1889 Prohibition Bill
On July 4th, 1889, seventy-five delegates from northern Dakota Territory met in Bismarck for the North Dakota Constitutional Convention. The Enabling Act, passed in February of that year, allowed for the creation of a state constitution that would go into effect when North Dakota became a state in the coming months. Most of the seventy-five delegates were farmers or lawyers from the eastern part of the state, but their differing opinions created tension and disagreements.
Among the contentious topics was prohibition. The 1880s had become an era of reform, as the Temperance movement took hold of a country in which drinking had become second nature. Many Americans started the day with a drink, ate lunch at a tavern with a drink, and might indulge in a few more at the end of the day, especially since alcohol was sometimes safer than drinking the water. The Temperance movement became especially virulent in eastern North Dakota, an area of strict Methodists and Presbyterians. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union agitated for prohibition laws, pointing out the evils of alcohol and its dangerous effects on the American family. Delegates at the convention also pointed out the corrupt power that wealthy saloon owners exercised over local politics. Although most members agreed that some sort of temperance legislation was needed, they worried that including prohibition in the constitution would lead voters to reject the entire document, especially newly-arrived German immigrants who viewed prohibition as an attack on their way of life.
When Casselton attorney Robert Pollock proposed a prohibition clause, delegates decided to let voters resolve the issue; they included a prohibition article into the constitution, but required that it be ratified separately. Therefore, although the State Constitution was approved by voters on October 1st, prohibition was not, and residents could still celebrate statehood on November 2nd with a few drinks at the local saloon. But on November 27th, a prohibition bill was introduced into the North Dakota legislature. Saloon keepers in Grand Forks attempted to block the law in the State Supreme Court, but they were unsuccessful, and on July 1st, 1890, North Dakota became completely dry.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Hennessy, W. B. 1910 History of North Dakota: Embracing a Relation of the History of the State from the Earliest Times Down to the Present Day: p. 210. The Bismarck Tribune: Bismarck.
Herzog, Karen. December 9, 2012. “North Dakota’s Heritage of Alcohol,” The Bismarck Tribune: Bismarck, ND.
Sullivan, Jack. January 3, 1999. “Battle with the Bottle: Groups Fought to Keep North Dakota ‘Dry’,” The Forum: Fargo, ND.