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The Wickersham Commission Report on Alcohol Prohibition - 1930

II

 THE PRESENT CONDITION AS TO OBSERVANCE AND ENFORCEMENT

 1

OBSERVANCE

 There is a mass of information before us as to a general prevalence of drinking in homes, in clubs, and in hotels; of drinking parties given and attended by persons of high standing and respectability; of drinking by tourists at winter and summer resorts; and of drinking in connection with public dinners and at conventions. In the nature of the case it is not easy to get at the exact facts in such a connection, and conditions differ somewhat in different parts of the country and even to some extent from year to year. This is true likewise with respect to drinking by women and drinking by youth, as to which also there is a great mass of evidence. In weighing this evidence much allowance must be made for the effect of new standards of independence and individual self-assertion, changed ideas as to conduct generally, and the greater emphasis on freedom and the quest for excitement since the war. As to drinking among youth,  the evidence is conflicting. Votes in colleges show an attitude of hostility to or contempt for the law on the part of those who are not unlikely to be leaders in the next generation. It is safe to say that a significant change has taken place in the social attitude toward drinking. This may be seen in the views and conduct of social leaders, business and professional men in the average community. It may be seen in the tolerance of conduct at social gatherings which would not have been possible a generation ago. It is reflected in a different way of regarding drunken youth, in a change in the class of excessive drinkers, and in the increased use of distilled liquor in places and connections where formerly it was banned. It is evident that, taking the country as a whole, people of wealth, businessmen and professional men, and their families, and, perhaps, the higher paid workingmen and their families, are drinking in large numbers in quite frank disregard of the declared policy of the National Prohibition Act.

There has been much discussion as to how the consumption of liquor today compares with that before prohibition. It will be necessary to go into that discussion later in considering the amount produced and imported in violation of law. So many purely speculative elements are involved in the making of any figures as to consumption today that in the present connection it is not worth while to make an elaborate review of the statistical material. But it may be remarked that the method of adding to the figures for the period before prohibition, in order to reach a basis of comparison, an annual increase in the proportion shown during the development of organized production and distribution is unsound. That rate of increase could not have gone on indefinitely into the future under any regime. The evidence as to Keely cures, as to arrests for drunkenness and the type of persons found drunk in public, as to deaths from causes attributable to alcohol, as to alcoholic insanity, as to hospital admissions for alcoholism, as to the change in the type of person treated for alcoholism, and as to drunken driving, while in each case subject to much criticism and raising many doubts, yet all seem to point in the same direction.

The Census Bureau figures for the year 1929 indicate a decline in the rate of deaths from alcoholism, and the figures on all the points referred to are still substantially below the pre-prohibition figures. Upon the whole, however, they indicate that after a brief period in the first years of the amendment there has been a steady increase in drinking.

To the serious effects of this attitude of disregard of the declared policy of the National Prohibition Act must be-added the bad effect on children and employees of what they see constantly in the conduct of otherwise law abiding persons. Such things and the effect on youth of the making of liquor in homes, in disregard of the policy, if not of the express provisions of the law, the effect on the families of workers of selling in homes, which obtains in many localities, and the effect on working people of the conspicuous newly acquired wealth of their neighbors who have engaged in bootlegging, are disquieting. This widespread and scarcely or not at all concealed contempt for the policy of the National Prohibition Act, and the effects of that contempt, must be weighed against the advantage of diminution (apparently lessening) of the amount in circulation.

These observations are not directed to a comparison between conditions before the Eighteenth Amendment and since, but only to changes taking place during the years since the adoption of the Amendment. The disquieting features above referred to should, of course, be weighed against the recognized fact that very large numbers of people have consistently observed the law.

 


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