Scofflaws and Bootleggers, the two faces of illegality during prohibition


Arnaud Coutant

Arnaud Coutant is Professor of Public Law at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne. As a constitutionalist, he has devoted several books to the United States by adopting an approach mixing history and law. He also directed a joint book called Prohibition (s), studying this theme from multidisciplinary and comparative approaches.

Sacramento and New York. These two cities, located at both ends of the American federation, embody the singular relationship of many Americans to prohibition. Generalized with the eighteenth amendment, in 1919, this policy must be implemented in all states in a uniform manner. Yet in many of them, the law faces two clearly hostile behaviors. For a first category of Americans, the text is absurd because a law should not dictate private behavior. The Scofflaws, as they are soon called, display their contempt for a law they refuse to apply. For a second category, the legal device provides the opportunity to enrich itself by violating it. With the Bootleggers, we discover alcohol traffickers, sometimes politically supported, who do not hesitate to use violence to protect and develop their business. In California as in New York, these two groups mingle, giving an astonishing picture of the application of the law during prohibition.

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