Prohibition in the United States was a measure designed to reduce drinking by eliminating the businesses that manufactured, distributed, and sold alcoholic beverages. The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took away license to do business from the brewers, distillers, vintners, and the wholesale and retail sellers of alcoholic beverages. The leaders of the prohibition movement were alarmed at the drinking behavior of Americans, and they were concerned that there was a culture of drink among some sectors of the population that, with continuing immigration from Europe, was spreading (“Why Prohibition” 2). Between 1860 and 1880 America's urban population grew from 6 million to more than 14 million people. The mass of this huge increase found itself toiling in factories and sweatshops and living in horrible social conditions; getting drunk was there only highlight in life.
Prohibition is the legal ban on the manufacture and sale of intoxicating drink (“Temperance, Prohibition, Alcoholism” 1). The term also denotes those periods in history when such bans have been in force, as well as the political and social movements condoning them. This method of liquor control was most often aimed at preventing alcoholism and thus removing a social, physical, and economic harm from society.
Many Americans, religious leaders, and political leaders saw alcohol as the key to all that was evil, a curse on the nation. Significant numbers of people believed that the consumption of alcoholic beverages presented a serious threat to the integrity of their most vital foundations, especially the family (“Prohibition” 846).
In the 1600's and 1700's, the American colonists drank large quantities of beer, rum, wine, and hard cider. These alcoholic beverages were often safer to drink than impure water or unpasteurized milk and also less expensive than coffee or tea. By the 1820's, people in the United States were drinking, on the average, the equivalent of 7 gallons of pure alcohol per person each year (“drinkingprohibition” 1). As early as the seventeenth century, America was showing interest towards prohibition. Some people, including physicians and ministers, became concerned about the extent of alcohol use (“There was one...” 1). They believed that drinking alcohol damaged people's health and moral behavior, and promoted poverty. People concerned about alcohol use urged temperance, the reduction or elimination of the use of alcoholic beverages. They felt that the only way to protect society from this threat was to abolish drunkard-making business.
At first, supporters of temperance urged drinkers to drink only moderate amounts. But the supporters later became convinced that all alcoholic beverages were addictive. As a result, they tried to end the use of alcohol. The first temperance crusade, which took place in the 1820's and 1830's, reduced the average annual intake of pure alcohol per person to about 3 gallons (“drinkingprohibition” 1).