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Dry—or Wet?

In the end, Edmondson pierced the weak point of the Drys’ armor—the hypocrisy that many of them practiced. For if biblical/moral arguments against the evils of drinking were their uniform motivation in opposing the distribution of liquor, they would not have been moved by the afore-mentioned financial justifications for rolling back Prohibition. Nor should the arrest of lawbreakers have shaken them. In fact, the revenues generated by the latter would have helped offset the continued loss of the former.


Indeed, were Oklahoma truly a “dry” state, Edmondson’s ruthless campaign should have been a win-win for Prohibition. It would have decimated the illegal liquor industry at every stage of its cycle, while generating its own, perhaps millions of dollars’ worth, of precious revenues for state coffers.


Instead, Edmondson flushed out the large pretend faction among the Drys. His shrewd campaign to make enforcement laws stick turned many Oklahoma voters away from the complacency of their Dry voting and Wet practice, and into ardent Prohibition opponents. These included hotel, restaurant, and club imbibers, conventioneers, and even bootleggers who had previously thrived with the lack of legal competition for their product.


All of this stoked the already significant opposition to Prohibition in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. Those urban centers traditionally vote with somewhat less allegiance to conservative social mores such as alcohol abstinence than their rural neighbors. Moreover, in a reversal of the statehood-era Prohibition contests of a half-century before, the Drys now faced an uphill fundraising battle against the Wets.


On April 7, 1959, Oklahoma voters overthrew both state Prohibition and Will Rogers’ famed com