Scottish flag and the Union Jack

Scotland: the road to independence

Scottish independence referendum, 2014

In August 2009 the SNP announced a Referendum Bill would be included in its package of bills to be debated before Parliament in 2009–10, with the intention of holding a referendum on the issues of Scottish independence in November 2010.

The bill did not pass due to the SNP’s status as a minority administration, and due to the initial opposition to the Bill from all other major parties in the Scottish Parliament.

Following the Scottish Parliament general election, 2011 the SNP had a majority in parliament and again brought forward an Independence Referendum Bill.

The Scottish Government also suggested that full fiscal autonomy for Scotland (known as “devo-max”) could be an alternative option in the vote.

The negotiation of the Edinburgh Agreement (2012) resulted in the UK government legislating to provide the Scottish Parliament with the powers to hold the referendum.

The “devo-max” option was not included, however, as the Edinburgh Agreement stipulated that the referendum had to be a clear binary choice between independence or the existing devolution arrangements.

The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 was passed by the Scottish Parliament and campaigning commenced. Two days before the referendum was held, with polls very close, the leaders of the three main UK political parties made “The Vow”, a public pledge to devolve “extensive new powers” to the Scottish Parliament if independence was rejected. They also agreed to a devolution timetable proposed by Gordon Brown.

After heavy campaigning by both sides, voting took place on 18 September 2014. Independence was rejected by a margin of 45% in favour to 55% against.

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The American Civil War : 1860-1865 photo

The American Civil War : 1861-1865

The American Civil War started with the secession crisis on April 12, 1861 and ended up with the assassination of Lincoln and the abolition of slavery on May 9, 1865. It transformed the political, economical and social life of the nation.

It first began with a constitutional struggle and then became a test of federal authority but soon took a broader dimension. The initial belief it would be short proved tragically to be mistaken.

The seceding states fought to achieve independence and yet, they closely modeled the government of their Confederacy on the American one. Lincoln’s administration responded with a crusade to preserve the union and expanded its war aims to include the destruction of slavery and the liberation of all black slaves.

In the end, the Union had been preserved and questions left unresolved had been answered at a very high cost in human terms: 600 000 lives, which is still the largest number of fatality in any American war (it was worse than Vietnam).

The Civil War: the story of a secession

The secession started in South Carolina, which withdrew from the Union. It was a direct response to Lincoln’s election. That decision was taken in December 1860. In less than 6 weeks, the other 6 states of the “Lower South” had also seceded: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

That decision was not really surprising because there were a Southern nationalism and a popular ideal in the South that has existed in the 1850s: the South had its own destiny and could exist as a separate nation.

Some Southerners argued that their section would prosper more outside the Union once free of taxes and tariffs, which increased the costs of their goods to foreign purchasers.

There was also a general atmosphere of anxiousness in the South, full of conspirational theories by 1860: Southerners were paranoid toward the North, perceiving the growing trend of abolitionism as a threat to their way of life.

The last event that quickened the War was the political victory of the Republican Party: Lincoln was elected in 1860 without winning any of the Southern states. It was perceived as a provocation.

On the 4th of March 1861, Lincoln took the oath and became President. Less than a month passed before the creation of a Confederacy from the part of the South.

In February 1861, a new national entity was created: the Confederate States of America, composed of Southern states. They selected Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi cotton planter as their leader. The feeling of secession was not general. There was still a strong opposition (especially from businessmen) to preserve the Union.

In the winter 1860-1861 lots of schemes for re(conciliation) were proposed but they failed. In his inaugural address a s President, Lincoln appealed the South to stay in the Union. He said he would not interfere with slavery but would not allow them to break the United States by seceding. The South did not answer.

On April 12th 1861, the Confederate States opened fire on Fort Sumter (South Carolina). It marked the beginning of the Civil War.

On April 15th, Lincoln proclaimed that an “insurrection” existed in the South. Since army regulars numbered only 60 000, Lincoln called on the Loyal States to raise 75 000 militiamen to serve for 3 months. Soon followed a call for 42 000 state troopers for 3 years. Later, the congress authorized the President to enlist 500 000 volunteers for 3 years.

The call to arms rallied support of Lincoln in the North but also tested the loyalty of the states bordering slave states. As a result, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina seceded, strengthening the Confederacy.

The capital of the South was moved from Montgomery to Richmond. In 4 other slave states – Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland – unionist sentiments proved strong enough to avoid secession. After the Northern and Southern calls to arms, volunteers rushed forwards in thousands in both sides.

The decision was hard to make and it sometimes split whole families (3 of Lincoln’s own brothers-in-law died for the South). The first month, the Union blockaded harbors in the South to prevent the Confederation from selling its cotton abroad and from obtaining foreign supplies.

The Forces in opposition

The superiority of the Union was great in terms of human and physical resources. The population of the Loyal states was 20 700 000 people while the total population of the 17 states composing the Confederacy was 9 100 000, of whom 3 500 000 were black slaves.

The roads and railways, factories and businesses, banking capital and investment and food suppliers were vastly superior in the Loyal states. The North grew more food crops than the South and had more than 5 times the manufacturing capacity (including weapon factories). So the North seemed to be far more superior than the South before the War.

In order to offset the North, the South expected to rely on cotton factories and industries. Moreover, the North had to face a major difficulty: the only way the North could win the War was to invade the South, which only had to hold out and to wait till the North grew tired of fighting.

One major asset of the South was the number of trained military leaders who had attended West Point and who organized the Southern army. Furthermore, most battles took place in the South.

In terms of morale, the Confederate soldiers were defending their land/home and fought with spirit. The South denied they were fighting mainly to preserve slavery: most Southerners had no slaves and were poor farmers.

They were attached to the land, fighting for their independence from the North, just as their grand-parents had fought for their independence against Britain. It explains how valiant they were.

The War took place in 2 areas: Virginia and the Mississippi Valley. Lincoln settled on 3 objectives:

  1. the capture of Richmond
  2. the blockade of the harbors of the Confederation
  3. the control of the Mississippi River

“On to Richmond !” was the motto. In Virginia, during the first year, the Union army knew defeat after defeat and was thrown back with heavy losses.

The Confederate forces had 3 advantages:

  1. the topography: land and rivers
  2. the distance for forces to reach the battlefields : they had to travel dozens of miles while the Union forces had to travel hundreds
  3. the quality of the leaders with Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson, nicknamed “Stonewall” for he stood firm against unionists and did not move an inch. They showed much more skilled than the Union generals.

The North’s early defeats in Virginia discouraged its supporters. As a consequence, the flood of volunteers began to dry out. The first defeats took place in Bull Run and in Antietam in September 1862. Antietam was the bloodiest single day battle of the War with 4 500 casualties and 18 500 people injured.

In the Mississippi Valley, the Union forces had more success. In April 1862, an officer called David Farragut sailed Union ships into the mouth of the river and captured New Orleans.

At the same time, other Union forces were fighting their way from the North. By Spring 1863, the Union armies were closing in on an important confederate stronghold called Vicksburg.

On July 4th, after much bloody fighting and a siege lasting six weeks, Vicksburg capitulated and surrendered to the Union army led by General Ulysses S. Grant. That fall was a heavy blow to the South because Union forces now controlled the whole length of the Mississippi. They had split the Confederacy into two and it became impossible to Western confederate states like Texas to send anymore men or supplies to the East.

Yet, by 1863, many Northern abolitionists were tired of the war, sickened by its heavy cost in lives and money. General Lee believed that if his army could win a decisive victory on North soil, the popular opinion might force the Union government to make peace. In the last week of June 1863, Lee marched his army North into Pennsylvania. A Union army blocked his way at a small town named Gettysburg.

The battle which followed was the biggest ever fought in the US: it marked a turning point for the Confederacy. In three days of fighting, more than 50 000 men were killed or wounded. On the 4th day, Lee broke off the battle and led his men back into the South: the Confederacy had suffered the most terrible defeat of the South, from which it would never recover.

Another important event is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on November 19th 1863. Lincoln had realized in 1862 that the North would only win the war if he could arouse more enthusiasm for his cause.

That is why he issued the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, which declares that -from January 1st 1863-, “all persons held as slaves…shall be then…forever free”. All slaves were to be free, but only if they lived in the States belonging to the Confederacy.

It changed the purpose of the war: first, it was a struggle to preserve the union, then a struggle to abolish slavery.

A Northern victory

By 1864, the Confederacy was running out of almost everything: men, equipment, money, food. The union armies moved in to end the war in Fall 1864. In November, the Union army led by General Sherman began to march through Georgia. Its soldiers destroyed everything on their path: they burnt crops and buildings and torn up railroad tracks.

On December 22nd, The Union army occupied the city of Savannah and split again East from West. Then Sherman turned North, marched through the Carolinas as he made for Richmond. “Total War” is the worst aspect of the war for it consists in inflicting horrors to the civilian population. The reason is obvious: to quicken the end of the war and to break the South’s will to resist.

Richmond was already in danger with Grant’s army: by March 1865, Grant had almost encircled the city. On April 2nd, Lee was forced to abandon it in order to save his army from being trapped and marched South, hoping to fight from a higher position. But Grant followed close behind and blocked him.

April 9th 1965: Lee met Grant in a tiny mini village called Appomatox (Virginia). Lee surrendered his army and Grant treated the defeated Confederate soldiers generously. After they had given up their weapons and promised never again to fight against the USA, Grant allowed them to go home: “the war is over. The rebels are our countrymen again.” (Grant).


The war put an end to slavery everywhere in the USA and contributed to the elaboration of the 13th Amendment in the American Constitution. Finally, the war decided that the US was one nation whose parts could not be separated. But it left bitter memories.

The US weighed other wars later but all the wars it was engaged in took place outside its own boundaries. The American Civil War caused terrible distractions at home. In this war, more Americans died than in any other war before or since: 635 000 casualties.

Repression and Censorship photo

Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship

Organization of the Repression

With John Edgar Hoover, the FBI had certain successes in its fight against Organized Crime. The FBI was/is a federal agency that could/can work across the territory. Police forces were sometimes ill-trained because they faced very well organized murderers.

1933 saw the creation of the Bureau of Investigation (Justice), the Prohibition Bureau (department of the Treasury and eventually to the Department of Justice), and the Bureau of Identification.

The FBI emphasized figures to receive more subventions and for the training of policemen, the FBI became a kind of police academy.

The codes of appearances tell the fall or rise of the gangster. It is sometimes wrong: they can die very well dressed. Banquets are social rituals, as well as funerals.

In Little Caesar, once they killed someone they would attend his funerals very well dressed. Repression is a spectacle in a way: FBI and politics of prestige.

President Hoover used the media a lot: he collaborated with the media and the movie industry to create a positive image of war on crime. The Kefauver hearings were televised for the first time. In a way, it was a show.

The cinema was the major medium to picture Organized Crime. Ten years later, TV would be a great threat to movies. Hearings were televised live: immediacy and power.

Organized Crime was in the streets and on the screens: dialectic between expression and repression. New form of expression both in reality and in fiction.

When Hollywood involved censorship, it became indirect form of expression but it was still depicting the Organized Crime.

The image of America on screen is that of a country in which morality should impose images. Always new forms for gangsters on film even if censorship was present.

Censorship in the States

Censorship is not supposed to take place in the U.S. because of the 1st and 4th Amendment about the freedom of speech. Yet, the cinema was not considered as a mean to convey ideas but as a commercial enterprise.

There was no federal censorship, it is an external thing which appears after the film. Self-regulation concerns major and minor companies: they had to respect the code before the movies were released.

The code was supposed to function within Hollywood in the best conditions. It did not work at the beginning but in 1934, the code started having teeth.

During the Great Depression, Hollywood tried to produce films attracting people, with more violence and sex innuendos (“fallen women” cycle: they use their charms to achieve their goals).

Those films were condemned by the Protestants, the Catholic conservatives, and the Church, who all had a spark desire for censorship. The code was enforced due to the pressure of the Catholics, concerned with the morality of the society.

Check more information about the Motion Picture Production Code (Hays Code) of 1930.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

  1. Evolution of Organized Crime
  2. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  3. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  4. Organized Crime in America
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship
Evolution of Organized Crime photo

Evolution of Organized Crime

Evolution of Gangsterism

1929: Wall Street crash. Prohibition is an attempt to decrease the revenue of alcohol.

1933: election of Franklin Roosevelt, who sets up the New Deal.

1934: Repeal of the Prohibition. Roosevelt had realized the importance of the ethnic vote, and especially the Catholic vote.

Creation of the Work Progress Administration (W.P.A.): the state provides the jobs. The Organized Crime became less of a necessity.

The vision of the gangster also evolved in the movies: he is now presented as a thing of the past.

When R. Sullivan gets out of prison after the repeal of the Prohibition, he does not fit in anymore: he is out of touch. The idea that once you have been into illegal activities you can take the money and go into legal activities (some Jewish businessmen are grand-children of earlier Organized Crime gangsters).

Gangsterism is doomed to vanish but the gangsters have not disappeared, they are still killed by other gangsters.

To go legit: to go legitimate.

Gangland reconversion: gangster could change by investing illegal money into illegal business.

The Organized Crime went more and more into legal activities. The State creates its own counterpower: the lottery, which is legal in certain states.

Las Vegas was created by the Mafia (Bugsy Siegel). He opened the first casino, the Stardust; which was totally controlled by the Mafia and connected between legal and illegal activities.

Siegel was also interested in Hollywood but there was no very known widespread involvement of Organized Crime into the movie industry, except for the Browne-Bioff episode.

The Browne-Bioff plan

The Browne-Bioff episode started in Chicago: Willy Bioff was a Chicago racketeer in partnership with George Browne, local official for trade union (I.A.T.S.E.: International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees).

The association had a campaign of extortion from theater director in order to avoid strikes and loss of money.

This campaign extended nationwide and touched Hollywood (RKO and Fox gave money in exchange for peace in the labor front). In 1941, all came to the surface.

Joseph M. Schenk, president of Fox, got arrested by the police and in exchange for a lighter sentence, he denounced the Browne-Bioff plan.

World War II

The structure of the Organized Crime did not change except that it sometimes worked with the American government.

The Americans feared German submarines to attack the coast so the Organized Crime insured the waterfront workers’ liability to the government.

The Cold War

1951: the Kefauver commission was set up to investigate crime and Mc Carthy was against the communists. Both are often associated.

The Kefauver commission was headed by Senator Kefauver (for Tennessee).

In 1950, he became chairman of the Senate committee to Investigate Organized Crime in interstate commerce. The committee studied:

  • inter-state gambling and racketeering
  • use of inter-state facilities for Organized Crime (railway…)

1967-1968: Omnibus Crime Bill, allowing for wire topping. Organized Crime is a reflection of American society. It places the Kefauver commission in the Cold War atmosphere.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

  1. Evolution of Organized Crime
  2. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  3. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  4. Organized Crime in America
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship
Organized Crime : Expression and Repression photo

Organized Crime : Expression and Repression

There is a parallel between Organized Crime and the movie industry. Organized Crime was one of the ways for social climbing, of getting out of poverty and ethnic matters.

In the main Hollywood studios, many directors were ethnics: Samuel Goldwyn and Louis Mayer (M.G.M. studios: Metro Goldwyn Mayer), David O. Selznick, Charles Chaplin…

The cinema was a new technology founded by the elite, the ethnic entrepreneurs and the W.A.S.P. businessmen. Some innovative sections of business were opened for the same reason (legitimate, profitable). These people found a renovation of the American Dream either in the Organized Crime or in cinema.

Producers did not push gangsters films for the simple reason that it was not that popular at the time. They gave the public what they wanted (and the WASP were rather conservative). It is only when it generalized that gangster movies “took off”.

Another connection: several actors became movie stars because of their ethic origins: James Cagney was Irish. (Public Enemy), Paul Muni was (Scarface)…

They brought the ethnic accent to the screen. They would have never been movie stars with classic films. It is thanks to the gangsters movies and to the parallel made with Organized Crime.

Chicago beer wars

In Chicago, W. Dever was mayor from 1923 to 1927. He was not good at jailing gangsters, because of the reciprocity of exchanges between the gangsters and the politicians.

As a result, the gangsters widened their territory: Southside Beer Wars (1923-1928), Westside Beer Wars (1924-1929).

The Irish were set against the Italians: was it for economic or ethnic matters? It was more economic. The gangs were created along ethnic lines but there were connections.

Famous gangsters in New York

Arnold Rothstein, Lepke Buchalter, Meyer Lansky and Ben Siegel, “Lucky” Luciano…

Gangster movies and censorship

Moral reason: by showing violence on screen you might induce violence to children and immigrants (stereotypes of being children). Since movies were not rated (not before 1962), once approved they could be seen by anyone.

Technical reason: their impact were very new. The sound technology and the editing dictated the pace of the film: juxtaposition of murders and car crashes, fast synthetic collection of acts of violence. Without the sound, this is not half as efficient: the soundtrack is part of the movie.

A film is a democratic form of art, seen by everyone (thus different from literature).

Gangster movies portrayed realistically what happened in American cities.

In Scarface, the archetypal symbol of the cross (symbol of death) can be found at strategic moments: when the pictures of the murder are in the newspaper: the place of the body is symbolized by a cross. It is a mise-en-scene of the feeling of realism.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

  1. Evolution of Organized Crime
  2. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  3. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  4. Organized Crime in America
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship
Organized Crime and the Prohibition photo

Organized Crime and the Prohibition


You cannot really rely on newspaper articles. Recently, it featured the confessions of repenting organized crime members, i.e. the distorted truth for their own interests. The police distorted the figures to get credit and money from the Federal Government.

Organized crime was considered a kind of un-American activity. Since more gangsters were ethnics (Jews, Russians, etc), calling them “un-American” was a way of dismissing American roots.

In Scarface, the motto “the world is yours” highlights the ironic vision between the American Dream and the gangsters.

The structure of organized crime is that of a bureaucratic and corporate model. It looks like a company organic line, with a complex hierarchy and a division of labor.

Responsibilities are carried out in an impersonal manner and the function is more important than the person.

Organized crime is a mirror of monopoly capitalism and from earlier gangster movies, it is considered as a business.

In Asphalt Jungle, “crime is just a left-handed form of human endeavor”.

The difference between organized crime and any corporation is that you cannot use written support: it relies on secrecy and personal networks.

Organized crime before prohibition

The first gangs appeared in the mid 19th century in big cities, in ethnic districts. These gangs were born out of one major contradiction in the United States: the opportunity for all and equality for all – and real practice of this combination (the discrimination against foreigners: Jews, Catholics, Russians, Polish…)

The West was usually not an option in 1890 for it was closed. Eastern cities like Chicago were cities where ghettos had formed.

There was a regulated competition in poor ghettos and knowing a gang member was a good way to get a job.

There were different levels: the federal level, the city level, and the county level. Each level has a strong degree of independence. One county could decide to stay dry (without alcohol) where another would be wet.

Police forces in the 1920’s

Almost no state police at the time. The Federal agencies were weak until the 1930s. The police jobs were distributed this way: if you were given a job by a Democrat party, you would vote Democrat and influence other people to vote as such.

Pre-Prohibition Organized Crime

Since the end of the Civil War, American capitalism gave rise to monopoly capitalism, through horizontal integration (the bigger ones buy smaller ones and merge) and vertical integration (one company controlling several parts of a business: manufacturing or raw materials, distribution, selling…).

It is characterized by fierce competition: end of productive power, spreading of false rumors on the stock market, and the taking advantage of it.

Newspaper magnate R. Hearst hired gangsters to buy his newspaper and convince others to buy them. C. Vanderbilt started a civil war to get control of the canal of Panama to protect his own interests.

Hollywood used the practice called “blind booking” (or “block booking”) to be sure to control the distribution of their films. If a distributor wanted one film, it had to buy the whole stock. This gave rise to the Anti-Trust Act to prevent complete monopoly.

In the Chicago beer war, the means were slightly more violent but the aims were the same: to get the monopoly. As Al Capone put it: “I’m just a businessman, I provide what people need”.

The Prohibition: struggle for a definition of America

Prohibition was initiated by nativistic desires. We could define nativism as:

  • a reaction to the changing patterns of immigration.
  • industrialization and urbanization.
  • changing moves.

A – Reaction to the changing patterns of immigration

Around the 1880s-1890s, people from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Eastern Europe arrived in America. This did not please the “older” Americans.

The USA was a protestant country and the Ku Klux Klan accused the immigrants of all the wrongs.

B – Industrialization and urbanization

The first American dream saw America as a land of morality. The urban way of life was a shift from an economy of scarcity to the beginning of the consumer society in the 1920s, with credits for cars, telephones, entertainment…

Cinema was a symbol between a new technology and a new way of life, based on consumption. Money is here to be spent. Pleasure is worthwhile (cinema, cabaret, jazz).

The “Roaring Twenties” were a huge part of the young Americans. New types of sexual values: the “flapper” is the new 1920’s woman. (Note: the woman was the cornerstone of morality).

Censorship first applied to gangster movies and to the movies describing this new sexuality.

C – Changing moves

Prohibition is an attempt to give back America its morality.

The immigrants were associated with people who drank Italian wine, Irish beer.. After World War I, the enemy was Germany: drinking beer was unpatriotic.

The saloon was not only a place to drink but also a place of social life and a center of vice (prostitutes).

Alcohol became the segregation line between the Americans and the undesirable (the immigrants).

It was also based on scientific data: eugenics (the idea of improving the race), and the idea of preventing alcohol from ruining future generations.

Henry Ford said it would improve the efficiency of his workers (even before the Prohibition, he used to check his workers, even at home !).

Creation of women’s movements to prevent abuse and violence at home. 1874 saw the creation of the Woman Christian Temperance Union (WCTV). The Anti-Saloon League was created.

Prohibitionists were not a majority and yet they manages to impose their will on the nation.

The real Prohibition came about on the 16th of January 1919 with the ratification of the 18th Amendment by 36 states.

In 1920, the Volstead Act prohibited the sale of all intoxicating beverages (more than 0.5% of alcohol), with the exception of the beverage needed for medical purposes.

The consumption of alcohol at home was not prohibited but its manufacturing, distribution were.

This was not a popular law and people tried to drink all the more. Since the supply of alcohol was banned, they had to find other ways: making alcohol illegal made it more desirable.

The speakeasies were clandestine bars where you could buy alcohol. The Roaring Twenties were the age of jazz, alcohol, and sexual liberation.

Repression was made difficult by the widespread corruption at every level. Politicians were corrupted, especially at the Prohibition bureau.

Basically, Prohibition made things go from bad to worse. Gangsters were able to intimidate witnesses and avoid going to prison. In 1920, there were 6.8 murders for 1000 people. In 1933, there were 9.7 murders for 1000 people.

The gangsters had a popular image: they were businessmen providing the people with what they needed. They were considered men who made it and embodied the American Dream, especially in the period of depression of the 1930s.

Prohibition increased enormously the power of gangsters. There was an economic mutation: the alcohol being banned, the prices went up and there were high risks in running an alcohol shop.

Legal businessmen stopped their production, except for medicine or for non-alcoholic beers (inferior to 0.5% alcohol). The thing is that before the removal of alcohol, you had alcoholic beers…

It became a highly lucrative system for gangsters, much more important than prostitution or gambling. It was an expensive investment but it produced high revenues.

You had to import your alcohol and hire people to protect it. Al Capone for instance hired 700 gunmen. Organized crime became very influential.

A way of getting alcohol was to hi-jack federal reserves or stealing ale before the alcohol was removed, or alcohol destined to medicine use.

Some people tried to produce their own whiskey, mixed with turpentine but it was so toxic that people could die from it (!).

Vertical integration controlled the importation and production of alcohol. Organized crime was first local and then became a wider organization thanks to syndication.

Prohibition increased criminality. Organized crime in the United States was not imported.

Capone’s gang ruled part of Chicago and when it became too hot, it moved to Cicero. This control was so important that Capone was able to impose mayors.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

  1. Evolution of Organized Crime
  2. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  3. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  4. Organized Crime in America
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship
Organized Crime in America photo

Organized Crime in America

Organized Crime in America (1929 – 1951)

1929: Wall Street crash, which forced gangsters to find a new way of making money in a time of recession. 1951: middle of the Cold War.

Kefauver hearings started the huge mystification of the Mafia, discovering that organized crime was still on in the U.S. First TV debates on organized crime.

In history, gangsters and Organized Crime did exist. Between history and culture, there are matters of ideology: in what way does that interact with what was seen on screen?

Presence of censorship and self-regulation for films. Sometimes people wanted to ban or censor gangster films: interactions between politics, culture and crime. Movies influenced the war against crime.

The history of Hollywood is that of people for and against those movies. Creation of compromises: “production code” (not censorship) to see what people disliked and to escape post-censorship.

But how censorship is possible in the US ? (c.f. the first Americans and the liberty of expression). It was considered as a commercial venture. A way of skirting the censorship was to show 2 shots to see a person killed instead of one (the latter was prohibited).

The Asphalt Jungle

[8 minutes after the beginning]

Career of a famous gangster, Rocky Sullivan. Idea of compressing several years in 7 minutes. The text and the images are superposed. Importance of the music. Repetition of sequences:

  • first evocation of a juvenile gangster.
  • then evocation of a famous gangster (wives, champagne, club). Glamorous life of the gangster

Relentlessness of the law: he stole fountain pens and was sentenced for 30 years. Then, when he became a big gangster, he was always acquitted.

Criticism of the American judicial law, which was tough on petty criminals and lenient on gangsters (due to corruption). Such a movie was commenting the history of the time but was also critical on the America of the 1930’s.



Two identical shots of the scene (medium shots). Gangsters are not colorful people. This movie cannot try to counteract the image of the media.

A certain amount of violence was accepted only if there were more “normal” scenes (like the dialogues at the police station, at the newspaper’s office…). 2 endings: 2 audiences.

Different modes of communication

The film breaks down the image that each institution had constructed by revealing it. Films might hold contradictory messages.

They are ambivalent and we might not know what to think: there is no single message. We do not have the same vision of violence as the people of the time: violence is different and also depends on social levels, countries…

Writing belongs to a digital mode of communication. It is digital because it has no objective connection between the meaning and the word.

There is an arbitrary relation between the signifier and the signified (e.g. “cat” and the real cat). But the connection between the image of a cat and the word cat is analogical. You de-code a novel. With a film, you see first and think later. Movies are a mechanical reproduction of image, sound, and movement.

The digital mode of communication is more complex and requires more capacity for abstraction. One word can mean a whole conception.

The analogical mode of communication is on the side of establishing relationship between foreground and background, between what comes before and after.

The act of reading is different to that of seeing a film. The reader controls the reading (can stop, skip..) whereas in he 1930’s you could not do the same with the films.

You could not control the time of viewing. When you see a movie you imagine more or less but you see more. The whole world of the movie is unreal. The perceptions are real but what is showed is unreal (fiction). A movie puts the viewer in a semi-hypnotic state.

With the manipulation of time, scale (close-ups, long shots..), it creates a distortion of perception. The spectator is supposed to be passive: yet, people would never go to the movie if they did not think it was made for them. Dialogues have to be very understandable. Completely artificial and yet it looks natural.

Definition of the Organized Crime

It is non ideological. According to Abadinsky, it is a hierarchy with a limited or exclusive membership. It perpetuates itself and is characterized by the willingness to use illegal violence and bribery.

It is specialized in the division of labor, is monopolistic and governed by explicit rules and regulations :

– non-ideological : based on power and money.

– hierarchy : head of a Mafia family.

– membership : does not concern all types of crimes.

– perpetuates : c.f. the Asphalt Jungle: people getting together for a big hold up and trying to part together afterward.

– illegal violence and bribery: important for organized crime, an essential part of gangster movies. It showed that America was corrupted.

– division of labor : organized crime is an economic unit. Each gang wants to have a complete monopoly in its area, hence gang fights in Chicago: you cannot share the place. Also characteristic of American capitalism.

– rules and regulations : connected with hierarchy. Loyalty is very important.

NOTE: all movies dealing with crime do not deal with organized crime.

It is easy to say that foreigners were responsible for crime and that America would be better if cleared out. America is (was) a big myth: the land of freedom and opportunity for all.

The first immigrants lived in ghettos, unemployed, and were submitted to other harsh treatment by the American population. They organized along ethnic lines because America failed to integrate the first generation of immigrants.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

  1. Evolution of Organized Crime
  2. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  3. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  4. Organized Crime in America
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship
O'Sullivan's Manifest Destiny photo

O’Sullivan’s Manifest Destiny


O’Sullivan is one of the most famous journalist in American history. He is the one who coined the expression “Manifest Destiny”.

He was a democrat and the official spokesman for American expansion (we should remember that Democrats stood for expansion whereas Republicans were against it).

O’Sullivan wrote two important articles: “The Great Nation of Futurity” in 1839 and “Annexation” in 1845, where he added a justification to American expansion.

For O’Sullivan, the two major words were “manifest destiny” and “justification”. That theme of destiny is not new: since the beginning of American history, the Puritans have always emphasized the special destiny of America.

That conception, based on exceptionalism, was essentially religious and lasted for two centuries.

In the 19th century, the theme of destiny becomes a political ambition, an official policy led by President Polk, who was elected on a manifest destiny platform. The 19th century was basically more down-to-earth.

But how could O’Sullivan justify what could not be justified ?

Because it was “manifest”, it became merely ideological. Besides, 1839-1845 was the period during which expansion quickened: gradually, one after the other, all states were indexed by the Americans (Texas was surely the most difficult indexation).

In 1845, the Americans were confronted to a double problem:

  • there was a fight against the Mexicans on the American continent.
  • there was another fight with foreign nations: Britain and France.

The Frontier and the settlers went West on Mexican territories and annexed them one after the other. That is all the history of America: the history of gradual indexation of foreign lands.

The journalist was instrumental in the American expansion. 1845 knew the birth of the United States. O’Sullivan found the argument to justify the future expansion of the United States on the American continent: it is “manifest”.

Indeed, look at the map: it is manifest that Americans should own the whole territory. Thus, expansion justifies expansion (auto justification). It is like a wave: nobody can resist America.

Life in the Plantations photo

Life in the Plantations


Most slaves were forced to work long hours under close supervision. Most slaves could rely on their master for basic welfare: clothes, food, and shelter.

On many plantations, slaves grew their own gardens and some even enjoyed a few holidays or received some rewards.

Subjugation and resistance

Concerning the problem of subjugation, the slaveholders tightly circumscribed the world of their slaves: they had to carry passes with them when they were off the plantation and were forbidden to go out at night.

There were slave patrols, vigilant in finding offenders. Punishment was severe and quick.

As a means to prevent communication, the Slave Code forbade teaching slaves how to read and write; but about 10% of the slaves risked punishment to achieve literacy: the ability to read and write was understood to be the key to freedom.

Concerning resistance, the degree to which slaves resisted their subjugation reinforced the police state (1831: Nat Turner”s rebellion). Either they resisted or ran away.

Successful escape was very difficult. Despite the number of punishments, there were always runaways willing to take the chance of risking escaping and reaching the North.

Among the laws, the Fugitive Slave Law. Resistance could take many forms: the sabotage of plantation property, the abuse of farm animals or feigned sickness. On occasions, slaves murdered their masters. But that was from the part of a tiny minority.

Religion gave them a sense of community: slaves were strengthened by religion (singing to bear labor).

Freedom and Code

Free blacks were 250 000. Many of them or their parents had been freed by their masters for acts of nobility. They held property and some owned their own slaves. But legally, they were denied all civil rights by the Virginia Black Code.

Free slaves were in constant danger of being kidnapped and forced to work again. That is why many of them decided to go to the North.

The Black Code existed very early and has been declined in several versions: in 1622, 1668 and 1705. In 1705, any master was free to kill any slave and would not be prosecuted for it. In 1819, the Virginia Black Code reduced free slaves to a mere property (no rights at all).

The laws became stricter and stricter as the South was more and more afraid of possible revolts. Yet, 76% of the whites did not own slaves in the South.

It should be noted that any white man was entitled to be ipso facto an auxiliary of justice, slaves being considered as cattle.

Social context of America in the early 19th century photo

Social context of America in the early 19th century


In the late 18th century, the American constitution accepted the existence of slavery. It was considered as an institution: there have always been slaves since the 18th century.

They chose black slaves instead of Indians because of the trial of Valladolid, where people wondered if the Native was a man or simply an animal. It turned to be a theological problem: if the Native did not have a soul then he was an animal.

In the end, they declared that Natives had a soul and this “discovery” caused an economic shock: the Natives could not be employed anymore in plantations and ships started bringing in African slaves.


Towards the end of the 18th century, people thought slavery would naturally die out. They were very naive.

Unfortunately, Whitney invented the Cotton Gin and put an end to those naive considerations.

Rather than declining, the number of slaves increased in the South: in 1820, there were 1 500 000 slaves in America. They were 4 000 000 in 1860.

Slavery was basically an economic problem for 75% of the cotton crops were exported, representing 60% of America”s foreign earnings. Slavery was hence very profitable to the South and – by way of consequence – to the whole continent.

Everybody sees the discrepancy between that democratic system and the harsh realities of slavery, which was a potentially explosive issue. Several stages in the explosion:

  • 1800: the slave Gabriel Prosser led an insurrection with 1 000 slaves in Virginia. He was executed, as well as 35 other people.
  • 1822: the authorities discovered plans for slave insurrection in South Carolina with slave Vesey trying to launch a slave insurrection.
  • 1819-1822: the “black years” following the Missouri Compromise, a 2-year struggle between North and South. After this, there will be free states and slavery states.

After 1820, the USA is divided between free states and pro-slavery states. The balance is impossible. In Louisiana, slavery is allowed in the South but prohibited in the North: the controversy gets tougher and tougher and violence slowly but surely rises.

That situation turned about sectionalism (from Latin sectus: cut) and there were more and more slaves’ insurrections.

David Walker, a free black, published Appeal to the Coloured Citizens, urging slaves to rebel/revolt in 1830. His motto was “Kill or be killed !”.

1831 knew an insurrection led by Nat Turner in Virginia. Sixty whites were killed.

David Walker

He was the son of a free slave and moved to Boston in 1829 to sell old clothes. He published a pamphlet and, over the night, his book was a success.

It infuriated Southern landowners and Georgia offered a reward of $10 000 for anyone who would deliver Walker alive and $1 000 to kill him. By the summer of 1830, Walker was dead.

His point was mainly historical: there was no slavery in history. All the examples he took belonged to his biblical culture, his background being essentially religious (religion was then a shelter for slaves).

The Reconstruction photo

After the American Civil War: The Reconstruction


The American Civil War resolved 2 important questions that had not been addressed by the Founding Fathers:

  • the question of sovereignty and the place of the States in the Union
  • the question derived from the conflict about the constitutional protection of slavery

With the collapse of the Confederacy, the Government confronted the difficult issue related to the readmission of the seceding States and the citizenship of former slaves.

A new phase

On April 13th, 1865, President Lincoln and his wife went to Ford Theater in Washington to see the play called Our American Cousin.

At 10:30, the president was shot in the back in the dark. A man, named Booth, jumped onto the stage and shouted “Sic semper tyrannis“. He was captured a few days later. Lincoln died the following day.

Lincoln was succeeded by his vice-president Andrew Johnson. The biggest problem Johnson faced was how to deal with the defeated South.

A few weeks before, Lincoln had asked the Americans to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and rebuild their homeland.

Lincoln blamed individual Southern leaders for the war, rather than the people of the seceding states. He intended to punish only these guilty individuals and to let the rest of the South”s people alone.

Johnson introduced plans to reunite the nation. As soon as the leaders of the South would be loyal to the US government, they could elect new state assemblies to run their states.

When they were made to accept the 13th amendments, Johnson reintegrated them in the Union. Some southerners tried to resist any changes that threaten their way of life. They were scared to give rights to their former slaves.

The assembly of Mississippi even said: “to be free however doesn’t make a negro a citizen or entitle him to social or political equality with the white men”.

All their assemblies voted laws to keep blacks in inferior conditions. These laws were called the Black Codes.

The ruling whites intended the blacks to remain unskilled, uneducated, and land-less with no legal protection or rights of their own.

The Black Codes refused them the vote, said they could not vote on juries and forbade them to give evidence in court against white men.

In Mississippi, blacks were not allowed to buy or to rent farmland. As a result, it was as if blacks were still slaves.

A growing anger…

Set place in the North about the Black Codes. As usual, this conflict will bring about extremist positions.

In Congress, the Radical Republicans believed that the most important reason for fighting the Civil War was to free the blacks. They were determined that neither they nor the blacks were going to be cheated.

They said Johnson was treating Southerners too kindly and that they were taking advantage of it: “they have not been punished as they deserved“.

In July 1866, despite the President’s position, Congress passed a Civil Rights Act and set up an organization, the Freedmen’s Bureau. Both these measures were intended to ensure blacks were not cheated of their rights.

Moreover, the introduction of the 14th Amendment gave blacks full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote. All the former Confederate States except Tennessee refused to accept it.

In March 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act, dismissed the white Governments of the South, and placed them under military rule.

By 1870, all southern states had new “reconstruction governments“. Most of them were made up of blacks, a few white Southerners, and white men from the North.

The newly arrived Northerners were referred to as “carpetbaggers” by the Southerners opposing them. Any white Southerner who cooperated with the carpetbaggers were referred to with much contempt as “scalawags“.

Most white southerners supported the Democratic Party. These southern Democrats claimed that the reconstruction governments were incompetent and dishonest.

There was some truth in this claim. Many of the new black members in the assembly were inexperienced and poorly educated (and many carpetbaggers were thieves).

But reconstruction governments also contained honest men who tried to improve the South. They passed laws to take care of orphans and the blind, to encourage new industries and the building of railroad, to build schools for both black and white children.

Yet, none of these improvements stopped white southerners from hating reconstruction governments just because they aimed to give blacks the same rights that whites had.

Some of them were determined to prevent this: they organized terrorist groups to make the white men the masters once more. The aim was to threaten and frighten black people.

The most feared terrorist group was a secret society called Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Its members dressed in white sheets and hoods to mask their faces. They rode by night through the countryside killing the Blacks who were trying to improve their position.

Their symbol was the burning wooden cross placed outside the homes of their attended victims. This use of violence and fear helped white racists to win back the Governments of the South.

The final failure

By 1876, republican supporters of reconstruction governments won only 3 states.

In 1877, when Congress withdrew the troops from the South, white Democrats won control too. 1877 marked the failure of the reconstruction governments for the North.

From this time onwards, southern blacks were treated more and more like second-class citizens. Most serious, they were robbed of their right to vote.

Some southern States prevented them from voting by saying that only people paying a poll-tax could vote. They made the tax so high that the blacks could not afford to pay. Some blacks tried to pay but the tax collector refused their money.

Besides, “Grandfather Clauses” were used to prevent blacks from voting. These clauses allowed the vote only to people whose grandfather had been allowed to vote in 1865 and most blacks had got the right to vote a year later, in 1866. It took away their right to vote.

In Louisiana for instance, there were 164 088 white voters and 130 444 black voters before 1898. After Louisiana introduced the “grandfather clauses”, there were 125 437 white voters and only 5 320 black voters.

Once blacks lost the vote, taking away their other rights was easy. Strict racial segregation was enforced on trains, in parks, in schools, in restaurants, and even in cemeteries.

Any black who dared to break these laws was likely to end up in prison or worse. In the 1890s, there was an average of 150 blacks killed illegally and lynched.


The Civil War and the Reconstruction were lost but the Reconstruction had not been for nothing. It was the boldest attempt to achieve racial justice in the United States.

Furthermore, the 14th Amendment is especially important because it was the foundation of the Civil Rights movement and it made it possible for Martin Luther King to protest on behalf of all black Americans.

Ante Bellum South photo

Antebellum South


The South had developed a unique society and a sense of Southern nationalism. The conflict with the North and the secession were an attempt to create an independent nation.

Also a contrast, the South had developed a class system whereas the North was characterized by a social structure.

Ante Bellum South

A Southern ideology -based on aristocracy- justified slavery. Many (crazy) explanations were put forward like: “the African race is biologically inferior” or “physically and mentally under-developed”.

Through slavery, they could adjust to a better kind of life, be taught new morals and the “true religion”. All that was part of the Southern ideology: “some people must work and sweat to provide those in charge with leadership”.

Southern society is hedonistic when the North advocates the puritan ethic (moral – virtue – hard work, according to the Bible).

After 1830, abolitionists societies began violent campaigns against slavery. Garrison was an extremist abolitionist who printed/invented sensational stories about how cruelly black slaves were treated in the South.

Slaveholders were depicted as monsters and, in the North, slavery was seen as a sin against God (move on to the religious ground). Garrison wanted the “purification of the Nation from the guilt of slavery”.

Slavery is the apparent cause of the Civil War: it was the spark that ignited the powder-keg. Yet, it should be obvious that the real cause of the conflict was the incompatible and irreconcilable economical, political, social, and ideological difference between the two sections.

The South’s economy relied on agriculture. The North kept taxing the Southern imports from Europe, hoping that the South would buy Northern products that were overpriced and more poorly manufactured.

In retaliation, Europe raised prices on its imports, making it very expensive to purchase Southern cotton and tobacco. Since the US Government had a Northern majority in the legislature, the South could do nothing except to be taxed.

Before the outbreak of the war, Southern planters were paying 87% taxes on their goods. Enraged by only being able to keep 13% of their profits, the Southerners knew the government would not help and that they had to act.

As the 19th century slipped by, North and South drifted further and further away until the moment they had nothing left in common, not even a President. This is when the war broke out.

Five years later, the South was defeated, conquered, occupied, Southerners were humiliated and slavery was at last abolished.

The situation of the South was not unlike that of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. Southerners were despised and shamed.

The same questions were asked: how could people be slaveholders/nazis? Hence a feeling of guilt in the South.

On the other hand, many Southerners did not acknowledge their inhumanity and monstrosity. In order to justify themselves, they idealized the “Old South”.

This theme will later be picked up in literature, for instance in Gone with the Wind or in the personality of Faulkner”s characters, who cannot overcome their guilt but who realize they are the descendants of a cursed race.

Events leading to secession

In response to the events in Kansas (with the creation of the Republican Party), extremist parties began to emerge. Before the KKK, there has been a party with a strange name, the “Know-Nothings”, which originated from secret political orders.

The movement originated in New York in 1843 when it was called the American Republican Party. It spread to other states as the Native American Party and became a national party in 1845.

In 1855 it renamed itself the American Party. The origin of the “Know-Nothings” term was in the semi-secret organization of the party. When a member was asked about its activities, he was supposed to reply, “I know nothing.”

They were organized to oppose the political influence of immigrants (mainly Irish and Germans) and the political machine allowing such immigrants to vote.

As a nationalist anti-foreign movement, it organized later under the name “American Party”. It was hoped it would become a national party but as a matter of fact, it disintegrated after the elections of 1856.

In 1856, the Democrat James Buchanan was elected President. He favored popular sovereignty and won an easy victory over his opponent.

Several events during the Buchanan administration convinced the Southerners they would not be able to protect their interests any longer against the majority of Northerners. Secession seemed to be the solution.

The Dred Scott case of 1857 and the Missouri Compromise judged unconstitutional delighted the South. The Republicans denounced it as partyism since several justices in the Court were Democrats. As the decision had no legal justification, the North refused to accept it. It alarmed the South.

1857: panic, sharp depression. The South suffered much less than the industrial North, gained confidence and asserted that this proved the “superiority of Southern economy”.

During the elections of 1857, the North strongly voted Republican and gave this party the lead in the House of Representatives.

The series of debates between Lincoln and Douglas for the senate elections centered on the slavery question. Douglas was the incumbent senator and Lincoln the challenger.

At Freeport, Lincoln tried to embarrass Douglas by asking if the people of the territories could legally exclude slavery. Douglas, in his response called the “Freeport Doctrine”, replied that people of the territories could keep slavery out by not passing local police regulations, necessary for its existence.

Douglas won but his answer did not satisfy the South and helped to widen the growing split between North and South Democrats.

Thanks to these debates, Lincoln was popularized and won the presidential nomination in 1860. 1859: John Brown’s raid. After his execution, the North made a martyr of him.

1860: the elections were the last event before the war. The Democrats met in the Supreme Court. There, the Southern extremists demanded that the party ask Congress to guarantee slave property in the territories. The North under Douglas defeated the demand and adopted Douglas” policy of popular sovereignty. The South made a clash.

The Republicans met in Chicago. Lincoln was chosen because he was the most moderate candidate. His platforms promised to exclude slavery from the territories.


Lincoln won every state in the North (except New Jersey) but he gained only a minority of popular votes. Another candidate won a state in the lower South. The rest was won by extremist candidates.

The South declared that Lincoln’s election would be the signal for secession. Lincoln was elected and the South proceeded to secede.