Whiskey Rebels

It’s hopping here at the U on a Sunday. I guess it’s that time in the semester when the undergrads are starting to collect their sources for senior thesis projects. I think I’m still getting used to the ebb and flow of when the busy times are here,  but there’s so many programs, Master’s, PHD, traditional undergrad, and adult programs are all on different schedules.

I just literally spent over an hour trying to help a kinesiology student find studies about preoperative rehabilitation’s effects on postoperative outcomes of ACL surgery. Even after an hour we were only up to 4 solid ones. Sometimes people are looking for only a very specific type of article like there’s going to be a plethora of articles written on exactly what they want, and it’s just not the case. You have to pull your subject apart, look for other angles at some point.  It also makes me question my role sometimes as a research librarian at times. So you need a list of 15 articles, I can give you tips and pointers of where to look, how to look, and help with keywords, but I can’t produce a list of exactly the number of articles you need and hand it to you. It’s just not reality. I do love to help, and provide information, but there does come a point where I can’t do much more and the digging must be done by the student. The point of the educational process is for the student to research, and I get that, but also these topics can be frustrating, and you don’t want to turn people away without an information need filled. AH it’s a struggle. Maybe it’s also a pride thing, like dang, if I can’t find X amount of articles on the topic then maybe there’s something wrong with my searching skills. I don’t think so, but….

I digress.

So I got my numbers today, 2, 6, 19, Right. This led me straight to the substance abuse section. Yay! Who doesn’t love a good book about addiction, and more specifically so about a major poison of choice that I know all too well, Alcohol!

Today I pulled the book: Drink: A Social History of America by Andrew Barr.


Flipped open to a random paragraph and here we go:

The impossibility of incorporating the Scotch-Irish notion of “natural liberty” within the federal system was demonstrated when, at the instigation of Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury, Congress voted in 1791 to impose an excise duty on domestically produced spirits. The following year a group of western Pennsylvanians petitioned to congress to repeal the tax. “To us,” they argued, “that act appears unequal in its operation and immoral in its effects. Unequal in its operation, as a duty laid on the common drink of a nation, instead of taxing the citizens in proportion to their property, falls as heavy on the poorest class as on the rich; immoral in its effect, because the amount of duty resting on the oath of the prayer, offers, at the expense of the honest part of the community, a premium to perjury and fraud.” (Barr, 1999, p.320)

In what could have appeared to be a somewhat exciting book (based on the cover and topic) I have managed to pick one of the most boring paragraphs in it. I get it, putting an excise tax on spirits would make it harder for the average man to get his booze on than a man of higher means. Booze, as referred to here is called the “common drink of a nation” both rich man and poor man have spent nights way longer than they should belly up at the bar with no regard to tomorrow, but man tomorrow when it does come also rewards both rich and poor the same way, with a hangover. If we must find something in common then, let it be our love of booze. That kind of makes me laugh a bit.

What I don’t know about is this instigation of Hamilton in 1791. (I do wonder if I would have seen the musical if I would know more, but something tells me probably not). It appears that Mr. Hamilton suggested this excise tax on spirits to congress, and it passed.

This was something called the 1791 Excise Whiskey Tax. Here’s the info from the historical site of the House of Representatives:

After a spirited debate, the House passed, by a 35 to 21 majority, the Excise Whiskey Tax—legislation that proved wildly unpopular with farmers and eventually precipitated the “Whiskey Rebellion.” The measure levied a federal tax on domestic and imported alcohol, earmarked to offset a portion of the federal government’s recent assumption of state debts. Southern and western farmers, whose grain crop was a chief ingredient in whiskey, loudly protested the tax. In 1794, farmers in western Pennsylvania attacked federal officials seeking to collect tax on the grain they had distilled into whiskey. The administration of President George Washington dispatched a force of nearly 13,000 militia to put down a feared revolt. Resistance, however, dissipated when the troops arrived. (The 1791 Excise Whiskey Tax, 2017.)

I see now how this caused a ripple effect in society down to the farmers who produced the grain to go into the Whiskey. The “Whisky Rebellion” sounds like something I do to myself when I go out and have a couple stiff ones and think I can rebel against bedtime and the fact that I have work the next day. Now I have to chase the rebellion, see what that’s all about, and see if they got any farther than the farmers who backed down against the militia, or if that’ is just part of the rebellion.

It looks like that last part with the people backing down was only the second part of the story.

Enforcement legislation touched off what appeared to be an organized rebellion, and in July of 1794 about 500 armed men attacked and burned the home of the regional tax inspector after a smaller group had been fended off the previous day. The following month Pres. George Washington issued a congressionally authorized proclamation ordering the rebels to return home and calling for militia from Pennsylvania and three neighbouring states. After fruitless negotiations with the 15-member committee representing the rebels Washington ordered some 13,000 troops into the area, but the opposition melted away and no battle ensued. Troops occupied the region and some of the rebels were tried, but the two convicted of treason were later pardoned by the president. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017).

What was really important historically here I suppose is that the American government squashed the rebellion. But it could also go to show you, don’t mess with people’s booze and their god given right to drink it. Anyhow, our country really isn’t that old when you think about it, and the fact that this only happened 226 years ago kind of puts that into perspective. I was hoping that drunk history had done this as a skit so I could link it, but I couldn’t find it so maybe that could be for another episode.

If you are interested in reading more about the Whiskey Rebellion and all those involved, I did find this in my diggings. I would read it myself if my list weren’t 1,435 books long.

The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty.  By William Hogeland

The publisher describes it as: “A gripping and sensational tale of violence, alcohol, and taxes, The Whiskey Rebellion uncovers the radical eighteenth-century people’s movement, long ignored by historians, that contributed decisively to the establishment of federal authority”

Until next time… have a glass of Whiskey for these brave rebels, who ultimately failed. But hey, at least they tried.



Barr, M. (1999). Drink: A Social History of America. New York, NY; Carroll & Graff Publishers, Inc.

The 1791 Excise Whiskey Tax. (2017). Retrieved from: http://history.house.gov/HistoricalHighlight/Detail/35785

Whiskey Rebellion. (2017). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://0-academic.eb.com.leopac.ulv.edu/levels/collegiate/article/Whiskey-Rebellion/76786



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