A Nation Of Drunkards
America’s great experiment Prohibition gets the Ken Burns treatment tonight on PBS. The new three part documentary from the man who made The Civil War interesting again will focus on what happened back in 1919, when the United States ratified the 18th Amendment to ban the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors. The series will look at the political and social climate that brought us jazz, flappers, and organized crime.
Liquor posed a serious problem in 19th-century America. Men drank on average perhaps six times more than we do today. In response to the predictable effects of rampant “drunkenness” (the word “alcoholism” had not yet been coined) – domestic abuse, child abandonment, poverty – social reformers began calling for temperance. However, a new breed of activist grabbed hold of the temperance movement and steered it in an extreme direction. In place of moderation, strident groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League demanded nothing less than a total ban. They took a serious issue that affected maybe 10% of the population and sought to impose a solution on 100% of the people.
Unlike virtually every other part of the Constitution, a document that fundamentally is about expanding and protecting personal freedoms, Prohibition took one away. The idea was to make America a stronger, better place. The reality? Not so much.
Tune in tonight at 7pm Central Time for the first installment of the series entitled “A Nation of Drunkards”.