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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

In the Senate Debate

In the Senate Debate

of last session, page 584 of the Record, Senator Morrill, now the distinguished Secretary of the Treasury, said:

We had almost this identical question as early as 1795, when the country was in the dilemm of a large national debt. When the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Hamilton, was casting about for the means of sustaining the public credit, one of the methods resorted to was the identical thing we are doing now; that is, to raise a revenue upon the importation and distillation of alcoholic drinks, accompanied also by a system of licenses for the retail sale of alcoholic drinks so manufactured in this country or imported from abroad. Therefore it becomes of the utmost importance to inquire what was the effect of that policy upon the morals of the people. How did it come about that about that period we came to be denominated a nation of drunkards? How was it that it was generally asserted, and it is a matter of history to-day, that the American Colonies at the close of the war, and for the two decades afterward, drank more liquor, per capita, than any other people upon the face of the globe? It has usually been accounted for from the pernicious effects of the war. * * * but it was not the prime cause. Whoever will take the pains to look into our history will find that more than all things together it sprang from the policy of raising a revenue out of the distillation of alcoholic drinks, and the Government taking into its own hands the retail trade of the country in alcoholic and intoxicating drinks.

In 1705 the number of wine licenses was 3,253, of spirit licenses 7,461. The amount of duties £54,731. In 1800 the Secretary's report says: "Of the proceeds of those duties more than $500,000 arise from tax on distillation, $372,000 of which are paid on 22,000 country stills, scattered over the immense territory of the United States. Sixty-five thousand dollars are the product of 13,000 retailers' licenses, all grown up in a single decade."

Senator Morrill then cites the experience of England, which was the same as ours, and after depicting the terrible results in powerful language, he says:

That is the history of it, and it is as natural as for water to run down hill. It must be so. Whenever the Government lends its moral countenance to, and encourages the importation and the production, of course you can not, Senators will see that it is impossible to, control the sale. It becomes popular, it is taken out of the ban at once, and it increases everywhere. That, I think, is the historical account in this country and elsewhere. It is the natural, it is the irresistible effect. I do not know the amount of crooked whisky, but I should suppose the distillation was not less than 100,000,000 at least—

Yearly in this country—

for a people of 40,000,000, besides all that is imported from abroad. What becomes of it? * * * The statistics show beyond all controversy, if anything has ever been made clear by statistics, that three-fourths of the pauperism is attributable, directly and indirectly, to intoxicating drinks, and three-fourths of the crime to the same cause. Just contemplate that statement, and then see whether the government of a country that raises its revenues by the encouragement of the distillation of such an agency as that has no connection with it. Why, sir, more than all other agencies combined is the terrible effect of alcoholic drinks upon the health and morals and prosperity of this people. It is the gigantic crime of crimes in this age, and particularly in this country.

I would earnestly call attention to the able debate in the Senate from which this is taken, and in which several of the most distinguished men of the nation participated. The result was the passing of the resolution for a committee of inquiry, elsewhere referred to.