Washington voters exercise the powers to pass initiatives and to directly elect United States senators for the first time as they enact Prohibition and re-elect Wesley L. Jones on November 3, 1914.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 10/10/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9950
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On November 3, 1914, Washington voters for the first time exercise the powers to pass laws directly via initiative and to reject laws passed by the state legislature via referendum, which they gained through a 1912 state constitutional amendment. The empowered electorate approves a state prohibition on the manufacture and sale of alcohol and abolishes private employment agencies, but soundly rejects five other initiative measures as well as two acts referred to voters by the legislature as referendum measures. In the state's first direct popular vote for United States Senator (senators were previously chosen by the state legislature), Republican incumbent Wesley L. Jones (1863-1932) wins re-election.

Direct Democracy

The 1914 general election was the first to be held after amendments to the state and federal constitutions significantly increased voters' powers. Amendment 7 to the Washington Constitution, which the legislature adopted in 1911 and voters approved in 1912, gave voters the powers of initiative (the ability to enact a state law by popular vote, bypassing the legislature) and referendum (the ability to reject a law passed by the legislature). Nationally, the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which took effect in 1913, mandated that U.S. senators be elected directly by the people of each state. Previously the Constitution allowed state legislatures to choose senators.

Both these advances in direct democracy were championed by the Progressive movement, which advocated a wide range of reforms and wielded considerable political power in the early years of the twentieth century. Progressives and their allies advocated for such reforms as municipal ownership of essential services, labor rights, woman suffrage, and Prohibition. For Progressives, giving voters the power of "direct legislation" -- initiative, referendum, recall of elected officials, direct election of senators, and direct primaries (nominees chosen by popular vote rather than party leaders) -- was both a goal in itself and a means to win further reforms.

In Washington, temperance advocates like the Prohibition Party, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the Anti-Saloon League had for years unsuccessfully sought statewide Prohibition legislation. In 1911, the legislature, tired of constant battles over liquor laws, refused to consider further legislation on the issue. However, direct election reforms were more popular, and the Anti-Saloon League and other Prohibition supporters joined the Washington State Grange, the State Federation of Labor, and many others in a Progressive coalition that convinced the 1911 legislature to adopt constitutional amendments providing for initiative, referendum, and recall powers.

Initiating Prohibition

After voters approved the amendments in November 1912, the Anti-Saloon League wasted no time in taking advantage of the new power of initiative. The statewide prohibition initiative was first filed with the Secretary of State's office on January 2, 1914, as Initiative 1, the first initiative filing in the state's history (all initiatives, which must be filed prior to collecting signatures to qualify for the ballot, are numbered consecutively; most of the 1,184 initiatives filed as of June 1, 2011, never made it to the ballot). Refiled six days later, the prohibition measure went to the ballot as Initiative 3. Prepared by George C. Conger, a veteran prohibition campaigner dispatched by the national Anti-Saloon League to head the state chapter, Initiative 3 banned the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquor, but not its possession (drugstores were authorized to sell liquor if requested by a doctor or a clergyman, and residents were allowed to import liquor for personal use).

Prohibition had long been more popular in rural areas and small towns than in cities, and supporters recognized that the cities, especially Seattle, would be key to a statewide victory -- their goal was to keep the margin close enough in urban precincts that rural votes would carry the measure to victory. It was not easy -- in Seattle the press and most of the establishment vigorously opposed Initiative 3. Proponents countered with Reverend Mark Matthews (1867-1940) of Seattle’s First Presbyterian Church, whose fiery speeches and daily revival meetings galvanized support for the measure. Despite the best efforts of Matthews, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, and other advocates, Prohibition won only 39 percent of the voter in Seattle, and also trailed in the state's second and third largest cities, Spokane and Tacoma. But the Prohibitionists' strategy prevailed -- the fourth and fifth largest cities, Everett and Bellingham, supported Initiative 3, as did enough smaller communities to pass the measure by a statewide total of 189,840 votes to 171,208.  Prohibition in Washington took effect on January 1, 1916.

Rejected Measures

Initiative 3 was one of seven that collected sufficient signatures to qualify for the November 3, 1914, ballot. In their first exercise of direct legislative powers, state voters also considered measures that would have adopted the eight-hour workday and mandated that all state convicts be put to work building roads, among other proposals. Only Initiative 8, which effectively abolished private employment agencies by prohibiting them from charging workers for helping them find jobs, passed. The others were rejected by wide margins.

In addition to the initiative process, in which citizens submit proposed legislation directly to voters by collecting sufficient petition signatures, the 1914 election saw the first use of the referendum, in which voters approve or reject an act passed by the legislature. Referenda, like initiatives, can be initiated by petition, but the legislature is also empowered to submit its own enactments to popular vote. The 1913 legislature chose to submit two acts to voters in the 1914 general election -- a bill that would have established a teachers' retirement fund, which became Referendum 1, and a bill that would have created the Quincy Valley irrigation system in Grant, Adams, Chelan, and Douglas counties, which became Referendum 2. Both were soundly defeated, as was a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed non-citizens to own land in Washington (the state constitution's ban on alien land ownership was not repealed until 1966).

The constitutional amendment that established the initiative and referendum required that voters be given a publication, at least 50 days before election day, containing the proposed laws and arguments for and against them. This resulted in Washington's first statewide voters pamphlet. Secretary of State Ithamar M. Howell published a pamphlet containing the full text of the laws and the constitutional amendment that voters would decide, along with arguments, most submitted by opponents. (The pamphlet contains an "Argument for" only one measure -- Initiative 3).

Choosing a Senator

The initiative and referendum votes were not the only novelties for Washington voters -- 1914 was also the first year that a contest for U.S. Senator appeared on the November general election ballot. The U.S. Constitution originally provided that state legislatures would choose U.S. senators, and throughout the 1800s most states used that method. Progressives and other reformers called for direct election of senators by voters, and the movement gained steam early in the twentieth century, probably not least because legislators around the country were sick and tired of continual jousting over senatorial appointments. Election of a senator was usually the first item on a new session's agenda and the legislature got little else done until the choice was finally made, which could take weeks or months. Not infrequently a legislature could not agree at all and its state was short a U.S. Senator for some period, as happened in Washington from 1893 to 1895.

Washington's legislature partially solved the problem in 1907, when it provided for a preference election for U.S. Senator in the September primary. In 1908, Republican Wesley Jones of Yakima, a reformer who espoused many Progressive causes including Prohibition, outpolled incumbent Senator Levi Ankeny (1844-1921), a fellow Republican, and the 1909 legislature formally elected Jones to the Senate.

Six years later, when Jones ran for re-election in 1914, the 17th Amendment had put legislatures out of the Senate election business, and Jones and his challengers appeared on the general election ballot. Despite his Progressive credentials, Jones (who muted his support for Prohibition in an effort to side-step the acrimony over Initiative 3), faced not only Democrat W. W. Black and Socialist Adam Barth, but also real estate developer (and later Seattle mayor) Ole Hanson (1874-1940) running on the Progressive Party ticket. Jones out-distanced all three to win re-election; he would win two more terms before losing his seat in the same 1932 election in which Washington voters repealed the state's Prohibition laws.

In the off-year election of 1914, the senate seat was the only statewide office on the ballot. In Washington's five U.S. House of Representatives districts, incumbent Republicans William Ewart Humphrey (1862-1934), Albert Johnson (1869-1957), and William L. La Follette (1860-1934) won re-election, while Republican Lindley Hoag Hadley (1861-1948) and Democrat Clarence C. Dill (1884-1978), who would go on to serve two terms as a U.S. senator, were elected to open seats.


A Pamphlet Containing a Copy of All Measures "Proposed By Initiative Petition," "Proposed to the People by the Legislature," and "Amendment to the Constitution Proposed by the Legislature," to Be Submitted to the Legal Voters of the State of Washington for Their Approval or Rejection at the General Election to be Held on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 1914 (Olympia: Secretary of State, 1914); Abstract of Votes Polled in the State of Washington at the General Election Held November 3, 1914 (Olympia: Secretary of State, 1914); Norman H. Clark, The Dry Years: Prohibition & Social Change in Washington, revised edition (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988); Clark, Washington: A Bicentennial History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1976), 90-98; Richard C. Berner, Seattle in the Twentieth Century, Vol. 1, Seattle 1900-1920 (Seattle: Charles Press, 1991), 192-93; Don Brazier, "History of the Washington Legislature, 1854-1963," Washington State Legislature website accessed October 7, 2011(www.leg.wa.gov/History/Legislative/Documents/HistoryOfTheLeg.pdf), pp. 48-80; "Direct Election of Senators," United States Senate website accessed October 7, 2011(http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Direct_Election_
Senators.htm); "Initatives to the People -- 1914 through 2011," Washington Secretary of State website accessed October 7, 2011 (http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/initiatives/statistics_initiatives.aspx); "The History of Elections and Voting in Washington," Secretary of State website accessed October 7, 2011 (http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/timeline/time4.htm); HistoryLink Online Encyclpedia of Washington State History, "Prohibition in Washington State" (by Paula Becker), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed October 6, 2011).

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