PROHIBITION: A Nation Of Drunkards
Airs Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV
Friday, December 11, 2015
Credit: Courtesy of John Binder Collection
PROHIBITION is a three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that tells the story of the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the entire era it encompassed. Prohibition was intended to improve, even to ennoble, the lives of all Americans, to protect individuals, families, and society at large from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse. But the enshrining of a faith-driven moral code in the Constitution paradoxically caused millions of Americans to rethink their definition of morality.
The consequences of prohibition were felt all across the United States. Find stories near your home town. Learn more about each event through photos and videos.
Episode 1: "A Nation Of Drunkards" - Americans have argued over alcohol for centuries. Since the early years of the American Republic, drinking has been at least as American as apple pie. As this first episodes begins, clergymen, craftsmen and canal-diggers drink. So do the crowds of men who turn out for barn-raisings and baptisms, funerals, elections and public hangings.
Tankards of cider are kept by farmhouses' front doors, and in many places alcohol is considered safer to drink than water. Alcohol, along with its attendant rituals and traditions, is embedded in the fabric of American culture. But by 1830, the average American over 15 years old consumes nearly seven gallons of pure alcohol a year, three times as much as we drink today. Alcohol abuse wreaks havoc on the lives of many families. As a wave of spiritual fervor for reform sweeps the country, many women and men begin to see alcohol as a scourge.
After the Civil War, the country's population swells with immigrants, who bring their drinking customs with them from Ireland, Germany, Italy and other European countries. The temperance campaign ignites, spearheaded by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Carrie Nation and her Home Defenders Army bring publicity by attacking Kansas bars with stones and hatchets, and the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) forms to push for an amendment to the Constitution outlawing alcohol nationally.
Most politicians dare not defy the ASL, and in 1917 the 18th Amendment sails through both Houses of Congress; it is ratified by the states in just 13 months. When the Amendment is signed into law, Prohibitionists rejoice that America has become officially dry. But Americans are about to discover that making Prohibition the law of the land has been one thing; enforcing it will be another.
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