Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Booze & The Death Penalty Amendment

A long forgotten aspect of Prohibition, the period from 1920-1933 during which the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol were banned nationally as mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment, is that beyond closing breweries, costing jobs and increasing crime, it turned American into a nation of alcoholics and killed untold thousands of them because they resorted to drinking tainted booze.

The real killer was the U.S. government.

As Deborah Blum notes in The Poisoner's Handbook, the federal government seethed with frustration over the flouting of anti-alcohol laws and figured that if alcohol was truly undrinkable, even the most hard-core boozer would give it up.

To that end, the government undertook a crash program to experiment with new denaturing agents that would result in much greater amounts of deadly methyl alcohol in the industrial alcohol that bootleggers sold.

The result in 1926 in New York City alone was staggering: 1,200 residents sickened or blinded or both by drinking some form of industrial alcohol and another 400 people dead.

While well-heeled drinkers could afford a better grade of alcohol, often liquor smuggled in from Canada, the deadly brew of course truck lower class neighborhoods the hardest.

Wrote columnist Heywood Broun in the New York World: "The Eighteenth is the only amendment which carries the death penalty."

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