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Prohibition Survey

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North Dakota entered the United States as a dry state in 1889, several decades before the 18th Amendment was fully ratified in 1919, making prohibition country-wide. Tales of bootleggers, rum runners, and blind pigs populate the history of the country during these years, including in North Dakota. Yet on this date in 1931, a survey out of Washington D.C. stated that the prohibition situation in North Dakota was "encouraging." The Bismarck Tribune reported that the survey described North Dakota rather blandly as making "wonderful progress under the state and federal prohibition."

That would soon change. Federal and state prohibition laws had a growing number of opponents, and by the end of 1932, North Dakota actually joined several other states that voted to remove its constitutional prohibition of alcohol. But just because it was removed from the constitution doesn't mean the prohibitions were absent from state law, and since federal prohibition also remained in effect, removing prohibition from the state constitution had little immediate effect. That reality was made clear by Arthur J. Gronna, who was running for state Attorney General. He gave a statement saying those who sold liquor in North Dakota would still be subject to prosecution. He said: "The state has repealed constitutional prohibition [but] it has not repealed its state prohibition law nor any of the machinery set up for its enforcement. ... The bootlegger is just as much of a problem today as he was the day before election. ... If anything, the bootlegger is more of a menace now ... The dry law repeal will make control more difficult."

Nonetheless, many were pleased by the repeal, such as this anonymous writer of a letter to the editor of the Bismarck Tribune, who noted: "Let us prove ... that our nation is no longer a minor, but that she is of age now and fully able to handle the 'strong drink' question and solve same in a reasonable way. And let it be stated right here: there is no need of any beer trust in our country--nor in our state. If some people of our state like to drink beer, let it be beer made within the border of our state."

The following year, the brew did indeed become available as voters made weak 3.2 percent beer legal. Then in 1936, they voted to legalize liquor, though some counties remained "dry" until 1947.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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