How To Regulate Morality: Don’t

Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’sProhibition” covers a lot of ground in six hours, starting from the 1800s, when the consumption of alcohol was three times greater than what it is today, through the Women’s Suffragette Movement, through a contentious moral and political battle, through the 18th Amendment, and finishes with Prohibition’s demise, which was inevitable almost from the start.

The regulation of morality in this way was never going to work, and the language of the Amendment further cemented as a failed experiment that lasted just 13 years.

Section 1 of the 18th Amendment. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Unique in this amendment, besides the fact that it is the only one to be repealed in its entirety, was that it restricted rights, not expanded them, as every other amendment did.

The National Prohibition Act, known informally as the Volstead Act, was the enabling legislation for the Eighteenth Amendment that established prohibition in the United States.

The three distinct purposes of the Act were:

  1. to prohibit intoxicating beverages,
  2. to regulate the manufacture, production, use and sale of high-proof spirits for other than beverage purposes, and
  3. to ensure an ample supply of alcohol and promote its use in scientific research and in the development of fuel, dye and other lawful industries and practices, such as religious rituals.

It provided further that “no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act.” It did not specifically prohibit the use of intoxicating liquors. The act defined intoxicating liquor as any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol by volume and superseded all existing prohibition laws in effect in states that had such legislation. (The flaws become quickly apparent: some types of Sauerkraut have an alcohol volume greater than 0.5%.)

For Ohioans, the state was ground zero in many respects, from a group of women in Hillsboro who prayed outside of saloons, to Otterbein, where the Anti-Saloon League was born in 1893, to the League’s eventual home in Westerville.

Prohibition is a great story, better because it’s all true.

A Nation of Drunkards
10/2/2011 8:00 pm WOSU TV
10/2/2011 9:41 pm WOSU TV
10/3/2011 1:30 am WOSU TV
10/3/2011 8:00 pm WOSU PLUS

A Nation of Scofflaws
10/3/2011 8:00 pm WOSU TV
10/3/2011 10:00 pm WOSU TV
10/4/2011 1:00 am WOSU TV
10/4/2011 8:00 pm WOSU PLUS

A Nation of Hypocrites
10/4/2011 8:00 pm WOSU TV
10/4/2011 10:00 pm WOSU TV
10/5/2011 1:00 am WOSU TV
10/5/2011 8:00 pm WOSU PLUS

An Evening with Ken Burns: Civility, Immigration, Civility, Immigration, and Democracy
10/5/2011 10:00 pm WOSU PLUS