The Alcoholic Republic By W.J. Rorabaugh

1077 words - 4 pages

During the nineteenth -century America was known for it's drinking abilities. The question some people want to know is "was early nineteenth-century America really a nation of drunkards" (Rorabaugh 5)? The United States was among the most addicted of nations, that in this respect it had out stripped all of Europe, and that "no other people ever indulged, so universally." Alcohol was looked upon as a disease like the plague and it was spreading wider and wider throughout the country. It was being considered as a growing evil.Statesman like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams weren't worried about the use of alcohol for they drank themselves, but the excessive use. In 1821 a wealthy scholar, George Ticknor, warned Jefferson, "If the consumption of spirituous liquors should increase for thirty years to come at the rate it has for thirty years back we should be hardly better than a nation of sots" (6). This feared the Founding Fathers because they were afraid that the American republic would be destroyed in a flood of alcohol.To others, like foreign travelers they found the drinking habits of Americans deplorable. They were surprised to see how much alcohol was being consumed. A Swedish visitor, Carl D. Arfwesdon, reported a "general addiction to hard drinking" (6). The travelers were so astonished to see the extent of intemperance of the Americans.Americans drank mostly distilled liquor commonly known as spirits-whiskey, rum, and brandy. Most of these liquors were 45 percent alcohol or as we know it today as 90 proof. "During the nineteenth-century the typical American annually drank more distilled liquor than at any other time in our history" (7).Between 1800 and 1830 annual per capita of consumption increased and exceeded 5 gallons, which is tripled of today's consumption. After the high taxation the drinking of distilled beverages dropped to 2 gallons per capita. It seems to me that once the liquor was being taxed the Americans did not want to pay the high prices and that is why the consumption probably dropped.Along with distilled spirits, Americans drank weaker fermented beverages such as: beer (5%), hard cider (10%), and wine (18%). "Until 1850 annual per capita consumption of commercial beer at not time reached 2 gallons, and it was not until the Civil War that it raised dramatically toward today's rate of more than 18 gallons" (9). Hard cider was a very popular drink especially in Virginia. The consumption of hard cider was an annual per capita of 15 or more gallons. Wine on the other hand was not being consumed as much as beer or hard cider. Between 1770 and 1870 less than a third of a gallon was being drank.Drinking in the young nation was obviously hearty, not to say excessive. "However, the charge made by alarmed clergymen and statesmen that in this respect America had outstripped every other nation was exaggerated" (10). During the early nineteenth-century the intake of alcohol in the United States with any other...

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