Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Our drunken forefathers

Distilling whiskey was good business because, to the astonishment of foreigners, nearly all Americans -- men, women, children, and sometimes even babies -- drank whiskey all day long. Some workers began drinking before breakfast and then took dram breaks instead of coffee breaks. . . . During court trials a bottle of liquor might be passed among the attorneys, spectators, clients, and the judge and jury.
-- Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic 1789-1815, at 339-40.

... "Nearly all" seems like hyperbole, but annual consumption of distilled spirits alone went from 2.5 gallons/person in 1790 to nearly 5 gallons/person in 1820, and as Wood points out, once you disregard slaves with little or no access, that is an even larger amount. Given the social consequences, such as casual violence and easy destitution, alcohol then starts to seem like meth now, and temperance begins to seem less puritanical.

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