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Prohibition and Alcohol in Kansas

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dramshopThe temperance question was an engrossing topic in Kansas from its earliest territorial and statehood days. The Kansas Territorial Legislature of 1855 enacted a law entitled "An act to restrain dramshops and taverns, and to regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors." It provided that a special election should be held on the first Monday of October, 1855, and every two years thereafter, in each municipal township in each county, and in each incorporated city or town in the territory, to take a vote of the citizens upon the question whether dramshops and tavern licenses should be issued for the two years following the election.


The vote was to be by ballot, either “In favor of dramshops" or "Against dramshops." Before a license should be given to tavern keepers, grocers, or other liquor sellers, a majority vote had to be cast by each municipality in favor of the measure and a majority of householders were required to petition for the vote to be held.


"Penalties for selling any spirits, wines, or other intoxicating liquors contrary to law, included a fine of $100 for the first offense and for every second or subsequent offense not less than $100, and imprisonment in county jail not less than 5 and not more than 30 days. Selling to a slave without the sanction of his master, owner or overseer, or selling liquor on Sunday, also subjected the offender to these same penalties as well as a forfeiture of their license. Licensees were also required to give a bond of $2,000 and not to keep a disorderly house.

Further action on the liquor question was taken by the legislature of 1859, which included an act "to restrain dramshops and taverns and regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors." It provided that no license should be granted by a county business or city, unless the petition requesting the dramshop, tavern, or grocery license was signed by a majority of the householders in the township, county or ward where the license was sought. However, all incorporated cities containing 1,000 or more inhabitants were exempted from this act, such cities possessing full powers to regulate licenses for all purposes and dispose of the proceeds thereof. This law fixed the tax upon the dramshop keeper at not less than $50 nor more than $500 for a period of twelve months. The fine for selling liquor without license was not to exceed $100 for the first offense. For the second and subsequent offenses, the fine should not be greater than $100, but the offender might be indicted for a misdemeanor and fined not less than $500, and imprisoned in the county jail not less than six months, it was made a misdemeanor to sell liquor on Sunday, the Fourth of July, to any one known to be in the habit of getting intoxicated, or to any married man against the known wishes of his wife. All places where liquor would be sold in violation of this act were declared nuisances. In addition, damages could be recovered by every wife, child, parent, guardian, employer or other person who should be injured in person, property or means of support by any intoxicated person or in consequence of intoxication, and a married woman could sue as a single person.


In the constitutional convention of 1859 there was some discussion about incorporating in the constitution a prohibitory measure with regard to liquor, and John Ritchie, of Topeka, suggested the following resolution: "Resolved, that the constitution of the state of Kansas shall confer power on the legislature to prohibit the introduction, manufacture or sale of spirituous liquors within the state." On July 23rd, 12 days later, H. D. Preston, from Burlingame, offered this section: "The legislature shall have power to regulate or prohibit the sale of alcoholic liquors, except for mechanical and medicinal purposes." In the end; however, no prohibitory measure was included in the constitution at that time.


The temperance sentiment continued to increase and was very strong in the by 1867. Lecturers from the East gave addresses on the subject, enlarging and stimulating the temperance feeling throughout the state. In 1869 all the territorial and state laws of Kansas were revised and the so-called Dramshop Act went into effect on October 31, 1869, providing in part:


"Before a dramshop, tavern or grocery license shall be granted to any person applying for the same, such person, if applying for a township license, shall present to the tribunal transacting county business, a petition or recommendation signed by a majority of the residents of the township, of 21 years of age or over, both male and female, in which such dramshop, tavern or grocery is to be kept; or if the same is to be kept in any incorporated city or town, then to the city council thereof a petition signed by the majority of the citizens of the ward of 21 years of age, both male and female, in which said dramshop, tavern or grocery is to be kept, recommending such person as a fit person to keep the same, and requesting that a license be granted to him for such purpose; provided that the corporate authorities of cities of the first and second class may by ordinance dispense with petition mentioned in this section."


The act further provided as a penalty for selling liquor on Sunday or on the Fourth of July, a fine of not less than $25 nor more than $100 and imprisonment from 10 to 30 days. It was also made illegal for a person to become intoxicated or to sell alcohol habitual drunkards or to minors.




TemperanceFrom 1861 to 1879 was a period fraught with an ever increasing tendency toward Prohibition. A few temperance workers labored most industriously to change public opinion in regard to open traffic in liquor. This creation of a new public opinion was in a great measure due to the crusade made against liquor by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Prohibition meetings were held in all the principal cities of the state years before the amendment to the constitution was adopted. Drusella Wilson, the first president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, traveled 3,000 miles in a private conveyance, making speeches, holding mass meetings and "soliciting signatures to a petition to be presented to the legislature."

She set the women working all over the state, organizing unions so they could be more efficient. She organized over 100 unions that year and carried in the first petition to the legislature, the largest one ever presented up to that time.


The women not only worked faithfully, but when election day came they also turned out all over the state and worked all day, urging up indifferent and negligent voters, and supplying refreshments. They held prayer meetings in the churches all day, and sang the church songs every hour to remind the voters that the women were praying for the protection of the homes and the boys.

In his message to the legislature on January 14, 1879, Governor John P. St. John included a section on temperance. He said in part: "The subject of temperance, in its relation to the use of intoxicating liquors as a beverage has occupied the attention of the people of Kansas to such an extent I feel it my duty to call your attention to some of its evils, and suggest, if possible, a remedy therefore. Much has been said of late years about hard times and extravagant and useless expenditures of money, and in this connection I desire to call your attention to the fact that here in Kansas, where our people are at least as sober and temperate as are found in any of the states in the West, the money spent annually for intoxicating liquors would defray the entire expenses of the state government, including the care and maintenance of all the charitable institutions, agricultural college, normal school, state university and penitentiary. . . . Could we but dry up this one great evil that consumes annually so much wealth, and destroys the physical, moral and mental usefulness of its victims, we would hardly need prisons, poorhouses, or police."

Confiscated whiskey in ProhibitionGovernor St. John was an ardent and powerful champion of the temperance cause and through his influence, and that of other active and sympathetic temperance workers, the legislature of 1879 passed and submitted to the people of Kansas a joint resolution providing an amendment to the constitution, as follows: "The manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors shall be forever prohibited in this state, except for medical, scientific and mechanical purposes." The amendment came before the people at the polls on November 2, 1880, and out of a total vote of 176,606 it was carried by a majority of 7,998. At the next Republican state convention Mr. St. John was re-nominated for governor upon "a platform pledging the party to the policy of Prohibition of the liquor traffic," and made a fight on that issue before the people.


In his message to the legislature of 1881 he stated that "This amendment being now a part of the constitution of our state, it devolves upon you to enact such laws as are necessary for its rigid enforcement. There are but a few citizens today who will not admit that dramshops are a curse to any people. More crime, poverty, misery and degradation flow from them than from all other sources combined. The real difference of opinion existing in relation to them is not so much as to whether they are an evil or a blessing, but rather as to what course should be pursued toward them.


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