Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Moonshiners and Liberty

I grew up in a little town in the South during the 50’s and 60’s.  This is a period when America went through much change economically, socially and in general.  The civil rights movement was in full swing as was the Vietnam War.  Through all this as well as the previous 200 years or so, one thing from the past remained pretty much intact as this change took place; Making whiskey. 

I’m not advocating making or drinking moonshine whiskey although I admit to taking a taste on occasion. However, I understand the origins, reasons for it and a little of its history here in America.  This is but my personal view on it based on the information I have. 

People here have always made their own whiskey and other than the obvious reason of “feel good” there really was a practical purpose in making good corn whiskey.  Prior to the great depression, we as a nation were about 70% an agrarian society.  That is, 70% of us farmed.   A good percentage of all the farming was corn.   Corn was used for everything from making meal for breads to feed for animals.  Corn was a big part of life as it was all over America.  Sometimes, growing years were plentiful and other years not so great.  As farmers depended on corn for so much, storing it was prudent.  As with anything, you can only store perishable items for so long.  Some farmers figured out how to store AND increase the value of their corn by adding some water and yeast to it producing the whiskey.  It takes about 6 bushels of corn to make one gallon of whiskey so this not only extended the storage life of their corn but also relieved them of the cost of maintaining huge silos. Furthermore, should one be located in an out of the way place such as in the hills and mountains of Virginia transporting a gallon of whiskey across the hills was much easier than toting 6 bushels of corn through the same terrain.   

This was all part of the miracle of free market and free enterprise leading to innovation and entrepreneurship, the back bone of this nation in its humble beginnings.  The farmer without even knowing he was participating in the economy took something of questionable value (excess corn), added to it through his labor and created an entirely different product (whisky).  So instead of watching his abundant corn crop rot in times of excess, as in years of bountiful growth he, through innovation, saved the fruits of his original labor and was able to reap the benefits eliminating waste. Indeed, in many communities the whiskey produced served as money.  

Back in the day, they really only did this to protect themselves and not some sinister devil urge to intoxicate their fellow man, leading him to the gates of hell.  This was the message promoted by the temperance folks who as many did used religion to promote THEIR idea of how their fellow man should live.

As always with enough time and support any group which is determined to direct the activity of their fellow citizen simply gains control or influences those who make the laws to enact legislation designed to achieve their desired result.  They didn’t even need to do that in the beginning, Alexander Hamilton had the brainstorm to tax whiskey in the first place as a way to raise revenue.  Hamilton was pro central bank and central government and this very act should have been a wake-up call to early Americans just how intrusive any government can be on the lives of average citizens.  Hamilton sounds to me to have shared some of the same ideas of Marx who didn’t show up until a century later, but that’s a different discussion.
So, back to the original Whiskey Rebellion.  Determined to enforce the laws and raise the revenue President Washington sent negotiators to the area while raising a militia of nearly 13,000 men to be sent in to quash any rebellion.  This in itself proved problematic for the new nation, as not enough volunteered for the duty.  So, a draft was implemented, and that caused further disturbance by causing demonstrations and a sort of rebellion of its own.  Violence broke out in several places not even associated with the whiskey problem, and several citizens and soldiers were themselves killed trying to raise the militia. 

Deep inside every man, is an innate understanding that, to impose on others going about their own business and not bothering others is simply wrong from an individualist view.  Many just out of a war for their freedoms denied by the former King, were understandably reluctant to take up arms against their fellow citizens.  Additionally, from a perspective of the times it was actually a matter of economic survival to convert the grain into whiskey. Everyone of the time understood this with the exception of apparently Alexander Hamilton, and to some degree George Washington himself who owned a still at Mount Vernon.  So this all began and was about revenue, not morals in the least.  It was about a new government testing the waters of individual freedoms and their power to extract a tax. 

History shows that the militia was gathered and the rebellion put down without really too much carnage and the nation moved on.  But this issue festered on even until this day among the folks living in the hills along the Appalachian Trail and the hollows of the Virginia’s.  I doubt that today, that one in a hundred, who are involved in the making of moonshine, understand any of this but rather “word” and values passed down through generations culminating in the attitudes and actions still seen today in many parts of the South.  (I’m sure Mr. Lincoln's war contributed later, but for now we are just talking about moonshine).

This tax on whiskey (although greatly ignored) remained with the people until Thomas Jefferson (who was opposed to Hamilton) came into power in 1800 and the whiskey tax was repealed. 

It is interesting to note that Jefferson whom I view as a libertarian was the man to do this and defeat Hamilton, a federalist.  The Federalist of the time seem to me like the so called “progressives” of today who are actually socialist in nature wanting the central government making decisions for the common man.  That is something for another time and discussion. 

The whiskey was again, the target of revenue seekers less than fifty years later and together with all sorts of duties, tariffs and imposts imposed on the southern states eventually lead to the succession of some southern states and directly to President Lincoln’s invasion of South Carolina.  The rest is History, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 

This ‘knowledge” of whiskey making was passed down generation to generation and largely because of the tax and government intervention prices were driven up enough that some opportunist, who had little knowledge of how to make quality whiskey began to use sugar rather than the grains and through the years the quality went down and some even in the 20’s and 30’s would use old auto radiators and such other dangerous practices resulting in lead poisoning, death and other problems.  This confusion leads to a great degree of bad publicity to actual whiskey makers of the old school the descendants of the Scotch Irish pioneers of the South. 

Those, making rot gut out of sugar, and in the business simply for profit would not be in business if it were not for government interfering in a natural process by farmers for years if not centuries.   Human nature remains unchanged since man first came down from the trees.  For any government, religion or any other “group” to even consider that they can change certain behavior is pure folly and demonstrates how stupid man can really be.  That is why prohibition didn’t work and why the criminal element always rises up to profit when government attempts to foolishly alter the human passions.  Our jails are FULL of drug violators for exactly the same reasons.  That too will eventually be de-criminalized when government bureaucrats find another non-existent enemy to declare war on.

Again, a clean example of why no government has any right to the fruits of any man’s labor.  The only exception to that is the justly applied and evenly distributed tax upon citizens (as described in the original Constitution) for the legitimate purposes of government. 

We as a nation are finally approaching a crossroads and will have an upcoming opportunity to re-establish the values and culture of the men who built this country and fought for its freedoms.  It is not an opportunity to waste. 
Immigrates once came to this country to assimilate into the greatest experiment in liberty known to man.  We should still welcome those who do with open arms but, only those who truly wish to assimilate INTO our culture not those determined to CHANGE our culture.  Too much of that has already occurred. 

With so much emphasis now placed on equality, I must repeat something I once heard.  “The society that puts equality before freedom will end up neither.   The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both.”  We all first must be free to pursue our individual interest.  Our founders spoke of equality meaning the abstract equality before God.  Modern times give equality a different meaning to some.  Equality, in that all citizens should be equal and have the same opportunity to make of himself what he can with his capabilities is a fine concept.  However, the concept that, we should all reach the finish line of life equal is a further threat to liberty. As one great economist put it;     “It requires that the freedom of some be restricted in order to provide greater benefits to others.”  That simply won’t cut it if we are to survive as a nation.     

No comments:

Post a Comment