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Under Prohibition, the illegal manufacture and sale of liquor--known as "bootlegging"--occurred on a large scale across the United States. In urban areas, where the majority of the population opposed Prohibition, enforcement was generally much weaker than in rural areas and smaller towns. Perhaps the most dramatic consequence of Prohibition was the effect it had on organized crime in the United States: as the production and sale of alcohol went further underground, it began to be controlled by the Mafia and other gangs, who transformed themselves into sophisticated criminal enterprises that reaped huge profits from the illicit liquor trade.
When it came to its booming bootleg business, the Mafia became skilled at bribing police and politicians to look the other way. Chicago's Al Capone emerged as the most notorious example of this phenomenon, earning an estimated $60 million annually from the bootlegging and speakeasy operations he controlled. In addition to bootlegging, gambling and prostitution reached new heights during the 1920s as well. A growing number of Americans came to blame Prohibition for this widespread moral decay and disorder--despite the fact that the legislation had intended to do the opposite--and to condemn it as a dangerous infringement on the freedom of the individual.
Calls for Prohibition's Repeal
If public sentiment had turned against Prohibition by the late 1920s, the advent of the Great Depression only hastened its demise, as some argued that the ban on alcohol denied jobs to the unemployed and much-needed revenue to the government. The efforts of the nonpartisan group Americans Against Prohibition Association (AAPA) added to public disillusionment. In 1932, the platform of Democratic presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt included a plank for repealing the 18th Amendment, and his victory that November marked a certain end to Prohibition.
In February 1933, Congress adopted a resolution proposing the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed both the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. The resolution required state conventions, rather than the state legislatures, to approve the amendment, effectively reducing the process to a one-state, one-vote referendum rather than a popular vote contest. That December, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, achieving the necessary majority for repeal. A few states continued statewide prohibition after 1933, but by 1966 all of them had abandoned it. Since then, liquor control in the United States has largely been determined at the local level.
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