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18th and 19th amendments

The passage of these two amendments shows how much a divided nation we were in the 1920's. On one hand we craved the modern and on the other we were a religious, traditional nation.

18th amendment - Prohibition

The conservatism and the fast times of the 1920's had to clash at some point. That point turned out to be alcohol. Many Americans saw alcohol as an evil, to others it was a part of life. The conflict over the use of alcohol, known as Prohibition, provided one of the more colorful periods in American history.

In December 1917 Congress adopted and submitted to the states the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Prohibition amendment, which prohibited the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors." Ratified by the states in January 1919, it went into effect on January 20, 1920. Congress also passed the national Prohibition Enforcement Act, known as the Volstead Act, that defined an intoxicating beverage as any beverage containing more than one half of one percent (1 proof). The law also gave the Bureau of Internal Revenue enforcement authority.

 The passage of the 18th Amendment was the product of many years of hard work on the part on women's groups and religious fundamentalists. The church affiliated Anti-Saloon League and the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which regarded drinking as a sin, pressured Congress and the states t put the amendment across. Women's groups blamed alcohol for husbands leaving their wives and families and for the abuse of women. As far as both groups were concerned alcohol was an evil that destroyed the American family. By 1918 29 states already had adopted amendments to their state constitutions prohibiting alcohol.

 Enforcement of the Prohibition amendment was difficult because drinking was a custom ingrained in the fabric of social life. The saloon had grown out of the frontier and had matched the pace of industrialization and urbanization each step of the way. It was almost impossible to do away with drinking, especially in the cities. Before long law enforcement officials they were battling individuals abusers as well as a new problem; organized crime. Gangsters such as Al Capone, king of the Chicago underworld, saw illegal alcohol importing and transportation as a way of making a lot of money.

 Bootlegging became a thriving business and national law enforcement agencies were thrown into the full time business of keeping the nation dry. Illegal saloons known as speakeasies dotted the cities. Bootleg gangs engaged in a bloody war for control of the speakeasies, clubs and business outlets. The outlets might be at the corner drug store, a gas station, or a private individual. Then, came the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929. Gangsters armed with machine guns lined up their rivals and mowed them down.

 The arguments over Prohibition reached such intensity that in 1928 President Hoover appointed the Wickersham Commission to investigate the problem. The commission responded that although Prohibition was not working it should be continued anyway. Humorist Franklin P. Adams commented with this poem:

Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can't stop what it's meant to stop.
We like it.
It's left a tail of graft and slime,
It didn't prohibit worth a dime,
It's filled our land with ice and crime,
Nevertheless, we're for it.

Continuing enforcement difficulties and the increase in organized crime were the major factors contributing to the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment by the adoption of the Twenty-first Amendment. The new amendment went into effect in December, 1933, and marked the end of the "noble experiment" to regulate the nations social customs.

19th amendment - Women's Suffrage

As we have discussed the 1920's were a period of great change in America. The success of women's groups in getting prohibition passed was tied to the movement to gain the right to vote. The quest for the passage of this amendment, eventually passed as the 19th, was known as the suffrage movement.

I. Women's Right to Vote - The 19th Amendment is passed

A. Early Efforts

1. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton - Seneca Falls Conv.

2. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton - National Women's Suffrage Association

3. Lucy Stone - American Women's Suffrage Association

4. Merger of two groups (1890) - National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA)

B. Success at the State level

1. Wyoming territory admitted with the vote

2. Utah, Colorado and Idaho follow.

C. National Success

1. 1915 - NAWSA membership reaches 2 million under leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt.

2. 1918 - House passes amendment, fails senate.

3. 1919 - Women help elect new Senate, passes Senate.

4. 1920, August 26th - States ratify

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