The Rocky Road to Nirvana:
Nineteenth Century Liquor Legislation in Iowa
Essay Read at the German-America Heritage Center, June 10, 2012
In his memoirs published at the end of the nineteenth century, the Rev. John Todd, a Congregationalist minister who had come to Southwest Iowa with his family in 1850, described what he found when he arrived in his new home:
The people in this region of country were accustomed to use intoxicants as a beverage. Liquor was freely used at the polls on election day . . . and it was not uncommon to see men drunk, fighting drunk and noisy, before the polls closed. . . . Whisky used to be termed a good creature of God, but time has shown the fallacy of such a statement. For if Satan has any one tool more pliant, skilful, Satanic, and more destructive of all good than any or all others, it is Alcohol. It blunts conscience and prompts to the commission of crime; it beats mothers and beggars families; it ruins character and destroys souls. . . . Murder, robbery, theft, adultery, anger, malice, blasphemy and the whole catalogue of crimes are incited and warmed into life by this fell destroyer. [But now after fifty years] much has been done to curtail this evil. It is made unchristian to use it, to make it or sell it. It has disappeared from the public gaze. It finds no place in the most genteel families. . . . Elections are conducted quietly and honestly and honorably without it. . . . Temperance has made decided advances. . . . May we hope that intemperance will yet be banished from the land.
Todd was not alone in his vivid description of the effects of liquor in the life of Iowans. His Congregational co-religionists, as well as many other Protestant and Catholic religious leaders, would have agreed with him. If Iowa had become a place where the manufacture, distribution and use of liquor had become unchristian by the end of the century, it was in no small measure due to the efforts of men and women like Todd who made temperance the primary social campaign from the settlement of Iowa well into the twentieth century. Those temperance workers, like their counterparts in other states, hoped that without liquor they would achieve what the historian Andrew Sinclair has described as “a world free from alcohol and, by that magic panacea, free also from want and crime and sin, a sort of millennial Kansas afloat on a nirvana of pure water!” However, as Iowa temperance reformers discovered they were not in Kansas anymore, and in spite of their best efforts nirvana was difficult to find.
White settlement began in Iowa in the late eighteenth century and slowly grew in the first thirty years of the nineteenth century. By 1838 the number of Iowans had grown to nearly 23,000, and on July 4 of that year Iowa became a territory. When news of its territorial status reached Burlington the citizens celebrated by drinking toasts, reportedly forty-six of them, to the new territory.
The first governor of the Iowa Territory was Robert Lucas, a Democrat from Ohio. In his first message to the territorial legislature Lucas set out a broad agenda to organize the territory. Included in a long list of actions he wanted the legislature to take was a criminal code to deal with “the whole catalogue of vices,” especially those vices with the “most disastrous consequences . . . namely: gambling and intemperance,” which Lucas said, were the “fountains from which almost every other crime proceeds.”
Lucas said if the legislators could “check the progress of gambling and intemperance” their actions would “immortalize [their] names and entitle [them] to the gratitude of posterity.” Succeeding generations of Iowa legislators would try to “check the progress” of intemperance by enacting laws, but their efforts did not bring immortality or even gratitude, but rather led to conflict and frustration.
Even before the legislature acted some local communities had already begun to limit the manufacture, sale and use of liquor. The articles of incorporation for Muscatine and Davenport gave local authorities the power to regulate liquor by licensing places that sold it. But although the legislature passed several temperance laws, in his second message to the legislature in 1839 Lucas noted that “intemperance was unchecked,” because the licensing of purveyors of liquor amounted to “legalizing indulgences to commit crime.” He called for the repeal of all licensing laws and recommended a local election whereby the community could decide the matter.
In the meantime citizen groups undertook their own efforts to check the progress of liquor in Iowa. The year following Lucas’ message he joined other Iowans in the formation of the “Iowa Territorial Temperance Society.” The hope of the Society was that “virtue, morality and temperance may be preserved and cherished in this our infant, though prosperous territory.” Lucas became the president of the Society and Territorial Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Mason served as vice-president.
There was already a temperance society in Fort Madison whose members wanted to discourage the use, manufacture and sale of liquor. Within a few years similar societies began in Fairfield, Iowa City, and Dubuque. The Burlington newspaper said that intemperance would be “banished” through the formation of these societies. The paper continued, “Next to the immortal interest of the soul, we believe the temperance cause to be the most important subject which can engage the attention of rational and accountable man.”
In 1839 the Davenport Temperance Society formed and in 1842 the Scott County Temperance Society was organized. Meeting in January 1843 the Davenport society said the good it had achieved in four years “must be apparent to all.” It described a Davenport where “the tavern and grogshop [had been] among the first places of general and nightly resort, [and where] could be seen about our streets and especially at certain places the staggering inebriate, the bloated and bloodshot eye, the blossomed nose, the cadaverous look, the parched and quivering lips and the tottering frame of the victim of intemperance.” Now because of the work of the Temperance Society, “there were comparatively few who we can say are the worse for liquor.” Nevertheless the Society admitted there were still a few places where liquor could be purchased, but it hoped that soon there would be fewer.
However rosy the picture painted by the Davenport group the hopes expressed by the Burlington newspaper would be difficult to achieve and sustain. Alcohol consumption was a regular part of American life. In 1810 there were some 14,000 distilleries in the United States producing 25 million gallons of liquor each year. By 1830 annual per capita consumption exceeded five gallons. Many feared that the United States was becoming an “alcoholic republic” but reformers were determined to reverse that trend.
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In the first decades of the nineteenth century reform movements sprang up across the nation. These were fueled by religious fervor and a sense of self-confidence that the Americans who had created a new nation could now recreate themselves. Among the reforms were labor issues, feminism, education, and abolition but no issue was as wide-spread and as fervently held by its advocates as temperance. As the century progressed two issues arising out of those reform movements became joined together: the vote for women and temperance.
Many of those reforms were secular in nature, people gathered together to improve society. But temperance was driven by religious motives; intemperance was a sin that destroyed families, created crime and lowered the level of civilized discourse in society. John Todd was one of dozens of co-religionists who came to Iowa to preach the gospel and work for temperance. They were joined by Methodist circuit riders who criss-crossed Iowa to spread the temperance message of the evils of liquor and to call for total abstinence.
Temperance was also an issue for the growing number of Catholics in Iowa. The Most Rev. Mathias Loras, the first Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dubuque, which then encompassed the entire state of Iowa, was a long-time advocate of temperance. He urged local pastors to form temperance societies in their parishes and pressured priests and seminarians to take pledges of abstinence from alcohol.
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In the last years of territorial Iowa enthusiasm for the temperance cause waned but with statehood in 1846 proponents of temperance in the new state legislature took up the cause again. In 1847 it passed a local option law that would allow the licensing of the sale of alcohol. The law provided for a county-wide election to determine whether licensing would be permitted in a county. Of the fifty counties then extent in Iowa, forty-nine counties (including Scott) voted against issuing licenses, a great victory for the temperance advocates. Nevertheless, undeterred by the inability to obtain a license, all over Iowa liquor dealers found ways to operate secretly and continue the flow of liquor.
Meanwhile groups of citizens continued to work for prohibition. At a state temperance convention in 1853 the delegates called for complete prohibition. Their goal was to enact in Iowa the same law as the state of Maine had enacted two years before. The “Maine Law” provided for the complete prohibition of alcohol and it became the model for temperance workers in Iowa and across the United States. To achieve their goal prohibitionists began to recruit and elect men who would vote for such a law. Their first victory was the election of James W. Grimes as governor in 1854. Born in New Hampshire, Grimes had read law and had come to Iowa at age 20 in 1836. He was a Congregationalist and worshiped in Burlington with a congregation led by one of Todd’s colleagues, William Salter.
Grimes had served in various political offices and he was a member of the Whig Party. The Whigs advocated government support of industrialization, banks, internal improvements and various reform issues including education, abolition and prohibition. Many of the immigrants from eastern and New England states who were coming into Iowa on the new railroads now spanning the Mississippi were Whigs and they brought those reforming beliefs with them. At their state convention in February 1854 the Whigs called for the “passage of a law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of ardent sprits within the State.” Within a few years most Whigs had joined the new Republican Party and brought their temperance views with them.
In his inaugural address delivered on December 8, 1854 Governor Grimes called for a prohibition law that would “dry up the streams of bitterness that this [liquor] traffic now pours over the land.” A few days later Representative Amos Witter from Dixon in Scott County introduced a prohibition law based on the Maine Law. Following weeks of debate the law passed 35-32 in the House and 23-8 in the Senate. But the goal of prohibitionists was not yet met since the law called for a vote by the citizens of Iowa to approve it.
Temperance groups around the state urged approval. Ministers made it part of their sermons. In his Lenten pastoral letter of 1855 Bishop Loras urged all Catholics to vote in favor of the liquor law. Opponents of the law said it could not be enforced and would create an atmosphere of falsehood in the state as proprietors sought ways to continue to sell alcohol. Liquor dealers and their supporters gathered in Dubuque for an “Anti-Iowa Liquor Law” meeting and declared the law to be “unconstitutional, pernicious to freedom and against human reason.”
Over 48,000 votes were cast in the April election and 25,555 Iowans, or 53% of those voting, voted to approve the law. But its opponents were correct that it was unenforceable. In Muscatine it was reported “that liquor is kept for sale, and sold, in this city by individuals . . . is a well known fact; that liquor is brought into the city in jugs, flasks, and men’s stomachs, contrary to law, is known to all; that liquor is sold at our wharf . . . is known by all.” A similar article with the same charges appeared in the Burlington newspaper.
Meanwhile the legislature continued to tinker with the law in response to the growing diversity of Iowans. In 1858 in a concession to German immigrants in the state, the prohibition law was amended to allow “the manufacture and sale of beer, cider from apples or wine from grapes, currants or other fruits grown in this state.”
In Scott County those German immigrants led the resistance to the attempts to ban liquor in the state. Spending Sunday afternoon at one of Davenport’s beer gardens, Turner halls, or German theaters was an important part of the lives of German families. Those activities helped define who they were as Germans and they served as a reminder of what they had left behind when they immigrated. Thus they had no sympathy for the moralizing Methodists, Congregationalists, Catholics and other reformers who wanted the millennial nirvana on the Mississippi. Their views were often reinforced by lectures and programs at the Turner Society. One year they heard a lecture entitled, “Is Water or Beer Preferable for the Health of Human Beings.” The answer may have come in a lecture delivered a few years later, “How Can We Counteract the Temperance Movement?”
At the 1882 convention of the National German Benevolent Society in Milwaukee the delegates professed their belief in temperance in all things, including drink, but at the same time they thought it “unwise” to condemn and prohibit “the gifts which Providence has bestowed such as wine and other beverages secured from fruits and grain.” As for the charge that alcohol abuse had filled the jails and poor houses the delegates pointed out that Maine, with its strict prohibition, had “no fewer beggars, insane and criminals than any other state.” To remedy the problems they advocated the proper moral education of the youth.
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Meanwhile, various church groups and temperance organizations kept pressure on for the prohibition law and its enforcement. Meeting in 1871 a statewide Methodist convention declared it would not “rest short of a thorough prohibitory law that will ultimately sweep from our soil the accursed traffic.” The Iowa State Temperance Association urged its members to support prohibition. The Peoples’ Temperance Association, an organization of former drinkers, advocated a license law.
By the late 1870s prohibition forces realized that the current law was not accomplishing their goals. As one editor wrote in 1876, there was a “prohibitory enactment in the Code and liquor in most places [was] flowing as freely if not so cheaply as water.” So they turned their attention to a new tactic: a constitutional amendment to dry up Iowa.
The first mention of an amendment came at the annual convention of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Burlington in October 1878. There they passed a resolution to petition the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment to “forever” prohibit the “manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors, including wine, beer, ale and cider.” Within a year other statewide temperance groups had endorsed the idea.
The Iowa Constitution can be amended by the passage of a proposed amendment in two successive General Assemblies and a ratifying vote of the people. Proponents of an amendment were ready when the General Assembly met in January 1880 and in March an amendment that prohibited the sale of “any intoxicating liquors whatever, including ale, wine and beer,” was passed by both houses of the legislature.
In January 1882 the amendment was passed a second time and sent to the voters for ratification. Now both sides turned their attention to turning out the citizens of Iowa for the vote. In general the arguments in favor of the amendment rehearsed the arguments prohibitionists had used for years: liquor was responsible for crime and family strife and the public welfare demanded that the amendment be approved. Opposition to the amendment was led by the Iowa Brewers Association which argued it would violate personal liberty and be an economic hardship on brewers and distillers. Moreover they said the constitution was not the appropriate place for something that was a matter for the police. And finally, they asked given the difficulties encountered by prohibition laws in the past, how would the amendment be enforced.
The referendum was held on June 27 and the amendment was ratified with 55% of the vote. Seventy-five counties voted for it, twenty-three against and in one county (Van Buren) the vote was tied. All the Mississippi River Counties, from Allamakee to Lee, except Muscatine and Louisa, voted against it.
The referendum was barely over when its opponents began efforts to nullify it in their communities. In Council Bluffs, for example, the city council entered into an agreement with the saloon keepers of the city that allowed them to remain in business but pay a regular fine, in effect licensing them.
In Davenport with its large population of German-Americans this resistance became a way of life. When told he had to enforce the law, Mayor Ernst Claussen replied that he might have a duty to enforce the law but it wasn’t “his duty to make himself a smelling committee.” Moreover, the mayor gave a name to this resistance. Echoing the battle cry of Schleswig Holsteiners who had resisted Danish law, Claussen said, “The liquor law of the State of Iowa will not be enforced in the free and independent State of Scott.”
Meanwhile in Davenport a routine business transaction between brewers and a saloon-keeper became a lawsuit that brought down the constitutional amendment. Some Iowa attorneys, including Hans Reimer Claussen, a Davenport attorney and long-time leader in the German community in Davenport, noticed a flaw in the process of the passage and ratification of the amendment. It seems the wording of the version passed by the legislature was different from the version on the ratification ballot provided to Iowa voters. With that Davenport saloon-keeper John Hill bought $100 worth of beer from brewers Hy Koehler and Rudolph Lange. But when Koehler and Lange submitted the bill Hill refused to pay, claiming he could not lawfully pay for beer sold in violation of the constitution.
Koehler and Lange sued for payment and argued before the District Court judge that the amendment had not been passed and ratified in the precise manner called for in the Iowa Constitution. The judge ruled in their favor and Hill appealed the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court. In January 1883 the Supreme Court agreed with Koehler and Lange and declared that the Amendment was invalid.
Reaction across the state to the Court’s decision was predictable. In Council Bluffs the newspaper said it had removed a “dangerous provision” from the Constitution. In Davenport it was reported that the decision was received with “considerable satisfaction.” Some drys attempted to resubmit the amendment through the legislature but that avenue proved futile. Others wanted to return to Court for a rehearing but the Supreme Court turned them down.
At their convention that summer the Democrats called for a “well regulated license law.” At the Republican convention the chairman Col. David B. Henderson declared, “My friends, the wife and child of the ‘drunkard’ are raising their hands to you for aid. Their appeal will not be unheard.” Those sentiments were played out in the 1883 fall election of members to the General Assembly where the Republicans gained control of both houses.
When the legislators met early the next year those Republicans quickly went to work. An attempt was made to begin the amendment process again but it went nowhere. In the end a strong prohibition law was passed that outlawed all intoxicating liquids including beer, ale, and wine, which had been exempted in earlier laws. Iowa now had absolute prohibition. However, pharmacists could still sell alcohol for medicinal, mechanical, culinary, and sacramental purposes which led some pharmacists to go to work for former saloon keepers.
The new law went into effect on July 4, 1884. There was open defiance of the law in Davenport. The city soon began to collect license fees from the 200 saloons that operated in Davenport. In Burlington the front doors of saloons were closed but customers went in the back door. In Dubuque the newspaper said people understood that the new law would not be enforced. In Council Bluffs and Des Moines local governments considered allowing saloons to remain open by paying a tax.
In large cities the defiance of the law was open. In words that echoed John Todd one observer noted:
Even at the 1889 republican convention time the Savery Hotel drug store in Des Moines had lines of men going through the form of signing certificates that the whiskey being bought was for medicinal purposes. Bell boys would go out and bring in beer and whiskey for any guests who ordered the beverages. In the county and district headquarters was to be found in most cases, bathtubs stocked with ice and beer, and the night before the party declared for no backward step on liquor legislation and that prohibition had become the settled policy of the state, many delegates and officials were up till the small hours treating and drinking at hotel headquarters. With such exhibitions of hypocrisy it is little wonder that defeat was in store for the party.
In other places the reaction was stronger. There were riots in Iowa City and the militia was called out in case it was needed. A Sioux City minister was murdered as he attempted to enforce the law. Attorneys who attempted to prosecute violators were met with threats and in some cases their property was burned. Nevertheless in his closing address before leaving office in January 1886, Governor Buren R. Sherman said that “Notwithstanding the adverse opinions and unfriendly criticisms . . . there is no doubt the Prohibitory Liquor Law has been reasonably successful.”
The new governor, William Larrabee was determined to enforce the law. His position was made clear in his inaugural address when he referred to the saloon as the “bank where money, time, strength, manliness, self-control and happiness are deposited to be lost, where drafts are drawn on the widows and orphans, and where dividends are paid only to his Satanic Majesty. Let it perish.” To determine the extent of the problem in 1887 Larrabee called on each Iowa county to report how many saloons were in operation. Davenport Mayor Claussen, who led a city that routinely collected license fees from the saloons, replied, presumably with a straight face, that he did not know how many saloons there were in Davenport.
By now the issue had been thoroughly politicized. In 1859 the Democrats had put a plank in their platform against the 1855 law. Under pressure from the Liquor Dealers Association, the Democrats reiterated their opposition to the law in their 1866 platform declaring the law was, “inconsistent with the genius of a free people, and unjust and burdensome in its operations.” The next year the Democrats called for a license law.
On their part the Republicans pledged to support only candidates who “squarely stood on temperance principles.” But as the 1889 election approached the Republican Party was split into two factions: the moderates who were willing to allow for local option on the liquor question and the drys that were opposed to anything but total prohibition. The drys were the dominant faction and as the decade passed, prohibitionism and Republicanism became inseparable. Consequently, the 1889 Republican state convention was packed with radical drys. Joseph Hutchinson, an undistinguished politician, but a dry, emerged as the gubernatorial nominee. But Hutchinson was unacceptable to the moderates so they were left with two choices: stay home or vote Democratic.
In 1889 and 1891 the moderates took one of those options and Democrat Horace Boies was elected as the fourteenth governor. This was a shock to the Republicans. Their division on the liquor issue had cost them the governor’s office, the first loss of that office they had suffered since the first Republican governor was elected in 1858. As the 1893 gubernatorial election approached the Republican problem was how to “shake the albatross of dry platforms” and regain the statehouse.
In March 1893 the Republican State Central Committee met in Des Moines to plan the state convention. They hoped to present a platform with a prohibition plank that would unify the dry and moderate factions of the party. The committee had two problems. They recognized that the strong identification of prohibition with Republicanism was forcing the moderate Republicans to turn to the Democrats, yet they did not want to alienate the drys. Second, they had to face the fact that prohibition did not work.
The problem, then, was how to reorient the party away from the rigid and unrealistic dry position and thus win back the wandering moderates and with them the statehouse. The first part of the central committee’s plan had a stroke of genius about it: the committee persuaded James Harlan to be temporary chairman of the convention and to make the keynote address. Harlan was one of the founders of the Iowa Republican Party. He had served as United State senator from 1855 to 1873. In 1882 had had supported the prohibition amendment but when it was ruled null, he took the position that the same result could be achieved by legislation.
Harlan began his speech by listing his credentials as a Republican. He then asked the convention, “If I do not know what Republicanism and its legitimate fruits are who does?” He maintained that the recent defeats had nothing to do with the basic principles of Republicanism. Rather he said recent Republican platforms had included specific proposed laws, and although he did not mention any specific law, everyone who heard him knew he was referring to prohibition laws. Instead he urged the party to stand on the principles on which it had been founded.
The speech was greeted with a “tremendous storm of applause” and the central committee moved quickly and inserted a platform plank that asserted, “Prohibition is not a test of Republicanism.” That seemed to settle the issue, at least for a time, and Republican voters returned to the fold and elected Frank Jackson, returning the statehouse to the Republicans, a position they would not lose for another forty years.
In his inaugural address Governor Jackson said that prohibition was satisfactory in many places, nevertheless, “wisdom, justice, and the interests of temperance and morality demand that a modification of this law should be made” in those communities where saloons existed “to the end of reducing the evils of liquor traffic to the minimum.” A number of liquor bills were introduced into the legislature in 1894, but the one which seemed to meet the governor’s criterion of modification was the mulct law.
Based on a similar law in Ohio, the mulct law provided that a tax of six hundred dollars be levied against anyone, other than a registered pharmacist, who sold liquor. Upon payment of the tax they could continue to sell liquor and not be subject to prosecution. The law provided that the citizens of a county could call for a referendum to decide whether the mulct would be offered in that county. The mulct was in no way construed as a legalization of liquor, thus satisfying the drys; at the same time it allowed local option sales of liquor, the goal of the wet moderates. The practical result of the mulct law was that by virtue of paying a tax the local government allowed the law to be broken.
The mulct law struck a balance between the religious crusaders who wanted a “millennial Kansas afloat on a nirvana of pure water” and the political reality that such a place did not and could not exist. As one newspaper editor in a very dry county wrote, “Let’s be practical, and not sentimental. . . . We are on earth . . . we are not in heaven, or living where perfect social conditions can be manufactured and maintained. It would be foolish to legislate as angels and for angels, when there isn’t an angel in all of Iowa.” 
By 1906 the mulct law was in operation in forty-three counties with a total of 1,770 saloons. Those saloons paid a total of $1,474,145.20 in tax revenue. In Davenport the proceeds from the mulct tax, added to the license fees, made law-breaking a cash cow for the city. In 1902 the city’s general fund had a surplus of $70,000 dollars and the city council eliminated the property tax. In 1909 a writer in Harper’s Weekly noted that although the mulct law is “as illogical a law . . . as can be found anywhere,” still it came to accepted as “the final solution of the liquor problem in the State.”
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Still the moral crusade against liquor and vice in general continued. Bishop Henry Cosgrove urged his priests to form temperance societies. So at the end of their annual retreat in 1895 the priests of the diocese formed a Total Abstinence Society where each one pledged to refrain from the use of alcoholic beverages. But in spite of the best efforts of the advocates of temperance, the problem of alcohol continued.
In 1903 Bishop Cosgrove called for a crusade against alcohol. Cosgrove was not a tea totaling prohibitionist, and in a nod to his German American congregants he said that wine and beer were “things . . . God has given us to use.” Rather he objected to the saloon which stayed open Saturday night and far into Sunday, which he viewed as a violation of the Sabbath.
In early 1903 he asked pastors, temperance societies, fraternal groups and the city council to demand enforcement of the laws in place and for a moral reform of society. He said he liked Davenport but he could not sit still “while it is going to the devil.” Fr. James Davis, the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral summed up the situation in Davenport in a sermon on Sunday, January 18. Davis said, “intemperance is on the increase . . . Public officers seem powerless. . . . Prohibition legislation is a failure . . . The saloons are open all day and night with wine room attachments and gambling devices of all kinds running without leave or license.” The pastors of the other Catholic parishes took to their pulpits on that same day with similar messages.
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Cosgrove and his priests sought to limit the hours saloons were open for business. That same year a new organization appeared in Iowa whose goal was to shut down the saloons altogether. The Anti-Saloon League had been founded in 1893 in Ohio and within a few years had become a national organization.
In Iowa the Anti-Saloon League joined other established temperance organizations and religious groups to further limit the availability of liquor. When Warren Garst became Governor in November 1908 he professed his belief in “local self-government and [that] each community should be left to the control of its own local affairs” including the control of liquor. But he also called for stronger enforcement of the laws already in place, declaring, we must “strengthen the barriers we have tried to place between the saloon power and our boys and men.”
Garst’s successor, Beryl F. Carroll also stressed enforcement of the current law and the legislature considered many proposed laws but passed only a few. The only new law that had an impact on liquor enforcement was the so-called “Moon Law” passed in 1909. Named for Senator Edwin G. Moon, a Democrat from Ottumwa, the law set a limit on liquor licenses a city could issue to one for each 1,000 residents. Exceptions were made for large cities, presumably like Davenport and the other river cities, that current licenses would not have to be revoked to achieve the goal the law established.
Like the Mulct Law it was imperfect; nevertheless, it seemed to work. By September 1912 the number of saloons in Iowa was half the number in 1908. Gov. Carroll said that “the liquor laws of the state are better enforced today than they have been at any time in recent years.” The Republicans took credit for the change claiming that under Republican control “temperance sentiment has been promoted, temperance territory extended, and saloon influence minimized” and they promised that “no backward step” would “imperil the moral welfare of the state.”
Still it was not enough for the Anti-Saloon League and the various temperance groups. They began to push for a constitutional amendment to prohibit liquor in Iowa. Now that issue was joined with another social reform: woman suffrage. The view was that since women and children were the principal victims of drinking they would vote to ban liquor. Years before Susan B. Anthony, one of the leaders in the woman’s movement in the nineteenth century said the “only hope of the Anti-Saloon League’s success lies in putting the ballot into the hands of women.”
Over the next few years the Anti-Saloon League and suffrage supporters worked together to add suffrage and prohibition amendments to the Iowa Constitution. One important group in this ad hoc coalition was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The Iowa chapter had been founded in 1874 and it had been pro-suffrage since its fourth convention in 1877. It was aware that the fiercest opponent of woman’s suffrage was the liquor industry so the WCTU joined other groups in a dual campaign for the vote and prohibition.
In the 1913 session of the Iowa General Assembly the legislature passed a suffrage amendment and it passed it again in 1915. The ratifying vote by Iowa voters, all of whom were male, was scheduled for June 5, 1916. Some opponents of suffrage said if women entered the public arena they would be “pulled down” to the level of men; instead they should stay at home tending to their husbands and children. Others said women would vote as their husband told them to so there would be little impact on the outcome of elections. Still others suggested that if husbands and wives voted for different candidates it would cause strife in the household. However, the most common reason given against suffrage was that if women were given the vote they would likely vote for prohibition. Not surprisingly, Iowa liquor dealers and brewers were the most vocal opponents of the amendment.
When the votes were counted the suffrage amendment lost. Of the more than 335,000 votes cast, the amendment lost by 10,000 votes; 48% were for it and 52% were against. The largest vote against it came in the larger Iowa counties and in the Mississippi River counties with large numbers of German stock.
In the meantime the 1915 General Assembly that had passed the suffrage amendment for the second time had also passed a prohibition amendment. Moreover, the dry forces also repealed the Mulct Law, thus creating statutory prohibition of the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors, including “alcohol, ale, wine, beer, spirituous, vinous and malt liquor” in Iowa. Thus, in theory liquor would be banned in Iowa no matter what happened to the constitutional amendment.
When the General Assembly met again in early 1917 it passed the prohibition amendment for the second time and established October 15, 1917 for the ratifying vote by Iowa voters. Now many of the same groups who had worked to pass the suffrage amendment the year before joined forces to pass the prohibition amendment.
On election day 78% of Scott County voters were against the amendment. The day after the vote the Davenport Democrat reported that in Scott County the vote was not a landslide but a “tidal wave” against the amendment. There were only two precincts in the county that voted dry. As described by the newspaper, the upper wards of the city were “good and damp,” while the lower wards were “soaking wet.”
In the rest of the state, however, the totals were not so decisive and the citizens waited nearly two weeks for the final count to be certified. In the end the amendment lost by only 932 votes out of a total of 430,588 votes cast. Fifty-six counties voted for the amendment; forty-three counties, including all the Mississippi River counties, voted against it.
Advocates on both sides of the issue met to plan for their next effort. Some wanted the legislature to repeal the prohibition law they had passed the year before but Gov. William Harding said there was not “much chance” of that happening. Prohibitionists wanted to try another constitutional amendment but the governor pointed out that the legislature would not meet again until 1919 so nothing more could be done until then.
But by the time the Iowa General Assembly convened again in 1919 the United States Congress had passed and sent to the states the Eighteenth Amendment establishing national prohibition. Iowa was the thirty-first state to ratify it on January 15, 1919 and the next day ratification by Nebraska put the amendment into the Constitution. Later that year the Congress sent the Nineteenth Amendment granting the vote to women to the states. Iowa was the tenth state to ratify it and within a year it too was added to the Constitution. The two interlocked issues of temperance and suffrage lost in Iowa but the goals of their advocates were achieved by national amendments.
For religious leaders and church groups who advocated a dry state, the use of liquor was a moral question. But even among co-religionists there were differences on tactics and even on the question of morality. Moreover, the temperance world view did not account for cultural issues raised by among others the German-Americans in Scott County.
Although there was now national prohibition, as Iowans had discovered since Governor Robert Lucas first called for the abolition of alcohol, enforcement of the resulting legislation proved to be an intractable problem. As open defiance of national prohibition during the 1920s shows, no law or constitutional amendment would eliminate what the people would prefer to keep. Temperance advocates may have wanted a “millennial Kansas afloat on a nirvana of pure water,” but many citizens of the State of Scott joined the citizens of the State of Iowa in a journey to cross the dry desert to Nirvana, but found they were very happy to stop at the first oasis with a saloon.
 John Todd, Early Settlement and Growth of Western Iowa or Reminiscences, (Des Moines, The Historical Department of Iowa, 1906) pp. 177-178.
 Andrew Sinclair, Prohibition: The Era of Excess, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1962), p. 4.
 Robert Lucas, Executive Journal of Iowa, Message to Legislature, November 12, 1838, pp. 49-50.
 Dan Elbert Clark, “The Beginnings of Liquor Legislation in Iowa,” The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, April 1907, p, 198,
 Ibid, pp. 201-202.
 Burlington Hawk-eye and Iowa Patriot, November 21, 1839.
 Clark, IJHP, April 1907, p. 200.
 Davenport Gazette, January 18, 1843.
 George Brown Tindall with David E. Shi, America, A Narrative History, Third Edition, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992), p. 509.
 W. J. Rorabaugh, The Alcoholic Republic, An American Tradition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).
 Dan Elbert Clark, “The History of Liquor Legislation in Iowa 1846-1861,” The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, January 1908, p. 69.
 Ibid. p. 73.
 Ibid. p. 77.
 Ibid. p .80.
 Ibid., p. 87.
 Donald Sitz, “The Davenport Germans, A Folk History,” Contemporary Club Papers, May 14, 1991.
 Moline Review-Dispatch, September 29, 1882.
 Dan Elbert Clark, “The History of Liqu8or Legislation in Iowa 1861-1878, The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, July 1908, p. 354.
 Ibid., p. 365.
 Dan Elbert Clark, “The History of Liquor Legislation in Iowa 1878-1908, The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, October 1908, p. 504.
 Ibid. p. 525.
 Ibid. p. 529.
 Sharon E. Wood, The Freedom of the Streets, Work, Citizenship, and Sexuality in a Gilded Age City,” (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), p. 3.
 Richard, Lord Acton and Patricia Nassif Acton, To Go Free, A Treasury of Iowa’s Legal Heritage, (Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University Press, 1995), p. 175.
Clark, IJHP, October, 1908, p. 532.
 Ibid, p. 536.
 David Brant, “David Brant’s Iowa Political Sketches,” Iowa Journal of History, October 1955, p. 362.
 Ibid., p. 550-551.
 Ibid., p. 551.
 Clark, IJHP, July 1908, p. 343.
 Ibid., p. 349.
 George W. McDaniel, “Prohibition Debate I Washington County, 1890-1894: Smith Wildman Brookhart’s Introduction to Politics,” The Annals of Iowa, Winter, 1981 , pp. 519-536.
 Ibid., p. 529.
 Washington County Press, January 31, 1894.
 Wood, Freedom of the Streets, p. 181.
 Harper’s Weekly, June 19, 1909, p. 13.
 Madeleine M. Schmidt, CHM, Seasons of Growth, History of the Diocese of Davenport, 1881-198, (The Diocese of Davenport, 1981), p. 126.
 Wood, p. 239.
 Schmidt, p. 127.
 The Catholic Messenger, January 24, 1903.
 Dan Elbert Clark, “Recent Liquor Legislation in Iowa,” Iowa Journal of History and Politics,
January 1917, p. 47.
 Ibid., p. 50.
 Ibid., p. 51.
 Daniel Okrent, “Wayne B. Wheeler: The Man Who Turned Off the Taps,” Smithsonian, May 2010.
 Dorothy Schwieder, Iowa The Middle Land, (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1996), p. 227.
 Clark, IJHP, January 1917, p. 62.
 Davenport Democrat, October 17, 1917.
 Davenport Daily Times, October 18, 1917.