/ Politics

The Rand Liquor Ordinance (1892)

Minneapolis was caught up in the alcohol temperance movement that blanketed the United States in the second half of the 19th century. Since its earliest days, the intoxicating liquors industry had found itself at the center of a conflict between those that saw alcohol as a corruptible influence on society and those that lauded the right to drink at their leisure. By the 1880s the struggle between the factions had grown to a fevered pitch. Temperance proponents, believing that ‘King Alcohol’ was a factor in much of the city’s crime, increased efforts to control the liquor industry.

Although it had been a hot-button issue for years, the intoxicating liquors business had remained mostly unregulated. By 1882, due in part to lax regulations, Minneapolis had 252 saloons scattered throughout the city. Just two years later the number had grown to 523. In 1884, to try and curtail this trend, Minneapolis mayor George A. Pillsbury instituted liquor patrol limits into that year’s plan for the city. Pillsbury’s proposal mandated that all saloons be located along busy streets in the city’s core and within walking distance of local police.

Around the same period, city advocacy groups championed the belief that police weren’t adequately enforcing local liquor laws and decided to take matters into their own hands to increase legal focus on Minneapolis saloons. A section of the city’s regulations stated that owners of liquor-serving establishments could be charged with a crime based on complaints lodged against them by any of the city’s voting citizens. Temperance advocates employed liquor ‘crusaders’ to spy on saloons and report liquor law violators.

The whistleblower system continued for years. While advocates lauded their fight against the saloons, crime-spotters did not receive universal praise. Proponents believed that the efforts of the Minneapolis crusaders were ‘irrepressible,’ but a growing number of local citizens felt that they had crossed the line. In their eyes, crusaders had become little more than politically-motivated vigilante watchdogs. Democratic members of the Minneapolis city council shared this sentiment and began to take steps to try and limit their power.

On January 7, 1892, Sixth Ward Alderman Lars M. Rand suggested reforms to take enforcement the liquor laws away from the crusaders and place it into the hands of city police. His amendments came before the city council near the end of the February 12, 1892, session. Rand’s legislation proposed changes to sections nine and twelve of the standing Minneapolis liquor laws. First, violators could only be charged with a crime based on the complaints of city police officers. Second, saloon owners that had their liquor license revoked would be entitled to a prorated refund of their initial fee based on the remainder of the licensing term.

The tone of the evening soon changed for the worse as politicians on both sides of the issue argued the merits of passing or defeating the measure. A series of procedural maneuvers followed to attempt to move the legislation back into committee, but each motion was denied. The one-and-a-half hour argument saw nine pro-temperance Republican council members exit the room in protest, leaving ten Democrats and five Republicans to decide its fate. Each of the remaining fifteen members voted for the passage of the ordinance. On February 16, 1892, Mayor Philip B. Winston signed the legislation, publicly known as the ‘Rand Liquor Ordinance,’ making it law.

The public uproar over was immediate. Republicans, distancing their party from the decision, lamented the Rand ordinance as a ‘Democratic victory.’ Legal professionals questioned its legality, noting that the Minneapolis charter afforded citizens the right to make claims against lawbreakers. Advocacy groups vowed to disregard the law and continue using crusaders in the fight against lawlessness in saloons. Mass protests broke out in the city only days after the amendment passed. Even Rand attempted to distance himself from the legislation, noting that politician David Clough proposed similar ordinances in December of 1891.

Legal challenges began soon after the passage of the Rand amendments. In an April 1892 case against saloon keeper W.H. Harris, Municipal Judge Charles B. Elliot ruled that the section that required police officers to levy complaints against liquor ordinance violators was unlawful. The judge determined that the council didn’t have the power to take this right away from private citizens. With this decision, the city liquor law reverted to the previous iteration. Rand appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court. On January 21, 1895, the Minnesota high court overturned the decisions of the lower court and held that the ordinance was valid.

While the matter was now decided in the courts, the political battle was far from over. On January 26, 1895, Hennepin County Senator Gustav Theden introduced a bill to circumvent the Rand amendment by re-authorizing the “privilege of any elector” to make a complaint relative to the violation of the intoxicating liquor laws of both the city and the state. After a series of debates in committee, the Theden bill passed the Senate on March 13 by a 70–37 margin. Governor David M. Clough, the man that first proposed legislation that became the Rand ordinance, signed it into law on March 19th. His signature nullified one of the two amendments introduced by Rand in 1892.

In the fall of 1904 Minneapolis Alderman E.W. Clark proposed an amendment to overturn the second provision of the Rand ordinance. On August 25, 1905, after more than a decade of political and legal battles, the last vestige of the Rand amendments was replaced by the Minneapolis city council with the passing of Clark's liquor license ordinance. Rand put forward a new law to attempt to overturn Clark’s, but it was politically imprudent in a time of increasing temperance to favor the measure. It was voted down in committee by a 15 - 9 margin.

Bibliography available here.

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Matt Reicher

Matt has a BA in history from Metropolitan State University and a MA in museum studies from Oklahoma University.

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