Page images

Public meet

it supplanted. The opposition to it was wide-spread. ings were held at which not only the law was denounced, but open resistance to its enforcement was declared. As an illustration of the temper of these meetings, one in Pittsburgh, in August, 1792, declared in its resolutions, among other things, that "a tax on spirituous liquors is unjust in itself; that internal taxes upon consumption must, in the end, destroy the liberties of every country in which they are introduced," and that the people attending the meeting will treat with contempt those who hold office for the collection of the duty and recommended to the people at large to treat them in the same manner.

The Attorney General of the United States failed to discover anything actionable against the persons who participated in the meeting. Revenue officers were fired upon, captured, and their commissions taken from them. Some two or three were killed. Stills, barns and houses of those who submitted to the act and paid the tax were burned.

Citizens of western Pennsylvania, a part of Virginia and Maryland organized and armed troops and for a time successfully resisted, in localities in which they operated, the execution of the law. In the summer of 1794 seven thousand armed men assembled and marched to Pittsburgh, threatened to seize Fort Pitt and the arms and munitions stored in its arsenal. The national Capitol itself was threatened. Grave fears of the severance of the Union were not without foundation. Peace commissioners were appointed by the President to confer with the insurgents. Their mission of peace completely failed.

The Whiskey Insurrection or Rebellion, as it is known in history, was not suppressed until militia of four States, numbering fifteen thousand men, marched upon the insurgents, who dispersed.

This insurrection was not, as some modern writers would have us infer, a resistance to the laws by the "liquor interests" or "liquor traffic." There were at that time no such "interests" nor "traffic," as thees terms are understood today. The excise was too small to create any monopoly in the trade or any large profit. There was no organization among the manufacturers nor dealers.

The excise laws, more than any other cause, divided the people of the nation into two distnict poltical parties. Alexander Hamilton, who proposed the measures, the leader and spokesman of one, and Thomas Jefferson, the great leader of the other.

A few months before the suppression of the Insurrection, the internal taxation was placed upon a number of articles other than spirits, among which were carriages for the conveyance of persons; snuff and

refined sugar, the tax on the latter bearing heavily upon the poorer classes.

In his first message to Congress President Jefferson recommended the abolition of the entire system of internal revenues, which Congress promptly did at its regular session early in 1802.

For more than eleven years following no internal tax upon any article was imposed in the United States. The first ten of these years were years of great prosperity, very largely under the leadership of that eminent patriot, statesman and scholar, Thomas Jefferson, who, more than all other men of the time, formulated and directed the policy of the national government. Louisiana, that vast territory out of which many states have since been carved, was added to the Union.

But fate decreed a stay of prosperity for a time. In the summer of 1812 war was declared against Great Britain which, in the light of history, is now looked upon as a lamentable mistake; not one of the grievances complained of being even mentioned or referred to in the treaty of peace which followed.

After a year of bloody conflict, the national treasury being depleted, Congress again adopted the excise or internal tax system, purely as a war measure, placing the tax on various articles, including distilled spirits. By a revision a year and a half later the tax on distilled spirits was fixed at 20 cents per gallon after the first of February, 1815. Before this our Atlantic coast had been blockaded; the City of Washington had fallen into the hands of the enemy and partly destroyed by fire; the financial condition of the government had become precarious, almost bankrupt. Household furniture, watches, sugar, hats, caps, boots, harness, candles, and a great number of articles of domestic manufacture were taxed by the federal government.

Soon after the close of the war a disposition was manifest to abolish all internal taxes. Reductions were rapidly effected. In 1816 the tax was reduced one-half, and on December 23, 1817, one of the first acts of Congress was to abolish all the remaining internal revenue taxes.


FROM 1802 TO 1862

With the exception of the light war tax, compared with that of recent years, imposed in 1813, reduced one-half in 1816 and entirely abolished in 1817, no internal revenue tax on alcoholic beverages, or anything else, existed in the United States from 1802 to 1862, a period of sixty years.

During the four years that it did exist it was well known to be only a temporary expedient, arising from the exigency of war, to be abolished as soon as the necessity for immediate revenue of the character ceased, and that it would not be continued as a national fiscal policy. Therefore, no large private business was entered into nor attempted on the strength of this war measure. Upon its repeal the manufacturing of alcoholic liquors and the trade therein was left precisely as it was before its enactment. Many thousands of little stills existed throughout the country and the retail trade was substantially confined to tavern-keepers, subordinate to the principal business of lodging and furnishing meals to travelers and stabling and feeding their horses. The customers were not sufficient in number for the dealers to make any considerable profit from the sale of liquors by the drink when a gallon of whiskey could be purchased for 15 cents in the early part of the century and, when money became more plentiful, 25 or 30 cents in 1860. Many groceries and other stores furnished a drink of whiskey to such of their customers who desired it as they do today furnish to their customers a drink of distilled water. Any man today of American birth, past four score years, can readily recall the barrel on tap and the tincup hanging on a nail nearby. It was one of the reminiscences often repeated by our fathers and grandfathers.

Under such a system there could be no large "whiskey interests" built up to debauch politics; nor was there any financial inducement to encourage excessive drinking, of which more will be said hereafter. Competition among distillers induced the manufacture of the best of liquors and their cheapness prevented poisonous adulterations. Beer was largely a home-made product of many households; "lager" beer not being manufactured in the United States prior to 1845, although hundreds of breweries of other beer existed prior to that time.

Let us recall further the history of these sixty years in the United States, from 1802 to 1862. During that time all that vast territory now in the United States west of the Mississippi and south of Georgia

and Alabama was added to the Union. At the beginning of this period the population of the United States, nearly all east of the Allegehanies, was between five and six millions; at the end of that period it numbered thirty-three millions and extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Vast and dense forests were reclaimed and the soil cultivated. Prairies were broken and villages grew into cities. Nineteen States were added to the Union. The lucifer match replaced the steel, flint and punk; the iron cooking stove took the place of the crane over the open fire and the Dutch oven. During this period postage stamps were first used; the mower, the reaper and the threshing-machine were substituted for the scythe, the sickle, the cradle and the flail; the percussion cap for the flint-lock, the sewing-machine for the cambric needle. Morse's telegraph enabled messages to be transmitted in a few seconds where, before 1837, it would require days and weeks and months to transmit them. In 1825 there was not a mile of railway in the United States; by 1860 there were more than thirty thousand miles of track.

Most of these great achievements of mankind were accomplished prior to the last decade of this period, for during this time new ideas sprang up which found expression in various state statutes and constitutions which somewhat retarded the progress achieved prior to the last decade, and will be discussed in a later chapter.

No such marked and rapid progress of mankind has ever taken place in any country at any time, before or since, as the progress of the Americans during this period.

Our country is one of vast natural resources; so are other countries. Our climate is substantially that of Europe, a large part of Asia and South America. Our people were emigrants and decendents of emigrants, mostly from Great Britain and the northern countries of Europe-no superior race except in ideas of government and society, born of the mingling of different people of different nations and observing the mistakes of their mother countries.

The secret of this unparalleled prosperity and advancement is expressed in the grandest political document the world ever knew: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;" and in the preamble of the Constitution which declares the purpose, among others, to "Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

During the period under discussion men were free to conduct

their private affairs without interference. Each sought the satisfaction of his desires in the way that seemed best to him. It was an era of liberty, of democracy, of freedom, and therefore of prosperity, of achievements accomplished, the like and magnitude of which the world had never witnessed; an era of free trade among the people of all the States and nearly free trade with other nations, free whiskey, free rum, free wine and free beer.

The cause of the prosperity was not any extensive drinking of alcoholic beverages, but the freedom to drink or not to drink, to use tobacco or not to use it, to attend church or go fishing, to dance or not to dance, to attend a theater or go to prayer meeting; the liberty to conduct one's private affairs as he or she saw fit, so long as there was no interference with the equal rights of others.

In the last analysis, liberty is the foundation upon which all progress has been achieved in this world. Every page of history testifies to the truth of this statement. The suppression of liberty, wherever it has occurred, is marked by retrogression, just in proportion to the effectiveness of the suppression.

The per capita consumption of eleven quarts of distilled spirits in the latter part of the eighteenth century, under the internal revenue system, had been reduced, by 1850, under the system of free whiskey, to 2.24 gallons or a fraction less than nine quarts, as appears in the Statistical Abstract of the United States. But this is only a part of the facts. By reason of the vast number of inventions and discoveries of the previous half century, many uses were found for alcoholic spirits other than for beverage purposes. No figures are available for the amount of alcohol used other than as a beverage for 1850, but we have them for 1856 to 1862 in a report of the United States Revenue Commission appointed in 1865 to revise the whole internal revenue system and, after an exhaustive investigation, the Commission reported in 1866, and in that report stated:

"It would appear by investigation made into this subject by the Commission that the amount of alcohol converted into burning fluid by mixing with rectified spirits of turpentine (camphene) and consumed during the year 1860, could not have been less than 12,000,000 gallons, which must have necessitated the use of upwards of 19,000,000 gallons of proof spirits. At the South and West, however, large quantities of burning fluid were prepared by mixing the alcohol directly with the crude or commercial spirits of turpentine without subjecting the latter constituent to rectification, which amount

« PreviousContinue »