February 14th

The St. Valentine’s Day massacre was perhaps the most famous event in US gangland history. On 14th February 1929 seven men were assassinated by a group of gangsters dressed as policemen at a garage in North Side Chicago. The victims were associates of George “Bugs” Moran, a long-time adversary of the notorious mob boss Al “Scarface” Capone; and although never officially convicted, its historically considered that the murders were on the order of Al Capone himself despite his claim he was at his home in Florida.

massacre

Source: wischlist.com

The trade of bootlegging (the illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol) became rife in the era of Prohibition, as it became an extremely profitable venture for American gangsters, alongside gambling and prostitution.

Prohibition was introduced in the USA through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919, and banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. This was a response to a wave of religious revivalism in the United States, driven by the The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance (founded 1826) and the Anti-Saloon League ( 1893), in which alcohol was viewed as an intoxicant on marriage and family life and hence inherently unchristian. The keenness of factory owners to increase their industrial output and working hours was also influential, and by the ratification of the amendment on January 19 1919, 33 states had already enacted their own prohibitive legislation. It was in a sense the response of Protestant campaigners, especially middle class women, to the increasing liberal culture in the cities, which they perceived as ‘social anarchy’. The Temperance movement was further bolstered by World War Two, where the consumption of alcohol from largely German brewers appeared unpatriotic.

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Al Capone, Mar 24 1930 Source: Time.com

Instead of reducing alcohol consumption, very poor enforcement of the change meant that those who wanted to drink continued to do so (only 1,500 federal agents were enlisted with enforcing the so-called Volstead Act), with many visiting illegal clubs (by 1925, there were 100,000 of these ‘speakeasies’ in New York alone) or brewing their own (‘moonshines’). Furthermore, the underground business of ‘bootlegging’ was dominated by violent gang culture, with Al Capone’s ruthless control of the Chicago market the most famous example, the city completely devoid of effective law enforcement. Capone himself was a popular figure in the city, but his charitable actions and business credentials were damaged by his alleged involvement in the bloody St. Valentine’s killings. His monopoly of the city had earned him around $100 million per year before he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion in June 1931.

Support for prohibition was waning by the end of the 1920s. As the depression took a foothold the legalization of the alcohol industry seemed attractive for creating income and jobs, and its enforcement had proved futile and inaffordable, with newspapers alleging that 8 out of 10 congressman drank on the quiet. Its repeal was endorsed through the election of ‘wet’ Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 who famously remarked “I think we could all do with a beer.” The 21st Amendment to the US Constitution ratified on December 5 1933, revoking the 19th.

I would highly recommend this article by Johann Harry of The Independent which raises parallels between the failure of prohibition and the failing ‘War on Drugs’. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-how-can-americas-war-on-drugs-succeed-if-their-prohibition-laws-failed-1997227.html

A excellent assessment on the history of US Prohibition. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/aug/26/lawless-prohibition-gangsters-speakeasies

 

 

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