|Eric Burns FOX News Watch host|
What surprised you while researching this book?
The extent to which our forebears, the original American colonists, consumed alcohol. There wasn't a single abstainer among the Founding Fathers, and they and their generation drank from morning to night, perhaps starting the day with rum or brandy and ending with a mixed drink called a hotchpotch. Furthermore, they drank on the job and while shopping, at weddings and funerals, and even in the counrtroom, a bottle often being passed from plaintiff to defendant, from judge to jury.
Why did our founding fathers drink so much?
Because of their loneliness and increasing alienation from England, because of the unsanitary nature of other beverages of the time, and because of their belief in the medicinal powers of booze. In fact, there was an insurance company in early America which raised its rates ten percent for the non-drinker, believing him to be "thin and watery."
So it was part of our culture. How big a part did it play in those early days of the Republic?
Candidates would vie with one another to see who could spend the most money on booze to persuade people to vote for them. George Washington lost his first bid for elective office, in part, because he did not buy enough spirituous beverage for the populace. He did not make the mistake a second time.
You say in your book that Prohibition was one of the two greatest legislative mistakes in American history. Why?
Because it sped the rise of organized crime and, even more important, led millions of Americans to a profound disrespect for both the wisdom and efficacy of law. The Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited alcoholic beverages, remains to this day the only constitutional amendment ever repealed.
I guess Prohibition gave birth to some vivid characters though ...
Many. One example is Izzy Einstein, prohibition agent extraordinaire, a master of disguise and droll wit, and a man who probably did more to enforce the early-twentieth century law against alcohol consumption than Eliot Ness and all of his Untouchables put together.
And the old hatchet-wielder, Carry Nation. Sure she was loony, but she was committed. The heavyweight boxing champion of the world ran from her. Saloon owners boarded up their establishments when she came, some of them putting up signs that said: "All Nations Welcome But Carry." She was the first true superstar of temperance, and it all started on that day in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, when she was browsing through a hardware store and happened to pick up a hatchet.
How do you exercise your freedom to imbibe?
With a rum and Coke. Usually without the paper umbrella.
Want to buy The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol? Click here
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