Prohibition (2011)
2 user 2 critic

A Nation of Scofflaws 

With the passing of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, the federal government now passes legislation to enforce it. Known as the Volstead Act, the legislation forbids not only hard ... See full summary »


Ken Burns, Lynn Novick




Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Peter Coyote ... Self - Narrator (voice)
Donald Ward Donald Ward ... Self - Resident of Washington, D.C.
Noah Feldman Noah Feldman ... Self - Legal Scholar
Catherine Gilbert Murdock Catherine Gilbert Murdock ... Self - Historian
Daniel Okrent ... Self - Writer
Freddie Johnson Freddie Johnson ... Self - Historian
Pete Hamill ... Self - Writer
John Paul Stevens ... Self - Resident of Chicago (as Justice John Paul Stevens)
Edwin T. Hunt Jr. Edwin T. Hunt Jr. ... Self - Son of Edwin Hunt
Zeke Alpern Zeke Alpern ... Self - Resident of New York City
Michael Lerner Michael Lerner ... Self - Historian
Dorothea Brown Dorothea Brown ... Self - Resident of Maine
Sylvester Mather Sylvester Mather ... Self - Resident of Kentucky
Margot Loines Wilkie Margot Loines Wilkie ... Self - Resident of Massachusetts
Jack Clarke Jack Clarke ... Self - Resident of Chicago


With the passing of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, the federal government now passes legislation to enforce it. Known as the Volstead Act, the legislation forbids not only hard liquor but also beer and light wine which many legislators assumed would be exempted. Penalties as well were far harsher than many had expected. The ban on alcoholic beverages could not be complete as alcohol was required by many industrial processes. There were also exemptions for religious observances and for medicinal purposes. In fact, from the day the ban went into into effect,entrepreneurs found ways, some legal, most not - to get around the law. Some States had no legislation to implement the new amendment to the constitution and for the most part, the Federal government was left on its own to enforce it. Rum running. became big business with schooners plying their trade on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides of the U.S. By the mid-1920s many people had come to the conclusion that prohibition... Written by garykmcd

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User Reviews

A Nation of Scofflaws
28 January 2017 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

After detailing in Part one of Prohibition the efforts and confluence of events that led to the passage of the 18th Amendment and the enforcement law, the Volstead Act part two tells us how the citizenry went at lengths to flout an unwanted law. The creativity of people trying to get a drink went to unimaginable lengths. Not that it was totally necessary, but we have to keep up appearances.

Part Two tells can be simply broken down by saying, you now have your Prohibition law, go enforce it. A very good point is made that in the year of 1920 when Prohibition took affect a presidential election occurred where small government Republicans took over. Plus in Warren Harding you had a president who privately didn't believe in it and at his famous poker parties at the little green house on K Street, the legal pre-Probition liquor flowed freely.

Another fascinating point is that the rich who saw it was coming stockpiled the booze they could get so they could ride out the storm. They never seriously were affected, one of the richest men in the world was Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon who also never believed in Prohibition in any event.

One who did was Harding's Attorney General Harry Daugherty who saw lucrative opportunities for kickbacks and patronage in the Prohibition Enforcement Bureau. On the take politicos lined up for those jobs and got rich. Daugherty got fired by Harding's successor Calvin Coolidge and his successor AGs were personally honest, but the pattern was set.

This part of Ken Burns's epic work shows how people do not like to be forbidden in their behavior by force of law. A lesson some just never learn.

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Release Date:

3 October 2011 (USA) See more »

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Production Co:

Florentine Films, WETA See more »
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