Prohibition (2011– )
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A Nation of Drunkards 

The 19th century was a period of growth both for alcoholic beverages and the temperance movement. Washingtonian societies - made up of men who had taken a pledge to forgo all alcoholic ... See full summary »



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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Himself - Narrator
Michael Lerner ...
Himself - Historian
Himself - Writer
Pete Hamill ...
Himself - Writer
Catherine Gilbert Murdock ...
Herself - Historian
Martin Marty ...
Himself - Theologian
Noah Feldman ...
Himself - Legal Scholar
Jack Roche ...
Himself - Resident of Chicago
William Leuchtenburg ...
Himself - Historian
Reader (voice)
Eliza Hackett (voice)
Kevin Conway ...
Reader (voice)
Reader (voice)
Reader (voice)
Reader (voice)


The 19th century was a period of growth both for alcoholic beverages and the temperance movement. Washingtonian societies - made up of men who had taken a pledge to forgo all alcoholic beverage - sprang up across the country. Women were often excluded from these groups and so formed their own. The women's crusade of 1873 was essentially a general strike by women who brought business to a halt. Their protest spread to 911 communities in 37 territories. However no laws had been changed and within a few years, saloons were back in business. In 1879, Frances E. Willard became the head of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, which she would lead for 19 years.It became a huge social welfare organization with 45 departments dealing with many issues other than temperance. Carrie Nation and her home defenders army started closing saloons in Kansas but it too failed to change laws. By the turn of the 20th century, there were some 300,000 saloons in America. Saloons were not only social ... Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

2 October 2011 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?


[first lines]
Title Card: Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky. It is the prohibition that makes anything precious. - Mark Twain
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King Porter Stomp
Written by Ferdinand 'Jelly Roll' Morton
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User Reviews

A Nation of Drunkards
28 January 2017 | by See all my reviews

The first of three parts of Ken Burns's documentary on Prohibition shows how the movement to get spirits of the liquid kind out of American life began as early as the 1840s. It is very much tied together with the movement for women's suffrage and for the abolition of slavery. Often those who advocated for one supported the others.

Of course the anti-slavery movement being older took the lead and we did fight a great Civil War to achieve that end. The others took a bit longer and as we learn here often acted in tandem.

Demon Rum was seen as the great destroyer of the American family not completely without reason. Temperance and suffrage were partners. This was also a movement of the older and rural countryside as versus the big city where immigrants flocked who worked hard at lousy jobs to get ahead and wanted that evening drink be at an Irish saloon or a German beer garden.

German-Americans with their love of beer and the brewers that made the stuff fought against Prohibition. It was a confluence of history that Germany became our enemy in World War I and people learned to hate all things German. One issue lobbying also helped pass the 18th Amendment. Many of our right wing cause lobbyists of today learned from Wayne B. Wheeler and his Anti-Saloon League.

All that helped bring about the 18th Amendment which took affect on New Year's Day of 1920.

Ken Burns shows how a very sad chapter, a most ludicrous chapter in American history begins.

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