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A Question of Drink


When North Dakota became a state in November 1889, it entered as a dry state. Prohibition did not sit well with everyone, and less than two years later, the Bismarck Tribune reported during the 1891 legislative session that “Probably in no city in the state is the prohibition law being so rigidly observed as in Bismarck. The saloon-keepers propose to let the people … who have been in the habit of drinking one way and voting another have a taste of absolute prohibition.”

During that session of 1891, the matter of prohibition came up again. On this date, the Committee of Temperance reported a proposition of resubmission that had been made by Representative Cope, to amend the constitution by removing the prohibition articles from the state’s constitution.

The majority of the committee was composed of prohibitionists, and they suggested the proposition be postponed, though one member of the committee, Representative Williams, was a resubmissionist out of Grand Forks who recommended that the proposition should pass.

It became a heated discussion. It was decided that any absent members should be present before anything was decided, so the House was called. All the absent and excused representatives were located except for Representative Williams. As they waited for him, the hours passed on. Williams could not be found, though, and his absence caused a deadlock.

The Bismarck Tribune reported that at midnight, “the House was still under call of the House and the members are singing ‘We won’t go home till morning,’ and the prospects were that they wouldn’t.” Resubmissionists and prohibitionists both joined in this song. And that wasn’t the only one they sang, together or separately. To quote the Tribune, “the power and sweetness of voice ranged from that of the dying swan to that of the expiring guinea hen; but all made up in quantity that which was lacking in quality.”

They stayed all night, waiting, and Williams finally showed up at 2 pm the next day. By this time, the House had been in session for 24 hours. The Tribune wrote, “Murmurs of satisfaction and sighs of relief are heard. Can it be true? It is—it is. Let the sun again shine and the world roll on. Williams is here.”

They stayed in session for another hour and a half. Nothing was decided that day, however, and in the end, prohibition was not repealed, though the fight over resubmission left “many scars,” according to the Dakota Globe in Richland County; which also stated, “Now that our prohibition law has been passed upon by the Supreme Court and pronounced valid, it is right that it should be strictly enforced. … Let us give prohibition a fair chance, and then if we don’t like it, we can repeal it.”

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


The Bismarck Daily Tribune, February 8, 1891, p.2

The Bismarck Daily Tribune, February 10, 1891, p.1

Farmers Globe, February 19, 1891, page 2