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The life and accomplishments of Al Capone Essay Sample

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The life and accomplishments of Al Capone Essay Sample

During the prohibition era of the 1920’s, if one wasn’t an enemy of Alphonse (Al) “Scarface” Capone, was he, in many eyes, a hero? Due to his savvy street smarts and the corrupt rebellion of the decade, Al Capone was not only a popular commentary of the time, but is now a legend. His classic boy from the ghetto turned generous multi-millionaire story only adds to the heroism seen in this most famous Chicago mobster. Chicago’s industries, open spaces and four seasons were an enormous magnet for the 19th century Europeans looking for a home and opportunity. The frontier Chicago grew into a wonderful collection of ethnic neighborhoods – Irish, Italian, Russian, Greek, German, Polish and others. In many of these communities, making beer and liquor at home was as much a tradition as it was an effort to compete with licensed distilleries and breweries. At least until 1920. With the enactment of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it was no longer legal to manufacture or sell alcoholic beverages anywhere in this county for all practical purposes. That is definitely not to say it stopped going on however. In spite of the law barring manufacture, the drinking of alcoholic beverages remained as popular as ever. Just as today, the liquor industry is incredibly lucrative.

The opportunity to profit from the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol was more than many Chicagoans could resist, so they enthusiastically got in the business. The opportunity to sell alcohol or to provide protection in various neighborhoods were valuable rights, and the competition for them was fierce. The rackets spawned by enactment of the Prohibition Amendment were enormous, and the city of Chicago was not about to miss out on cashing in on these illegal doings. Many of the separate mobs of the era developed interests in legitimate businesses, as the cleaning and dyeing field, and cultivated influence with receptive public officials, labor unions and employees’ associations. The “mobs” of the 1920s were in fact not much more than businesses. With the rest of the nation during this “dry” period, Chicago and it’s people (including its police officers, politicians and judges), rebelled against the prohibition amendment. As 1920’s novelist Sinclair Lewis illustrates in famous novel, Babitt, the use of alcoholic beverages was still going on. It may not have been in bars, but it was always prevalent at the parties of the middle and upper classes.

Chicago was the non-fiction version of this. Right when the enactment of the prohibition amendment took place, Al Capone was requested to move to Chicago by Colosimo mob leader, Johnny Torrio (Bergreen 14).Eventually Capone made his way up the ranks to the head of the gang, having already acquired a “fearsome reputation in the ruthless gang rivalries (Bergreen 24)” of the period, struggling to acquire and retain “racketeering rights” to several areas of Chicago. That reputation grew as rival gangs were eliminated or nullified, and the suburb of Cicero became, in effect, a fiefdom of the Capone mob (“Alphonse” 1). Al Capone’s main business was the manufacturing and selling of alcohol. He owned and operated almost all of the breweries and liquor distilleries in Chicago, and maintained control of this until the end of the prohibition era. In his 1931 account of Capone, Richard T. Enright writes that the, “United States District Attorney estimated that he [Capone] operated a gross of $70,000,000 a year in the illicit liquor business alone. In 1927 government officials estimated that he commanded a gross income of $105,000,000 a year from liquor interests and other rackets.

Today his business is said to be gross $300,000,000 a year.” Virtually everyone was consuming alcohol, what could the police do? They were not about to arrest their fellow drinking buddies, nor where they about to apprehend their main supplier! We know Robin Hood as a rebel who gave to the peoples’ demands, this is exactly what Capone was doing. Enright also notes the popular rumor that Capones “standing army is estimated at five hundred killers” and that five hundred gangsters died “violent deaths” since Capone came to Chicago. These statistics are probably sensationalized, however, no man has ever brought forth the proof that Capone touched a trigger in any of them. The most that can be said is that Capone’s enemies (mainly other mob leaders trying to cash in a little too much, in Capone’s territory, on the prohibition law) died, that Capone’s friends lived longer than the friends of other gangsters; Capones power, influence, income, and the scope of his operations grew with the hammer blows of death. It was not illegal in the 1920s to own a machine gun, so the “Chicago piano” quickly became one of the key tools that gangs used to maintain their influence.

The situation quickly got out of control, and deteriorating became an open warfare. Hundreds of “soldiers” were killed on Chicago’s streets, in cars and at home, and the concept of being “taken for a ride” took on a new meaning. Al Capone is said to have had more to do with this than any other, only because he was the main mobster around and had so much control over all the illegal practiced doings of the city. As there were many wars between the peasants and the king, there were many wars between Chicago mobs over who had control and who didn’t. Robin Hood was the peasants leader, as Capone was the Chicago residents, but Chicago’s king was not hated, in fact, he was adored and respected by many! Capone was often seen with many highly regarded political figures, as well as famous people in Hollywood. On February 14th, 1929, Capone was getting his picture taken with 2 professional NFL players in Miami Florida, as the St. Valentines Day Massacre was taking place. The St. Valentines Day Massacre might have been regarded as the culminating violence of the Chicago gang era, as seven members or associates of the “Bugs” Moran mob where machine-gunned against a garage wall by rivals posing as police.

The massacre was generally ascribed to the Capone mob, although no proof of this was ever brought up. Bugs was Capones main rival businessman in Chicago at the time, so it is thought that Capone was the mastermind behind the brilliant plan for the Moran mob. Brilliant in the sense that all of Al’s competition was eliminated (although Bugs himself was not, that was the only fluke in the operation, but he was scared enough to run away from Chicago so it was all the same). They only thing officials could attempt to prove was that Capone would be the person to have a motive to kill Moran, but they could not prosecute him on this alone. This also demonstrated Capone’s complete control over Chicago’s mobs in the 1920’s. Plus, most of the regular (i.e. non-gang members) people of Chicago were not affected at all by this, they were quite content getting their alcohol and reading about the leading news stories, whether they contained Capone or not. More often then not, when Capone was in the Chicago Tribune , it was not a front page article, but a brief blurb in the local section.

This could have been because he was quite modest and didn’t want his name in bold print and bought off the Tribune editor, but it also could have been just because many of the things associated with him weren’t that huge. As I looked at 18 different Capone “clippings”, from 1926-29 in the Tribune and The New York Times, not one of them was on the front page, nor very long. Many today would be under the “Police Briefings” section of The State News. Much of the later sensationilazation of Capone is due to police detective Elliot Ness’s historical fiction novel, The Untouchables, which was later brought to Hollywood and greater dramatized into movies. One might expect this of Ness, it was probably just a way for Ness to cash in on Capones story. Ness was just a cop, not exactly raking in the money. But Ness did have a relevant point, Capone was “untouchable” for a very long period of time, and even when he was “brought down” by Ness and his men, it was on tax evasion! The FBI during the 1920’s and early 1930’s was more limited than it is now, and the gang warfare and depredations of the period were not within the Bureau’s investigative authority (Enright 30).

The Bureau’s only investigation of Capone arose from his reluctance to appear before a Federal Grand Jury on March 12, 1929, in response to a Subpoena. On March 11, his lawyers formally filed for postponement of his appearance, submitting a physician’s affidavit dated March 5, which attested that Capone, who was in Miami at the time, has been suffering from bronchial pneumonia, and had been confined to his bed and it would be dangerous to his health to travel to Chicago. So his meeting with the grand jury was postponed (“Alphonse” 3). On request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Bureau of Investigation Agents obtained statements to the effect that Capone had attended race tracks in the Miami area, that he had made a plane trip to Bimini and a cruise to Nassau, and that he had been interviewed at the office of the Dade County Solicitor, and that he had appeared in good health on each of those occasions (Bergreen 48). This of course, was too abstract of evidence to equate for anything substantial in court.

Capone appeared before the Federal Grand Jury at Chicago on March 20th, 1929, and competed his testimony on March 27th. As he left the courtroom, he was arrested by Agent for Contempt of Court, an offense which the penalty could be one year and $1000 fine. He posted $5,000 bond and was released. On May 17th, 1929, Al Capone and his bodyguard were arrested in Philadelphia for carrying concealed deadly weapons. Within 16 hours they had been sentenced to terms of one year. Capone served his time and was released in 9 months on good behavior (New York Times, 14). Capone was not a stereotypical “gangster”. By friends and family, and always in the public eye, and even in jail, Al was composed, calm, kind and courteous. With his friends and family he was said to be more than giving with his money. He dressed like a businessman, not even a flashy one at that (Enright 26). Although he could have afforded it, he chose to dress very nicely, but plainly, as not to draw extra attention to himself or be flashy. It’s no wonder both times he is imprisoned he is released early on good behavior.

National records show that federal officials tried over 100 times to prosecute Capone, but never more than twice would they win. They never had HARD evidence, such as witnesses to the crimes, or weapons, and if they did, Capone had so much money, one couldn’t find a judge or jury that couldn’t have been bought off! So the U.S. Treasury nailed Capone and some of his other mobsters for tax evasions. He received some very minor fines (in respect to his income) was sentenced to 11 years in jail, some of which is spent on Alcatraz. He was released after serving 7 and a half years, evidently on good behavior and the belief that he is not a threatening criminal as his sentence was only for tax evasion. This shows even more evidence that not only was Capone a Robin Hood (taking the burden for others desires), but financially brilliant as well. I don’t know if he planned this or not, but by avoiding paying taxes on illegal money for almost a decade, he ended up saving himself a bundle.

The tax law for illegal money didn’t come into effect until the Treasury caught up with him, and then they could still only get him on avoiding paying taxes on legal revenues until then, so his fines for tax evasion were nothing compared to his income on illegal revenues. The police were never able to prosecute Capone on any charges other than tax evasion and concealing a weapon! That is because nobody could ever prove that he personally, or any of his associates, had anything to do with any murders. One may assume that Capone was the brains behind many felonies in Chicago during the 20s, but can only admire him because it took real genius to do so, like an escape artist. Now, to get away with the conspiracy of possibly hundreds of murders, and while doing so, making millions of dollars more or less mocking the government, well, it’s no wonder why Al Capone has the reputation that he does and had. Like many people of the era, Capone was also searching for something to cling to.

He found it by seeing a way to make a lot of money and a challenging way to do it, keeping it interesting. Unlike Sinclair Lewis’s character, George Babitt, Capone did what he wanted, which fortunately for him, was what the public wanted. He was a rebel, and Americans have always admired rebels for doing things we wish we could have done. How and why the Prohibition amendment ever got passed is beyond me. However, it did. And some people, “mobsters” cashed in on this. The people demanded alcohol, it was their individual right and they were more than willing to pay to get it. Capone set up an industry of basically supply and demand, whether it be illegal or not. Many of the judges and government officials of the era felt this way to, and sometimes with a little extra ca$h, Capone could buy them off, (not the he needed to, most of the officials were his friends anyway) and no cases would ever be brought up. He might have been a murderer, a pimp, an extortionist and a bootlegger, but the public loved him. And why not?

He was a rebel! If the one rebelling can get enough people to agree with the, they win in the publics eyes. For Capone, this was not difficult, for the people demanded him to be their rebel! Capone was seen in the company of movie stars, big business people and political figures. He restricted the outfit’s activities to those the public wanted – booze, prostitution and gambling. If the people are given what they want, they are not going to want to stop you! Al Capone was cheered when seen at public events – Herbert Hoover was booed. I suspect that if you lived in the 1920s, you admired him, that is, if you weren’t one of his enemies. That is the ironic humor in this, that is why Al “Scarface” Capone is a legend. He was possibly one of the most brilliant men of his time, and having his image, received more attention than most people in Hollywood. This significantly shows how the 1920s was possibly more corrupt than any other era, and how we associate mobsters being entirely evil, yet allow them to be our Robin Hood’s.

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