us across the ages that "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise" (Prov. 20:1).
- by Steve Wolfgang