Responding to pressure from local temperance advocates, the Indiana General Assembly passed a law in 1855 that banned the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors except for medicinal, chemical, or sacramental purposes. This effectively closed every tavern in the state. In Indianapolis, the local German community was particularly hard hit, and many German-owned saloons and beer gardens remained open in defiance of the new law. As local authorities attempted to implement the law by closing saloons and arresting their owners, the city experienced a series of riots.

Organized legal resistance began on July 2, 1855, with the arrest of Indianapolis saloon keeper Roderick Beebe. Fined $50 in the mayor’s court, Beebe refused to pay and was imprisoned. Following the arrest and imprisonment of a second Indianapolis saloon keeper, William Hermann, Beebe appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Although arguments for the case were heard before the court adjourned for the summer, its final decision was postponed until the fall term. While the court was in recess, Hermann appealed to Supreme Court Justice Samuel E. Perkins to issue a writ of habeas corpus and release him from the county jail. In doing so, Perkins, a well-known opponent of prohibition, stated that the law was unconstitutional since the legislature could not completely prohibit the liquor business or the right of an individual to select what he or she chose to eat or drink.

During the November term, Perkins’ decision in the Hermann case was confirmed when the state Supreme Court decided in Beebe’s favor, holding that the law was unconstitutional on the grounds that it was destructive of property rights of manufacturers, sellers, and consumers. With the court’s decision in the Beebe case, the law was overturned and prohibition in Indiana ended until the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1919.

Revised February 2021

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