Prohibition (2011– )
2 user 1 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


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

3 October 2011 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Florentine Films, WETA See more »
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References The Birth of a Nation (1915) See more »


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User Reviews

Yet another excellent episode...
19 June 2012 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

This is the latest documentary series from Ken Burns--the docu-god for Public Broadcasting. Not surprisingly, with his amazing reputation for perfection, he was able to once again get many of America's top actors to provide their voice talents to the shows--such as Tom Hanks, Sam Waterston and Blythe Danner. And, like so many PBS documentaries, Peter Coyote narrates more than capably.

Part Two of the three-part series begins with Prohibition as the law of the land. However, despite some jubilation at the new law, it soon became apparent that there was a severe problem with enforcement as well as defiance of the law. The government didn't have the forces or the will to do anything to interrupt the proliferation of stills and smuggled alcohol. But, most importantly, the law DID encourage the growth of organized crime and many small-time hoods grew to become mob bosses because of bootlegging. There were also loopholes in the law that made home brewing and wine making--all which further weakened the law. And, on top of that, arrests for public intoxication INCREASED despite Prohibition! Clearly the law was NOT working as it had been intended.

Well-written, interesting and highly polished--this is yet another spectacularly well made episode of a Ken Burns series. Well worth your time and about the best film on the subject you can find.

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