The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified in 1919, and became one of the shorter lived and deeply controversial amendments. Under this amendment, the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol was banned. It was passed with the Volstead Act, which helped to define those beverages considered alcoholic and defined “intoxicating liquor” as containing 0.5% of alcohol or more.
Taken together, the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act ushered in the Prohibition Era in the United States, which significantly increased illegal activity and the rise of the crime lords like Al Capone, who made much of his money through illegal manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol. The amendment did not succeed in creating a countrywide temperance movement. It can be said that the pervasiveness of large and small operations to provide people with access to alcohol helped make these beverages still widely available, even though they were illegal.
Part of the impetus in the various temperance movement groups that helped pressure Congress to pass the law was religious in nature, although there were other reasons why women especially supported banning access to alcohol. As with today, domestic violence against women tended to be more significant in homes where alcohol was used to excess. There were strong opponents to the temperance movement who were strongly religious too, however, and the split between support and opposition to the bill cannot be viewed as a total separation between the religious and nonreligious.
Though the 18th Amendment might have ended the drinking careers of some, its passage created more social problems. First, alcohol was still widely available, so it didn’t necessarily mean that people had stopped drinking, and those who were alcoholics very likely continued drinking regularly. The rise in organized crime was most significant and created increased violence, especially in urban areas. Not all people were eager to enforce the laws either, since many did not support them.
Continued pressure to repeal the law was applied to US leaders, and ultimately, the amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment, ratified in 1933. This amendment also made the provisions of the Volstead Act unconstitutional and therefore struck at the heart of the temperance movement and the goal of prohibition. The issues created by organized crime were partly solved by allowing sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol again, though organized crime in various forms still continued to proliferate.