In the United States, the temperance movement was a social movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries that was dedicated to encouraging the reduction or elimination of the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the nation. The movement was comprised of a variety of social, political and religious groups that were united in their belief that the United States would be a better nation, in a variety of ways, if people refrained from drinking alcohol. The efforts of the movement resulted in the prohibition of alcohol between 1920 and 1933.
During the early 19th century, a growing segment of the American population believed that the population of the nation was negatively impacted by the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol consumption was seen by many as a destructive force that led to the disintegration of the family; caused problems in the workplace, unemployment, homelessness; and led to increased violence and crime. Religious leaders, who made up a large portion of the movement, also perceived alcohol use as a sinful activity that led to the moral decline of both churchgoers and American society as a whole.
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The temperance movement initially began as an effort to encourage people to reduce or refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages, but over time, its emphasis expanded from discouraging the consumption of alcohol to advocating the prohibition of the sale, consumption, and production of alcohol through legislation. By the mid-1800s, a handful of states passed prohibition laws; although all of these states repealed those laws by the late 1860s. In the late 1800s, the movement regained prominence as groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League brought increased national attention to the issue of alcohol prohibition. Both of these organizations carried a significant amount of political clout and social influence and, along with other temperance groups, helped to elect candidates of both major political parties that supported the prohibition of alcohol in the United States.
The prohibition of alcohol was codified with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1919 and the passage of the Volstead Act in 1920. Unfortunately for advocates of the temperance movement, the prohibition of alcohol did not seem to create the positive results that were expected and, in fact, resulted in a host of unintended negative consequences. The chief of these was the rise in overall crime rates and organized crime activity. Organized crime enterprises, such as that headed by the infamous Al Capone in Chicago, Illinois, greatly profited through the selling of alcohol on the black market. Public sentiment in the United States turned against the prohibition of alcohol and the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution was repealed with the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution in 1933.