Violence in the Prohibion Era

Essay by no_oneCollege, UndergraduateA+, October 1996

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The prohibitionists were social reform agitators who sought a major change in their society's customs. Social reformers have been a nearly constant presence in American society since the early 19th century. Accounts of many social reformers' campaigns, often deal with the violence inflicted upon reformers seeking change in society and the violence engaged in by some reformers to achieve their ends. Violent killing and even attempted killing, seems almost contagious to the history of social reforms in the United States.

This paper will talk about two things. First, I am most interested in violence in its most dramatic and drastic forms, killing or attempting to kill people. So I will be talking mostly of killings, attempted killings, and mobbings (because after all they can easily lead to killings). Second, I will also be talking about violence in response to, or as a part of agitation and not violence attendant to law enforcement, as well as the impact a Carry Nation type figure can have.

Violence in resistance to law or violence undertaken by law officers is somewhat separate from violence associated with a social reform movement's agitation for change. Such violence grows out the state's presumption to have a monopoly of force and its willingness to resort to force to gain the ends of its policy. To break the law of the state is to risk its use of violence against you, hence the likelihood that the law breaker will engage in violence. Law enforcement and violence go together like a hand and a glove.

But within these limits there is still a broad area of violence to be explored as reform and violence also seem to go together. We can break down violence associated with reform into two large categories. First, violence, used by their opponents, to stop...