The Temperance Movement | The Temple of Honor|
The Red Ribbon Movement | Legislative | The Temperance Press|
This movement was commenced here in October, 1877, by John B. Finch, then a stranger to nearly every person in the State, but whose name has since become a household word in thousands of families, not only in Nebraska, but throughout the entire West. Mr. Finch came to Nebraska upon the invitation of Mrs. Ada Van Pelt, then Grand Chief Templar of the Grand Lodge of Good Templars of Nebraska, who had met him in the early summer at a meeting of the Right Worthy Grand Lodge of that body, and, recognizing in him a power as a public speaker and logician, and a person thoroughly educated in the temperance reform, she persuaded him to come to this State. He commenced his labors at Nebraska City, speaking there night after night for some weeks to crowded houses; from there, he went to Lincoln, where he spoke every night for nearly six weeks, completely demoralizing the rum power of that city and inducing several thousand to sign the pledge of total abstinence and don the "red ribbon." He continued speaking, principally in the South Platte country, up to the 1st of May, 1878, at which time he had pledged 29,900 persons to total abstinence, and raised, in the different localities where he had spoken, for the establishment of local reading-rooms, $9,540. It has been estimated that from the first eight months of Mr. Finch's labors here, 50,000 persons were induced to sign the pledge, and $20,000 subscribed to furnish reading-rooms in the State, nor do we think the number or amount overestimated. Mr. Finch returned to his home in New York, in May of 1878, returning to Nebraska in the fall of the same year, and took up his residence at Lincoln, where he now resides. For an account of his subsequent work, the reader is referred to that part of this chapter devoted to the Independent Order of Good Templars, whose Grand Chief Mr. Finch became in 1880, and held that office for two terms, being succeeded, in 1882, by John S. Minnick, of Brownville.
In addition to Mr. Finch as a red ribbon worker, we have had at various times other speakers, who have done great good, noticeable among whom are George Woodford, of Illinois, and George W. Bain, of Kentucky, both of whom are earnest and forcible speakers.
As a society worker, no person has ever done so much nor so hard work for any society as has been done by Mrs. Ada Van Pelt, Past Grand Chief Templar for the order of Good Templars, a woman of feeble health, unable to walk without the aid of canes, yet she traveled up, down, crosswise and every other way, of this State from the time of her election to the office of Grand Worthy Chief Templar, in January, 1877, to the time when she was, on account of her health, reluctantly compelled to refuse the office, in January, 1880. Traveling by every conceivable means of transportation and in all kinds of weather, she brought that order up from a mere handful of raw recruits, undisciplined, and with but little or no knowledge of the true principles of the reform in which they were engaged, to the magnificent well-drilled and well-equipped army of 6,263 persons, which she turned over to her successor.
In the labor of Mrs. Van Pelt, she was ably assisted by F. G. Keens, Grand Worthy Secretary, than whom no more efficient Lieutenant can be found anywhere, and whose abilities have been so marked as to meet with recognition from the Right Worthy Grand Lodge of the world, which has twice elected him Secretary of that body, in which capacity he is now acting.
The friends of temperance have not hesitated to present their views to and ask relief from the different Legislatures from the admission of the State down to the present time. For several years, their requests, if not treated with actual contempt, were, at least, not given that respectful consideration which, in a country like ours, is due by the servants of the people to those placing them in power. And here we may add, without losing sight of the subject matter under consideration, that the average Nebraska legislator, as soon as he is clothed with his official power, seems to forget that he is the servant of those who, by their franchises, have placed him in power, and, contradictory to the true spirit, usurps the power of a master, and, by his actions and votes while in the legislative halls, arrogates to himself all the brain of the district which he is representing, and when those residing in his district, in a respectful manner, petition him to do certain things for them, he, in his superior wisdom, either treats their petitions with contempt and ridicule, or coolly informs their messenger that the people do not know what they want; that he is there to legislate for them, and that his valuable time cannot be spent in giving attention to such trivial matters as the suppression of the liquor traffic, notwithstanding such appeals and petitions may be signed by thousands of the best citizens of the State, as was the case before the Legislatures of 1879 and 1881. It is hardly necessary to add that but few persons ever serve a second term in our State Legislature.
The first respectful recognition ever obtained by the friends of temperance from any Legislature was that accorded by the Legislature of 1873. In the House, at this session, a special committee of five gentlemen, to wit, J. H. Masters, of Otoe County; A. H. Babcock, of Pawnee; A. K. White, of Lancaster; A. Nelson, of Burt, and J. E. Cramer, of Fillmore, were appointed, to whom were referred the petitions presented to that body praying for temperance legislation, which committee, in conformity with the prayer of several hundred petitioners, afterward, by their Chairman, Mr. Masters, introduced House Roll, No. 130, entitled "An act to regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors in the State of Nebraska." This bill was read twice and referred to the special committee on temperance, who subsequently (being unable to hold this back any longer) reported a substitute as House Roll, No. 182, and entitled "An act to amend Chapter 29 of the criminal code of Nebraska," which was again referred to the same committee, who subsequently reported it back to the House with favorable recommendation, and, being placed on the general file, came up in its order before the committee of the whole House, where it was considered briefly, and when the committee arose they reported it back to the House with recommendation that it be indefinitely postponed, which recommendation was agreed to and the bill was indefinitely postponed by a vote of 20 to 16. Thus ended the legislative fight with the Legislature of 1873.
But the friends of temperance were far from being discouraged or disheartened. Through several preceding Legislatures they had been snubbed and refused any hearing whatever, and now to have been given a respectful hearing, and having found sixteen out of thirty-eight members who recognized the necessity of greater security from the encroachments of the liquor power in the now and growing State, they justly felt that their principles were gaining ground, and they went to work with a firmer determination that they would secure some more stringent laws at the next session of the Legislature, in 1875. Actuated by this determination, the first and principal thing for them to do was to see that, wherever it was possible, strong efforts should be made to select such men for legislative honors as were in sympathy with them in this reform movement.
This course was followed and the result was the Legislature of 1875, though not flooded with petitions, enacted an amendment to the then existing law, whereby all applications for license to sell liquor should "lie over for the space of two weeks," to allow objections to be filed against the granting of such license, and providing further, that in case any objection or remonstrance was filed, the County Commissioners, or City Council, before whom the application was then pending, should appoint a day for the hearing of proofs under such objection or remonstrance, and, if it was proven that the party applying for license had violated any of the provisions of law in relation to any of the restrictions placed upon the traffic, or if any former license had been revoked, then the license prayed for should be refused, otherwise the board might grant the license, thus making, in fact, a local option law of what heretofore had been a general license law.
This bill was introduced by the Judiciary Committee of the House, consisting of J. M. Thurston, D. C. McKillup, George Hastings, M. V. Moudy and Albinus Nance (now Governor of the State). The passage of the bill was regarded by the temperance people of the State as a signal victory---as it truly was--and, under its provisions, the sale of liquor was kept out of a large number of counties in the State, from the date of its taking effect to the present time, proving conclusively that even local prohibition would prohibit.
So fully did this law meet the approval of the masses of the temperance people of the State that they permitted the session of the Legislature, in 1877, to pass by, unnoticed by them, at least, so far as any attempt for further legislation on this subject.
Early in the year 1877, the temperance tidal wave that had been for several years past surging in the Eastern and Middle States struck Nebraska. This wave, started by the prayers and tears of the earnest, zealous Christian temperance women in Ohio, rolled in every direction from that central starting-point, and by the time it struck our young State, its force had not been at all diminished, but rather had added power to itself, so that it was able, as it proved here, to sweep everything before it and leave in its track, in the place of the hovel of the drunkard, a pleasant and happy home; for there was peace, joy and hope in that household now, where there had been nothing but wretchedness and despair before. Many a parent had been made to rejoice by the reclamation of a drunken son; many wives now look back to those days as the beginning of all their real domestic happiness, the time when the husband arose by the help of "Him who is mighty to save," and broke the chains that had so long held him in abject slavery to this tyrant alcohol, and asserted his freedom from such slavery forevermore.
Thousands of families now living in Nebraska look back upon those days as the days of their emancipation, with hearts filled with gratitude to Him, who, in answer to prayers sent up all over this land, had brought about such glorious results. With this general awakening, there was added to the heretofore weak temperance army of Nebraska thousands that had been gathered in from the ranks of the enemy, and who, after having taken the oath of allegiance and been mustered into the temperance army, became stalwarts both in principles and as workers, and they, seeing the iniquity of the license system, introduced, with the aid of a few of the old workers, the war for prohibition, absolute and entire, of both manufacture and sale of intoxicants.
All the legislation that had ever been asked for up to this time had been, at most, for a "local option law," whereby localities might, by their votes, determine whether or not license should be granted. But the reformed men, feeling the individual insecurity of themselves and such others as they might hope to persuade to abstain from their cups so long as the licensed dram-shop, fitted up in the gorgeous splendor, was permitted to exist in the State, raised the war-cry of "moral suasion for the drunkard and legal suasion for the drunkard-maker," and the battle of prohibition commenced in earnest in Nebraska, and, though the enemy's flag still floats here, yet its armies have become so crippled that an unconditional surrender may be looked for in the no distant future.
It is true that the war-cry, "moral suasion for the individual, prohibition for the State," had run along the lines of Good Templarism for years, but, owing to a want of force, confidence or moral courage, it had never become the grand guiding thought of the temperance people until after this general revival had taken place in the State.
With augmented ranks and looking to the Good Templars as the natural leaders, plans began to be matured early in 1878, looking forward to a vigorous campaign in the fall elections and in the Legislature that should convene in January, 1879. In the election of 1878, a sufficient number of members were elected to both Houses of the Legislature to insure the passage of a strong prohibitory law, had not some of those elected on that issue proved recreant to the trust reposed in them and sold their principles, their friends and themselves, for money considerations or the promise of political preferment.
Immediately following the election of members of the Legislature in 1878, F. G. Keens, Grand Worthy Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Good Templars, by direction of that body, placed in the hands of each member of the House and Senate a copy of Pittman's "Alcohol and the State," and other works on prohibition, political economy, etc., so that each member, when called upon to vote on or discuss the principles of prohibition, might be able to do so intelligently, and to show, also, that it was for the best interests of the State; and, from the subsequent operations while this subject was under consideration before the Legislature, it was clearly shown that these books had done their work. The opponents of prohibition were completely disarmed. They did not attempt to discuss the question at all, and, even when challenged to a joint discussion of the principles, refused to have anything to say upon the subject.
Early in the session of this Legislature, the temperance people began to flood the House with petitions praying for the passage of a prohibitory law. Every day for nearly two weeks, petitions were presented, coming from every organized county in the State, and numbering their signers by tens of thousands, all praying for the one thing--the prohibition of the liquor traffic. These petitions were referred to a special committee for examination, counting, etc.
Early in the session, a bill that had been carefully prepared by a committee selected by the temperance people was introduced in the House by Hon. W. T. Scott, of York County, prohibiting the traffic in intoxicating liquors as a beverage, which was referred to the Committee on Judiciary, who, after some weeks, reported the same back, recommending its passage, when it was referred to the general file, and came up in its order in committee of the whole House, where, for the first time, it met with serious opposition; but, after a lively debate, occupying an entire day, the committee arose, reporting the bill back to the House, with recommendation that it do pass, and the bill was made the special order for 2 o'clock P. M., February 6, at which time the bill came up for its final passage, which resulted as follows: Yeas, forty; nays, thirty-nine.
A constitutional majority not having voted in favor of the bill, it was declared lost, forty-three votes, a majority of all members elected, being necessary to pass any bill. In the loss of this bill, the temperance people charge it directly to those who had been elected to the House as temperance men and strong prohibitionists, who proved recreaut to the trust confided in them and voted against the bill-*
While this bill was actually pending in the House, public meetings were held nearly every night in Lincoln, and were addressed by John B. Finch, Chancelor Fairfield of the State University, Hon. O. P. Mason, and members of the Senate and House.
So strong was the desire to hear the principles discussed that the House passed a resolution appointing a committee, consisting of Messrs. Simonton, Graybill and Loveland, to invite John B. Finch to address the members of the Legislature on the subject of prohibition in the Representatives' Hall, on Monday evening, January 27. It is needless to say that Mr. Finch accepted this invitation, and made such an argument as only he could make.
I should be doing injustice to this subject were I to close the history of this memorable fight without special notice of two very remarkable speeches made in the House when the bill was on its final passage--one by the Hon. Mr. Batty, of Adams County, who had been a consistent opponent (if a man at the present time can consistently oppose such legislation) of the bill ever since it had been pending before the House; the other by the Hon. Mr. Sessions, who had been elected from Lancaster County as a Prohibitionist, and whose every vote had been with that party whenever the question of prohibition had appeared, directly or indirectly. This speech, however, was remarkable as coming from him. He arraigned the bill then pending as an outgrowth of fanaticism, the only effect of which would be, should it become a law, to make whisky free as water throughout the State, asserting that wherever prohibition had been tried, it proved an utter failure, and referred to the States of Maine and Vermont especially to prove the truth of his statements, claiming that the persons interested in the passage of this bill (referring to the temperance lobby) had no interests in the State, neither did they care for the principles they advocated, further than the advancement of some individual ends, political or otherwise; again asserting that he was a Prohibitionist, had always been a Prohibitionist, and closed by voting for the bill.
With Mr. Batty it was different. With him, this bill would deprive the people of the State of one of their inherent rights; he differed with the gentleman who said that "if this bill should become a law, the result would be free whisky," and said that if this bill passed and became a law, it would be the death-knell to his political party. (Mr. Batty being a Democrat); that this class of legislation was in direct opposition to the bill of rights as enunciated in our constitution and guaranteed to the people by the Federal Constitution. He was therefore opposed to the bill, and therefore voted against it. Mr. Batty has since changed his views on the subject, and is today as strongly in favor of as he was formerly opposed to prohibition.
The lobby and outside work during the pendency of this bill was placed under the general supervision of F. G. Keens, of Kearney, Grand Worthy Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Good Templars, and Gen. A. H. Bowen, of Hastings, Grand Worthy Templar of the Grand Temple of Honor, each of whom performed his duties in such manner as to meet the warm approval of the temperance people of the State, and as well made a large number of warm personal friends among those who, at the outset, were bitterly opposed to the principles they were advocating.
It is a well-known fact that the liquor element was backed by unlimited wealth, and for weeks money was used freely by the liquor lobby. * * * * *
Their work was not of a noisy character, but more on the principle of a still-hunt, and the result proved that they bagged the game.
It cannot be denied that the defeat of this measure at this time was a great disappointment to its friends. Had they been defeated in a fair fight and by their enemies, they could have borne it easier; but to be defeated by those in whom they placed the most implicit confidence and trust, for a time, had a very demoralizing effect, and each looked upon the other with distrust; for, as they reasoned, "if those in whom we trusted so implicitly have betrayed us, who is true and whom can we trust?"
Neither did this discouragement entirely wear away until after much hard and laborious work had been done by the temperance leaders in the State. Such workers as Mrs. Van Pelt, John B. Finch, F. G. Keens and others found greater difficulty, in the summer and fall of 1879, in dispelling the gloom cast over the work by this defeat--"selling out," as it was justly termed--than any other obstacle that met them, and it was not until nearly the commencement of the campaign, preparatory to the Legislature of 1881, that the shadows were entirely cleared away. Not that there was any division in the temperance ranks, but a general feeling that it was useless to attempt to cope with the moneyed power of the liquor influence in the State. But this spirit of discouragement wore away, and the spring of 1880 found the forces better in hand and with a more determined purpose than ever before known in the State, and, notwithstanding it was a Presidential year, they resolved to take an advanced step and try to secure a sufficient number of friends in the Legislature, to be elected that year, to secure the submission to the electors of the State of an amendment to the State constitution forever prohibiting the manufacture and use of alcoholic liquors within the State. With this purpose in view, the workers were re-organized in every county in the State, and all went to work with a will. The principles of prohibition were discussed more generally than ever before, and many who had either been openly opposed to it, or, what was even worse, belonged to that class who looked upon the matter with utter indifference, now took a firm stand in favor of the submission of such an amendment. It is right, they argued, that the people should have an opportunity to express themselves upon this great question for or against the further continuance of this traffic in the State, and the ballot was the only way to settle the mooted question.
With this question before the people, the election of 1880 was held, and when the returns were in, it was conceded by all that more than three-fifths (the number necessary to submit an amendment of the constitution to the people) of both houses of the new Legislature were in favor of submitting the proposed amendment.On the assembling of the Legislature, petitions from all over the State began to pour in praying for the submission of this amendment, and early in the session, Church Howe introduced House Roll No. 85, being a joint resolution, providing for the submission to the electors of an amendment to the constitution prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors within the State of Nebraska.
This bill was referred to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, who subsequently reported the same back, with recommendation that it do pass. On February 10, the bill came up in Committee of the Whole, where its merits were discussed by its friends and opponents in the following order: F. T. Ransom, of Otoe, opened the debate in opposition to the measure, taking the ground that "it was unconstitutional; that it would destroy the vested rights of the people engaged in the manufacture and sale of liquor, and thereby deprive all such of their property without due process of law." This was answered on the part of the friends of the amendment by H. S. Kaley, of Webster County, who took the ground that the constitutionality of the measure was not before them as a court to pass upon, but, though it had been, its constitutionality had been fully adjudicated and passed upon by the highest tribunal in the land, and cited numerous cases where the same question had been passed upon by the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. Kaley was followed by T. M. Franse in opposition, but, from his argument and the manner he had of glancing at the clock, it soon became evident that he was talking against time, and therefore but few members in the House paid him respectful attention.
He, however, occupied the time of the committee until it rose and reported the bill back, asking leave to consider it again at the next sitting, which was granted.
It was again before the House in Committee of the Whole on the 11th of February, and at this sitting, the entire day was taken up by Joseph Hollman in opposition to the bill, which again went over in the same way to the next sitting of the committee, on February 12, and another opponent occupied the entire day in its discussion.
The same scene was enacted on the 13th and 14th, when the bill was reported back to the House without recommendation.
On February 15, it was ordered engrossed for a third reading, and on the following day was reported by the Committee on Engrossed Bills as properly engrossed, and, on motion of Mr. Howe, was re-committed to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, where it remained until February 23, and was reported by that committee with the same favorable recommendations an before.
Why this re-committal and this delay of one week is a question that has often been asked, but which, so far, has received no satisfactory answer.
During this week of delay, the enemies of the bill were not idle. Money, political promises, Federal patronage and everything that could be brought to bear upon the cupidity of the individual member was used to influence votes against the passage of the bill. [We do not publish what is said about a United States Senator because he has been found innocent of the charges by a committee of the Legislature. - ED.]
On the 23d of February, when the bill was reported by the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, some sharp sparring in parliamentary practice was indulged in as to the ordering of the bill to a third reading. It was the desire of its friends that this order be made, while the opposition sought to cause more delay by endeavoring to have it placed on the general file, from whence it would come up in regular order before the House in Committee of the Whole. After spirited filibustering by the opponents, occupying one whole legislative day, it was finally ordered to a third reading by a vote of fifty-six for to twenty-two against, and which was regarded as a test vote on the final passage of the bill.
During the progress of this debate, if it may be characterized as a debate, the lobby and galleries of the House were filled by leading citizens of the city of Lincoln, and also by influential citizens of both sexes, from all parts of the State, watching the proceedings with intense interest, and who expressed their approval of a strong point made by those favoring the bill by clapping of hands, whereupon Kyner, of Douglas County, arose, and, addressing the Chair, stated that ever since the measure had been pending before the House, that body had been under the control of a mob, which had now taken possession of the galleries and lobby, and were attempting to bulldoze the Legislature into passing this bill, and moved that the lobby and galleries be cleared, and, upon the call of the yeas and nays, resulted with four votes in the affirmative, namely: T. M. Franse, J. H. Kyner, F. T. Ransom and F. A. Sears, as against seventy-three votes in the negative, and the lobby and galleries were not cleared.
On the next day, February 24, Mr. Howe, the champion of the bill, claiming to have his forces well in hand, prepared for the final vote on its passage. When the bill came up in the evening session in its order, it was noticed that several of those who had been active as its supporters had mysteriously disappeared. Mr. Howe moved a call of the House, which was ordered, and on a call of the roll it was found that J. H. Helms and S. V. Moore, of Otoe, and J. C. Robberts, of Butler County, were absent without leave, and the Sergeant-at-Arms was dispatched to command their presence. After a protracted delay, up to 11 o'clock P. M., further proceedings under call of the House were dispensed with, and the bill was put upon its final passage, with the following result:
The roll was called and resulted: Yeas, forty-nine; nays, twenty-eight; absent, seven; as follows: Yeas--Messrs. Abbott, Babcock, Baldwin, Brown, Case, Cantlin, Carman, Cook, Cole, Correll, Dailey, Dew, Dowty, Filley, Graham, Gray, Hall, Heacock, Hostetter, Howe, Jackson (of Pawnee), Jenson, Johnson, Jones, Kaley, Kempton, King, Laughlin, Linn, McClun, McDougal, McKinnon, Mickey, Moore (of York), Montgomery, Palmer, Putney, Reed, Root, Reyman, Shick, Scott, Silver, Slocumb, Walling, Wells, Wilsey, Windham and Mr. Speaker--forty nine.
Voting in the negative--Messrs. Ayer, Bailey, Bartlett, Bick, Bolln, Broatch, Franse, Frederick, Fried, Gates, Helms, Herman, Hollman, Jackson (of Douglas), Kloepfel, Lamb, Lehman, McShane, Mullen, Overton, Paxton, Peterson, Ransom, Sears, Sill, Watts, Whedon and Ziegler--twenty-eight.
Absent and not voting--Messrs. Kyner, McClure, Moore (of Otoe), Parry, Roberts, Sprick and Wyatt--seven.
The constitution requiring in his three-fifths of all the members, less than three-fifths of all the members having voted in the affirmative, the bill did not pass.
Pending the roll-call, Mr. Brown handed the following to the Clerk as an explanation of his vote:
Pending the roll-call, Mr. Ransom handed the following explanation: of his vote to the Clerk:
And thus again the temperance people were defeated. Of those voting against the bill, special mention should be made of Messrs. Ayer, of Buffalo; Helms, of Hamilton; and Sill, of Dodge County--the two former having, been elected by a strong temperance constituency, and directly upon that issue. In fact, so strong was the temperance sentiment in both those counties that none but avowed temperance men could have been elected to any such position. How they explain their conduct in this matter to their respective constituencies we do not know. To the temperance people at the capital who presented them with the petitions signed by a large majority of their respective counties, they simply stated that "they knew better what their people wanted than the people themselves." Perhaps they did, but, we confess, to an outsider it looks strange. With reference to the constituency of Mr. Bill, we cannot speak to a certainty; we can say, however, that, up to the vote on the final passage of the bill, he had acted with its friends and voted with them.
Mr. --- ---, ---- of ------ County, also deserves special mention. Mr. ------ was one of the firmest supporters of prohibition, and especially of this bill, from the time of the assembling of the Legislature until the day the bill was defeated. He was in excellent health when the House, at 6 o'clock on the evening of the 24th of February, took a recess until 7:30 o'clock the same evening. On the assembling of the House at the last-named hour, it was discovered that this gentleman was absent, and upon farther inquiry, it was reported that he had suddenly been taken violently ill. A messenger with a carriage was immediately dispatched for him to his rooms in the Commercial Hotel, and the messenger hurriedly ran up stairs and bolted into the honorable gentleman's room, where the display of food on a table in front of the gentleman, and the rapid manner he was causing it to disappear, proved conclusively to the messenger that, if the honorable gentleman was not already sick, he was in a fair way to become so unless something was done to prevent a further disappearance of the rich viands spread before him. As the messenger appeared, Mr. -----'s appetite suddenly forsook him, and he threw himself on his bed, and neither the prayers, tears, eloquence or entreaty of the messenger, mingled, perhaps, with language a little more forcible than æsthetic could induce him to step into the carriage and go to the House and record his vote on this bill. His recovery was as speedy as his attack, and the morning found him in his seat as usual, with the same bland smile upon his countenance, and rolling his eyes toward the galleries as though he had not been on the verge of death on the night previous.
A prominent physician, also a member of the House, stated that the cause of the attack was a large roll of greenbacks that had been administered by a brother member in Room No. ---, at the Commercial Hotel during the evening recess. This charge was made openly, and has never been denied by either of the alleged high contracting parties.
While the temperance people were defeated as regards the submission of the constitutional amendment, they were by no means routed, but rallied at once to the support of a bill introduced by Hon. C. B. Slocumb on the 7th day of February, and succeeded in securing the passage of this bill through both houses, and on the 28th day of February it was approved by the Governor and became a law, taking effect June 1, 1881.
The main provisions of this bill are that no license can be issued for a longer period than one year, and not beyond the municipal year of the board or tribunal issuing it. In cities over ten thousand inhabitants, no license, no matter for what period it may be issued, can be issued for a less sum than $1,000, and in localities other than cities over ten thousand inhabitants, the minimum price for a license is $500, and the authorities may go as much above these sums as they may see fit (every person licensed should file a bond in a sum of not less than $5,000, etc., etc. See law).
This law took effect, as before stated, on June 1, 1881. In the meantime, municipalities in many localities throughout the State that had elected officers in sympathy with the liquor interests went on and issued license under the provisions of the old law for the municipal year ending April, 1882. This was the case in Omaha, where the City Council had granted license extending through the municipal year of 1881, under the provisions of the old law, the parties licensed paying into the City Treasury $100 for such license. After June 1, the temperance people claimed that such licenses were no authority to continue the traffic, and complaints were filed and arrests made in many places against those who attempted to follow the trade under such protection. The first prosecutions under this law occurred in the First Judicial District, Hon. A. J. Weaver, Judge, presiding, and these cases were prosecuted by W. H. Morris, the District Attorney for that district, and resulted in a conviction. This case was not appealed, but rested upon the decision of the District Court. In the meantime, several arrests had been made in Omaha, but, from want of proofs in the Examining Courts, the parties were invariably acquitted. Finally the temperance people of that city called a meeting for the purpose of devising means whereby the law might be enforced. This meeting appointed a committee, consisting of Col. Watson B. Smith (since murdered by the liquor cohorts of that city), Hon. O. F. Davis, Gen. E. Estabrook, and two other gentlemen whose names we have forgotten, whose duty it should be to secure evidence against the parties notoriously violating the law, and present the same to the next Grand Jury assembling in that county. They did their work so thoroughly that a large number of indictments were found on their evidence, and a test case was made from one of these indictments, viz., that of the State of Nebraska versus Andrew Pleuler. The indictment charged him with "selling liquor without having a license therefor under and pursuant to the act of February 28, 1881." Upon a plea of "not guilty," there was a trial before Judge Savage and a jury. The State proved the selling of spirituous and malt liquors on June 22, 1881, in the city of Omaha, and that defendant had not procured a license therefor from the city pursuant to said act, and rested their case. The defendant then, by his counsel, Hon. E. Wakeley and Gen. J. C. Cowin, moved that the jury be directed by the court to return a verdict of not guilty, and that defendant be discharged, basing said motion upon the unconstitutionality of the act. This motion was promptly overruled by the court, whereupon the defendant took the stand and testified that, at the time and place the liquor was sold as charged in the indictment, he was carrying on business under a license dated January 1, 1881, for which he had paid the sum of $100; that he had complied with all of the provisions of the law under which said license was issued. This license was then offered in evidence, but was excluded. The court then charged the jury that if the defendant sold liquor as charged, and had not a license therefor, under the act in question, the verdict must be guilty. The jury promptly returned such a verdict, and judgment was pronounced thereon, but its execution suspended to enable him, the defendant, to bring writ of error to the Supreme Court.
This case was brought to the Supreme Court, and argued at the July, 1881, term, by Hon. E. Wakeley and J. C. Cowin for the plaintiff in error, Pleuler, and by G. W. Ambrose and E. Estabrook on behalf of the State.
The plaintiff in error raised two points, substantially as follows: 1st, That the law is unconstitutional. 2d, That the privilege of selling liquor given by the license of January 1, 1881, was not taken away by the new act.
Probably no case ever before the Supreme Court was argued more fully or ably than was this. On the part of the plaintiff in error, he was backed by the so-called "Merchants' and Manufacturers' Protective Association," an association formed by the wholesale and retail liquor-dealers of the State, together with the brewers and distillers, while on the part of the State, only volunteer counsel could be obtained, the Attorney General being so engrossed with other public duties as to be unable to give that time and study to the case that was necessary to a fair representation of that side of the case. Much credit is due to the counsel who tendered their services in behalf of the State for the thorough and exhaustive arguments they presented.
The court, after hearing argument of counsel, took the matter under advisement, and soon after decided the case, affirming the action of the court below, and fully deciding all points raised by counsel, and sustaining the law in every particular. For a full report of this case, including briefs of counsel, see Eleventh Nebraska Reports, 547 et seq. This decision had the effect of causing the dealers in two of the judicial districts in the State to observe at least outward respect toward the law. These districts were the First, Hon. A. J. Weaver, Judge, and W. H. Morris, District Attorney, and the Fourth, Hon. George W. Post, Judge, and M. B. Reese, District Attorney. These gentlemen, in their official capacity, looked upon a violation of this the same as a violation of any other criminal statute, and did not hesitate to enforce it in the same manner, and the result is that the provisions of this law are now observed. In the other districts, particularly in the Fifth, there has been no attempt to enforce it, with the exception of the cases mentioned, from Omaha, in the Third District.
In the Fifth District, up to the present time, it has been impossible, under the charge of the court and the manipulations of the District Attorney, to procure an indictment under this law, though it is openly violated every day in every county in the district, and yet the territory embraced in this district is strongly prohibition in sentiment. Since January 1, 1882, there has been a partial observance of the law in Omaha, and the number of saloons has been decreased from 156, on June 1, 1881, to about forty, January 1, 1882.
With a rigid enforcement of this law throughout the State, the number of saloons would be reduced more than one-half, but its enforcement cannot be expected in some of our judicial districts under the present judicial officers.
To Hon. C. B. Slocumb, of Jefferson County, the author and champion of this law through the Legislature, the friends of temperance are greatly indebted, and they only hope that the time may come when they may express their appreciation of his labors in this behalf in a more substantial manner than by mere words. Though defeated upon the question of a prohibitory amendment in the Legislature of 1881, it was not because the measure had not able and tried friends, and many of them, in both houses, and except the backslidings heretofore referred to, they each did their duty, and where all did well, it is hard to particularize; suffice it that they are still true to the principles they then advocated, and ready to do battle for them until the liquor power shall surrender, and the spotless flag of prohibition shall wave all over our young and growing State.
The temperance people are under great obligations to the press generally throughout the State for a liberal use of their columns, and, in a large number of instances, one or more columns of a paper have been given up to the exclusive use of lodges and other temperance organizations. In fact, so general has this been that it would be difficult to name a paper in the State which has not made this offer, and wherever made, it has been generally accepted, and much good has been accomplished in this manner.
In addition to the local press, there have been established at several different times, papers devoted exclusively to the temperance work. These are, respectively, the Nebraska Plaindealer, published by W. W. Beach, at Lincoln, which was adopted by the Grand Lodge at its annual session, in January, 1877, as its official organ. This was succeeded by a paper published under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of Good Templars, by Mrs. P. W. Martindale, called the Spirit of the Hour, and started into life in the spring of 1878; but, like its predecessor, it did not receive the necessary support, and ceased to exist during the following winter, and was followed by the True Citizen, published at Kearney by A. C. Edwards, who continued its publication until January, 1880, when it, too, succumbed to the want of support, and went to that country where all good newspapers go that are starved to death.
The Grand Lodge again took the matter in hand, and, by its Executive Committee, purchased the material of a paper in Lincoln, and placed it under the management of L. C. Pace, Esq., who began the publication of the Lincoln World, as an organ directly in the interest of the Grand Lodge. The World started out as a first-class temperance sheet, and, had it met with the support that it deserved, would have proven of great value to the order of Good Templars and the cause of temperance generally; but it was refused support, and began to fall short of what it started out to be, and Mr. Pace, not being able to live on air, ceased its publication--not, however, until, failing to get greenbacks out of its publication, he infused too much "greenback decline" in the paper to suit the masses, and the result was that, when he retired from the field, it was thought best by those having its control to change the name of the paper, which was accordingly done, and from the World sprang forth the Lincoln Tribune, by Frank Sibley, who soon ran it into the ground.
Recently there was started at Lincoln a temperance newspaper styled the Nebraska Liberator, against which, as a temperance sheet, there is some objection, containing, as it does, inconsistent with its teachings, obnoxious advertisements of Hostetter's, hop and other bitters, or bad whisky under new names. When these are dropped, it should, and doubtless will, receive the support of every temperance family in the State. When the temperance man realizes that a temperance paper is as necessary in his family as a political paper, then the problem of prohibition is solved in the State; until that time arrives, we are refusing to use the best weapon within our reach, and are not entitled to success.