Prohibition - Episode 2.

Kanopy (Firm)

Streaming video - 2015

Prohibition - Episode 2: A Nation of Scoffaws On January 16, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution goes into effect, making it illegal to manufacture, transport or sell intoxicating liquor. Episode Two, A Nation of Scofflaws, examines the problems of enforcement, as millions of law-abiding Americans become lawbreakers overnight. While a significant portion of the country is willing to adapt to the new law, others are shocked at how inconsistent the Volstead Act actually is. Many had... believed that light beer would still be available, but the Act defines "intoxicating beverages" as anything containing a half of one percent of alcohol. Under these draconian terms, even sauerkraut is illegal. Exceptions and loopholes in the law make a mockery of it: a family can legally make wine at home but not beer, a friendly doctor's prescription is all that's needed for whiskey, and anyone claiming to be a rabbi can buy, and sell, "sacramental" wine. Prohibition is a federal law, but there is little federal support for funding its enforcement. Most local governments don't rush to pick up the bill either. The governor of New Jersey declares his state will remain as wet as the Atlantic Ocean, while the governor of Washington says he won't spend so much as a postage stamp on enforcement. In New York City the predominantly Irish police force is reluctant to use its manpower to seize hip flasks. Even in the nation's capital, the assistant attorney general in charge of Prohibition cases, 32-year old Mabel Walker Willebrandt, declares the law "puny, puerile, and toothless." Across the country the federal courts are quickly overwhelmed and judges are forced to hold "bargain days" for liquor offenders. As weaknesses in the law and its enforcement become clear, millions find ways to exploit it. In Kentucky, whiskey distillers sell "medicine" instead. In Cincinnati, a shrewd lawyer named George Remus buys many local distilleries and rakes in up to half a million dollars a week by bootlegging the bonded whiskey in his warehouses. In Seattle, Roy Olmstead, a former police officer with a reputation for selling top-quality Canadian liquor, becomes one of the city's biggest employers. In Chicago, Al Capone, Johnny Torrio and rival gangs engage in territorial beer wars in broad daylight in the city streets. Bootleggers and gangsters alike rely on bribery to stay in business; from the local police force to the members of President Harding's cabinet, everything begins to feel corrupted. Drys had hoped Prohibition would make the country a safer place, but the law has many victims. Honest policemen are killed on the job, unlucky drinkers poisoned by adulterated liquor, and overzealous federal agents violate civil rights just to make a bust. Alcoholism still exists, and may even be increasing, as women begin to drink in the speakeasies that replace the male-only saloon. Despite the growing discontent with Prohibition and its consequences, few politicians dare to speak out against the law, fearful of its powerful protector, the Anti-Saloon League. When Al Smith, the Catholic governor of New York, openly criticizes Prohibition in his bid for the 1924 Democratic presidential nomination, the dry forces become energized again. There are fistfights on the convention floor, and the Democratic Party is polarized between delegates from dry, rural, Protestant America and those from the diverse, wet cities. Republican Calvin Coolidge crushes the crippled Democrats in November, and the Drys remain confident that Prohibition can be made to work. As no constitutional amendment has ever been repealed, one senator promises, "There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars – with the Washington Monument tied to its tail."

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Documentary films
Online Access
A Kanopy streaming video
Cover Image
[San Francisco, California, USA] : Kanopy Streaming 2015.
Item Description
Title from title frames.
Physical Description
1 online resource (1 video file, approximately 111 minutes) : digital, .flv file, sound
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Corporate Author
Kanopy (Firm) (-)
Other Authors
Ken Burns (film director), Lynn Novick