History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


Prohibition and Alcohol in Kansas - Page 2

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Bar of DestructionSome have contended that they should be licensed; but it seems to me that if they are an evil, no government should give them the sanction of the law. They should be prohibited as we prohibit all other acknowledged evils. It has been urged as an argument in favor of licensing dramshops, that, under that system, a large revenue is derived. Granting this to be true, I insist we have no right to consider the question of revenue at a cost of the sacrifice of principles. All the revenue ever received from such a source will not compensate for a single tear of a heartbroken mother at the sight of her drunken son as he reels from the door of a licensed dramshop. . . . The people of Kansas have spoken upon the whole question in a language that cannot he misunderstood. By their verdict, the license system as it relates to the sale of intoxicating liquors as a beverage, has been blotted from the statute books of the state. We now look to the future, not forgetting that it was here on our soil where the first blow was given that finally resulted in the emancipation of a race from slavery. We have now determined upon a second emancipation, which shall free not only the body but the soul of man. Now, as in the past, the civilized world watches Kansas, and anxiously awaits the result. No step should be taken backward. Let it not be said that any evil exists in our midst, the power of which is greater than the people."

The legislature, representing the temperance element of the state, on February 19, 1881, passed a long act of 24 sections, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors except for medical, scientific and mechanical purposes, and regulating the manufacture and sale thereof for such excepted purposes.

It also made it unlawful to give away liquor, and for a person to become intoxicated, the fine was $5 or imprisonment in county jail from one to ten days. The passage of this strict Prohibition law started the propagation of the temperance idea, although its effect upon the liquor traffic was not immediately recognized. In different parts of the state, vigorous prosecutions were instituted. The Prohibition policy had many enemies who believed the constitutional amendment a mistake. Among these was Governor George W. Glick, who succeeded Governor St. John in 1883. In his message to the legislature he dealt with the subject of Prohibition and the operation of the law. Glick tried hard to modify the law, but it fell on deaf ears and was not changed. The state legislatures of later years amended and supplemented the original enactment.


In the early 1890s the Agora Magazine conducted a symposium on the condition of Prohibition in Kansas, which had at that time been in effect over ten years. The consensus of opinion was that the public sentiment was constantly increasing in its contempt for liquor traffic. Many men who voted against Prohibition in 1880, after viewing the results of the law only partially enforced, were heartily convinced in 1890 that Kansas was far better off without open saloons. The churches, the State Temperance Union, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union continued to promote the movement.


A movement toward enforcement of state laws became a policy of many politicians seeking office, not only in Kansas, but elsewhere, as well as a tendency toward cleanliness in political and municipal affairs.


The real enforcement of the Prohibition law began in about 1907. Prior to that time the officials were somewhat lax in their duties and many drugstores were practically dramshops.


The county attorneys and attorney-general planned to make Kansas thoroughly "dry" and systematically closed up the places selling liquor. In 1909 the laws were revised and strengthened, a most important change being made in the withdrawal of the druggist's permits to sell liquor for medical, scientific and mechanical purposes.

The power of public opinion regarding Prohibition soon spread throughout the nation, bringing with it Prohibition in other states and to the entire nation in 1919. Called the “Noble Experiement,” the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned across the country. Though its many supporters were sure that Prohibition would lead to a better United States, they were not prepared for the many criminals it would create. Bootlegging and the illegal distribution of liquor became rampant and the government was unprepared to enforce the laws. In fact, by 1925 in New York City alone there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasies.

During the Great Depression, Prohibition became increasingly unpopular especially in large cities and on March 23, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law an amendment, allowing the manufacture and sale of certain kinds of alcoholic beverages. On December 5, 1933 National Prohibition was overturned. Each state then had the opportunity to present the issue to its citizens and on November 6, 1934, Kansas' voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to regulate and tax liquor. Therefore, though consumption of alcohol was still illegal in Kansas, alcoholic beverages were produced, transported into and used throughout the state with little enforcement of the law.




In 1937, the Kansas Legislature enacted a law that allowed beer (cereal malt beverages) with an alcoholic content of 3.2% or less to be sold in the state for both on and off-premise consumption and set the drinking age at 18. Prohibition of liquor in Kansas continued into the 1940s, but again, there was little enforcement of the law.


However, in 1946, Ed Arn became the state's Attorney General and his agenda was that the hypocrisy must end and the laws on the books should be enforced.


Several distinguished Kansans subsequently undertook an effort to end state Prohibition which led to a proposal to end Prohibition being placed on the General Election ballot in November, 1948 that passed.


This amendment of the authorized the legislature to "regulate, license and tax the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquor, and regulate the possession and transportation of intoxicating liquor". The amendment also "forever prohibited" the open saloon which meant that packaged liquor could be authorized and regulated, but that the sale of liquor by the drink in public places was prohibited.

The following year the Legislature enacted the Liquor Control Act created a system of regulating, licensing and taxing those package sales as well as creating the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to enforce the act. The drinking age for alcoholic liquor was set at 21, while the drinking age for cereal malt beverage remained at 18.


In 1965 Kansas approved the Private Club Act which allowed for liquor by the drink in private clubs only.

The new law required members to not only pay a $10 fee but to also wait 10 days from the time they applied before they could be served. It also required that people purchase a separate membership for each club that they wanted to drink in. The situation was particularly difficult for travelers from other states who were often perplexed and often disappointed at Kansas' liquor laws.


The votors were given the opportunity in 1970 to pass a constitutional amendment to legalize liquor-by-the-drink, however, the proposition lost - 50.8% to 49.2%. The on-premise problem persisted.

In 1978, the Legislature authorized private clubs that were restaurants (defined as establishments deriving more than 50% of their gross receipts from the sale of food) to sell liquor-by-the-drink. However, the law, which was to go into effect in those counties where the voters approved such sales during the 1978 election, was struck down by the courts.

More provisions were passed in 1985 Legislature that would prove to have a profound impact on the sale of alcoholic beverages in Kansas. These included raising the drinking age for 3.2 beer from 18 to 21, to prohibit "happy hours," and once again allow Kansas voters to decide whether to allow the sale of liquor-by-the-drink


After decades of battling, liquor-by-the-drink was finally passed by the voters in the 1986 election by a 59.9% to 40.1% margin. Bars and restaurants in the 36 counties approving the measure could legally sell liquor to members of the public for the first time since 1880.


By 1998, eleven counties had voted in liquor by the drink with no food requirements while numerous others relaxed the food requirements. Since then, numerous other counties have followed suit and in some counties, the “no sale of alcohol on Sundays” has also been eliminated, allowing liquor sales. Though more than a dozen counties continue to ban liquor-by-the drink, the state has progressed dramatically in recent years. Still, there are a few rules that can be baffling to visitors – such as liquor, with the exception of beverages measuring less than 3.2%, can only be sold in retail liquor stores, which are not allowed to sell any other items, such as food, cigarettes, ice, etc.

Throughout the state's history, the regulation of alcoholic beverages in Kansas has been a source of controversy with change efforts often producing heated debates.

Today, the Kansas Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control continues to enforce the Liquor Control Act and regulates over 2600 liquor licensees. However, they do not regulate the control of over 4,000 Cereal Malt Beverage licenses who sell only products with less than 3.2% alcohol, which regulated and controlled cities and counties.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated March, 2017.




About the Article: Sources for this text include Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, by Frank W. Blackmar, and the Kansas Department of Revenue - Alcoholic Beverage Control. However, the text that appears on these page is not verbatim, as additions, updates, and editing have occurred.


Also See:


The Great Depression

Speakeasies of the Prohibition Era


Carrie Nation

Carry A. Nation, from Medicine Lodge, was a well-known

 and radical temperance advocate.


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