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Santiago Baker
Santiago Baker

Failures Of The Presidents: From The Whiskey Re...

When Jefferson assumed the Presidency, the crisis in France had passed. He slashed Army and Navy expenditures, cut the budget, eliminated the tax on whiskey so unpopular in the West, yet reduced the national debt by a third. He also sent a naval squadron to fight the Barbary pirates, who were harassing American commerce in the Mediterranean. Further, although the Constitution made no provision for the acquisition of new land, Jefferson suppressed his qualms over constitutionality when he had the opportunity to acquire the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in 1803.

Failures of the Presidents: From the Whiskey Re...

The Whiskey Rebellion began with whiskey tax, which sparked a rebellion in West Pennsylvania that involved over 7,000 insurrectionists, lasting from 1791 to 1794. President George Washington responded to the rebellion by sending a 12,000 soldiers to Pennsylvania to confront the rebels, who disbanded without a single shot fired. The Whiskey Rebellion marked the first major challenge to federal authority in the young United States.

Because the whiskey tax was universally detested, Congress was quickly flooded with petitions and letters from all over the country asking for its repeal. However, most distillers just passed their increased costs onto consumers.

A major bootlegging operation in Chicago is shut down with the arrest of 158 people from 31 organizations. Together, these groups were estimated to have distributed more than seven million gallons of whiskey nationwide with an estimated worth of around $50 million.

Could all factions favoring a law in principle, especially elements from the complex business community, be brought to agreement in support of a specific bill? Compromise, the sixth "C," seemed to offer a route to success. In three National Pure Food and Drug Congresses held between 1898 and 1900, Wiley sought to work out agreements in the private sector that might smooth passage of a law. The magnitude of the task is suggested by a look at some of the groups represented: trade associations, for example, of millers and brewers, marketers of butter and makers of candy, fishermen and beekeepers, wholesale and retail grocers, wholesale druggists, and proprietary medicine manufacturers. Also present were representatives from State and Federal agencies, farm organizations, professional societies of chemists and pharmacists, even the National Peace Conference and the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Delegates labored diligently and made much progress, but not enough. Some differences seemed too wide to bridge, like those between dairy and margarine interests, between makers of alum and cream-of-tartar baking powders, and between straight whiskey distillers and blenders. As the new century dawned, efforts at compromise continued, but in the halls and committee rooms of Congress.

Twice an omnibus bill passed the House of Representatives under the aegis of its managers, Congressmen from western States in which agricultural interests were dominant. But business lobbies, especially whiskey rectifiers and proprietary drug manufacturers, despite all the power of Wiley's coalition, kept the pure food bill from becoming law. The opposition was more silent than outspoken, making its weight felt through parliamentary obstructionism. Southern conservatives did openly challenge the constitutionality of such legislation. "The Federal Government," opined a Georgia congressman, "was not created for the purpose of cutting your toe nails or corns."

Discontent and violence erupted in the Monongahela Valley of western Pennsylvania in the spring and summer of 1794 as farmers from four counties reacted to attempts of the federal government to enforce a tax on whiskey. For many of the farmers the only way to get grain to market (Spain had closed the Mississippi to American trade) was to convert it to whiskey. Moreover, in an area where hard money was in short supply, whiskey had become a medium of exchange. Protesting the excessive duty on liquor and the violation of their civil rights in what they took to be highhanded efforts to collect the tax, the farmers drove the tax agents from the counties, stopped the mails, and closed the federal courts. At one point several thousand armed men threatened to sack the town of Pittsburgh, and there was talk that an army would march on Philadelphia. 041b061a72


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