Contributor: Sarah Lerdal. Lesson ID: 11088

Can the government control behavior? How far should it go in regulating commerce? Can laws spur on more crime? Apply the answers you'll learn when you write your editorial about legalizing marijuana!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • To what extent should the government try to regulate the production, selling, and buying of goods and services?
  • Do you believe the government should take a laissez-faire — meaning hands-off — approach, actively intervene, or take some middle ground when deciding economic policy?

Take some time to think about these questions.

The United States has a capitalistic economic system, but the extent to which the government should intervene is still debated today.

That debate, and the central government's power, took center stage in the 1920s.

After World War I, the government stopped telling factories what to produce as far as munitions and stopped rationing Americans' food. Still, they did regulate the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed, which outlawed alcohol in the United States. The Volstead Act was the law that officially enforced the amendment.

People who advocated for the ban of alcohol were called prohibitionists, or drys.

  • What would have been some of their arguments for supporting the 18th Amendment?

Opponents of Prohibition were called wets.

  • What might have been some of their reasons for disliking the ban on alcohol?

The Volstead Act did not outlaw consumption, so many Americans continued to drink the alcohol they already had stashed away!

The Prohibition era saw a rise in violent crime, partly because a lot of money was to be made from selling illegal alcohol. People who sold this illegal alcohol were known as bootleggers. Secret places that sold the alcohol were known as speakeasies.

Watch the video below to see some of the footage from this period.

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Organized crime — unlawful activity for profit systematically practiced city-wide or larger — also grew during the 1920s. Al Capone became one of the most notorious mobsters.

As a provider of illegal alcohol, he said, "I make my money by supplying a public demand. If I break the law, my customers, who number hundreds of the best people in Chicago, are as guilty as I am. The only difference between us is that I sell and they buy."

Al Capone mugshot 17 June 1931

Al Capone was difficult to bring down because he paid off so many government officials.

Watch this next video to see how he was finally stopped.

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The country was divided over whether alcohol should remain outlawed.

In the Got It? section, you will take a look at some of each side's arguments. Consider your stance on the issue because you will see if the arguments solidify your opinion or make you think twice about it.

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