Governor George Abernethy's Administration

Liquor Veto Message, 1846

Source: Oregon Archives, Journals, Governors' Messages and Public Papers of Oregon, Salem, Asahel Bush, Public Printer, 1853

Oregon City, Dec. 17, 1846


I return to your honorable body the set entitled “An act to regulate the manufacture and sale of wine and distilled spirituous liquors,” with my objections to the same.

Previous to our organization as a provisional government, public sentiment kept liquor from being manufactured or sold in this territory. Heretofore, every act of the legislature has been, as far as ardent spirits were concerned, prohibitory in character. The act laying before me is the first act that has in any manner attempted to legalize the manufacture and sale of ardent spirits. At the session of the legislature in June 1844, an act was passed entitled “An act to prevent the introduction, sale, and distillation of ardent spirits in Oregon,” and as far as my knowledge extends, the passage of that act gave satisfaction to the great majority of the people throughout the territory. At the session of December, 1845, several amendments were proposed to the old law, and passed. The new features given to the bill by those amendment did not accord with the views of the people; the insertion of the words “give” and “gift,” in the first and second sections of the bill, they thought was taking away their rights, as it was considered that a many had a right to give away his property if he chose. There were several other objections to the bill, which I set forth to your honorable body in my message. I would therefore recommend that the amendments passed at the Dec. session of 1845, be repealed; and that the law passed on the 24th June, 1844, with such alterations as will make it agree with the organic law, if it does not agree with it, be again made the law of the land. It is said by many that the legislature has no right to prohibit the introduction or sale of liquor, and this is probably the strongest argument used in defense of your bill. But do you not as effectually prohibit every person who has not the sum of one, two, or three hundred dollars to pay for his licence, as does the law now on the statute book? Are not your proposed fines and penalties, as great or greater than those of the old law? Where, then, is the benefit to the people? There is no doubt in my mind, but that the law will be evaded as easily, and as often, under the new law, as it was under the old, and, in addition to this, there will be the legal manufacturers, importers, and sellers, who will be able, under the sanction of law, to scatter all the evils attendant upon the use of alcoholic drinks. We are in an Indian country; men will be found who will supply them with liquor as long as they have beaver, blankets, and horses to pay for it. If a quantity should be introduced among the Walla-wallas, and other tribes in the upper country, who can foretell the consequences—there we have families exposed out, off from the protection of the settlements, and perhaps at the first drunken frolic of the Indians in that region, they may be cut off from the face of the earth. But we need not go so far; we are exposed in every part of our frontier, and when difficulties once commence, we cannot tell where they will cease.

It has been proved before the house of commons that one-half of the insanity, two-thirds of the pauperism, and three-fourths of the crimes of Great Britain, may be directly traced to the use of alcoholic drink. The testimony of our most eminent judges in the United States, shows that the same proportion of crime is attributable to ardent spirits in that country. Statistics might be produced, showing the enormous evil and expense of an indiscriminate use of liquor.

As to revenue, the small amount received for licenses, instead of being a revenue, would be swallowed up in the expenses attending trials for crimes, &c., cause by the crime of these licenses.

But, leaving all other countries out of view, let us consider our own state. Surrounded by Indians, no military force to aid the executive and other officers in the discharge of their duties, not a solitary prison in the land, in which to confine offenders against the laws, and consequently no way of enforcing the penalties of the law. I think these things should call for calm and serious reflection, before passing your final vote on this bill. My opinion is, the people are opposed to legalizing the introduction and sale of liquor in this land. I may be mistaken, and therefore should be in favor of the old law, or something similar should be adopted, of referring the whole matter to the polls at the next general election. If the people say “no liquor,” continue to prohibit; if they say, through the ballot box, “we wish liquor,” then let it come free, the same as dry goods, or any other article imported or manufactured; but, until the people say they want it, I hope you will use your influence to keep it out of the territory.

It is with regret that I return any bill unsigned, but I feel that we both have duties to perform, and when we think duty points out the way, I trust we may always be found willing to follow it.


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