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Here's another whole thread that is beginning to develop inside another, so I've lifted a representative sample and started a new one here. This message from BOURBONV was a response about the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794...
Subject Re: Distilling Wall of Fame
Posted by bourbonv
Posted on 12/28/00 4:53 PM
From IP 126.96.36.199
I think you are over estimating the importance of the rebellion to Kentucky's distilling heritage. As a matter of fact I would be hard placed to name one distiller that can be traced to Pennsylvania that left for Kentucky because of the rebellion. There were several who came to Kentucky at that time but this had more to do with the fact that Kentucky had just became a state and it was suddenly easier to purchase land in Kentucky.
The fact is there was very little impact on the distillers in Pennsylvania. The government for all of its efforts arrested very few people and only two people were ever convicted and they were both pardoned by President Washington. These two were described as one being "a simpleton" and the other "insane". My favorite quote from the rebelion comes from Thomas Jefferson who said that "an insurrection was announced and proclaimed and armed against, but could never be found" (Ford, Jefferson, VII, May 26, 1795). There were farmer distillers in Kentucky at the same time as the rebellion and they too refused to pay their taxes. The rebellion in Kentucky was just as "bad" as it was in Pennsylvania but the government refused to let this become common knowledge at the time because they did not think they could do anything about it. They could not get an army the size that they used in Pennsylvania over the mountains and they were afraid that if they did, The independent minded westerners would simply leave the union and be driven into the arms of Spain. So when you think about it the whole myth about the whisky rebellion does not make sense. Why would distillers leave Pennsylvania over the rebellion to come to Kentucky when Kentuckians were forced to pay the same tax and conditions politically were the same.
I will give Hamilton this much credit for distilling history. The tax was based upon proof to be measured using a hydrometer so it did force distillers to learn to use a hydrometer.
One of the best things about a forum like this one (as opposed to, say, "what's your favorite rock group?") is the chance to see different views of American history. Sometimes radically different. I respect your knowledge and training but more than that, I respect your professional courage to oppose popularly held notions when you see that they're unsupported. That, to my authority-questioning personality, is a very admirable quality.
Nearly everything I've ever read about the events of 1791-94, commonly known as the Whiskey Rebellion, is opposed to what you're saying. Gerald Carson's book, "The Social History of Bourbon" devotes a chapter specifically to this series of incidents, which include David Bradford's very real attempt to command an army of insurrection with the idea of declaring an independent state. Far from being insignificant, by 1794 Bradford's militia, consisting of between five and seven thousand armed citizen-soldiers, having already taken control of much of southwest Pennsylvania, successfully invaded and terrorized the city of Pittsburgh and were threatening to storm Fort Fayette. It was at this point that the decision to send federal troops was made.
Now, from the federal government's point of view, this was a very serious situation. The use of overwhelming force to win a war by intimidation is a basic military tactic. Regardless of the effort expended, the situation is nearly always treated afterwards as if the threat amounted to nothing at all. The idea is to discourage similar attempts by denying validity to the transgressors. In this case, the imminent arrival of massive federal troops was a sufficient threat to destroy the insurrection. Most of the officers and men deserted, Bradford himself escaped to Louisiana, and there was, indeed, no organization remaining by the time the "Watermelon Army" arrived in the Monongahela valley. As you pointed out, a small number of arrests were made (twenty, not two), and upon return to Philadelphia these were paraded through the streets for riducule as if they had been the entire opposing force.
But the logic that would allow you to consider this "victory-by-intimidation" as an indication that there had been no insurrection or threat to the sovereignty of the federal government would also say the same about the Gulf War in our own times. The fact that the opposing army had pretty much fallen apart at the seams before the first wave of ground troops invaded doesn't modify the very real threat which that army had once been. Likewise, the rebellion in Western Pennsylvania was a far cry from the BATF's attack on the David Foresh's compound at Waco. I have no doubt that much was made of two individuals who might have been somewhat less than mentally competent, as if they were representative of the whole. And, although I don't know whether Jefferson's statement reflected his lack of information, misinformation deliberately reported to him, or a desire to criticize the use (by his political opponents) of the federal military, I do believe he was not addressing the situation as it actually existed.
Okay, that's pretty much the Gerald Carson version. And I imagine several other similar versions I've read were probably based on that one. However, I should point out that Carson provides about a page and half of closely-spaced reference notes and source listings for just that chapter alone. The book is long on documentation and you might want to give it a second look.
Now, about "documentation"...
I have two widely varying opinions about documentation. The first is that, if I'm reading a book about facts, such as a history of bourbon, corroboration really goes a long way toward gaining my confidence in what the author is saying. Carson's book is certainly well-annotated... At least it appears that way to me; you've written about some writers (Carson, for one, I believe) that their notes were faulty. I'm not sure what this means. If I were to obtain one of the referenced documents would I find that it doesn't say what he's quoted? If that's true then my confidence in Carson (and the ideas he supports) takes a 180 and flies right out the window.
Or are you saying that the references are accurate enough, but the things the quoted publications said are not? That brings me to my other opinion about documentation. I spend a large portion of my workday documenting events, but an even larger portion trying to adapt systems to work the way they were "documented" to work by their developers. As a result, I feel I have a bit less "unquestioning respect" for documentation as an authorative source than people in more academic lines of work might have. I'm more inclined to ask of an idea, "Is this internally consistant? If I use this logic on another example, will it come out the way this example came out?". So I tend to accept documented explanations at face value if (and only if) they seem to be internally logical.
So what do I mean by "internal logic"? Only that statements and ideas shouldn't contradict themselves. For example, you said that the political conditions in Kentucky leaned enough toward rebellion to make that threat a real possibility and that the feds were aware of the impossibility of sending troops across the mountains to enforce the tax laws. Then you asked, "Why would distillers leave Pennsylvania over the rebellion to come to Kentucky?" Well, it seems pretty obvious to me. Logically, this would be more of a reinforcement of Carson's view than of yours.
You also said that no major Kentucky distillers migrated as a result of the Whiskey Rebellion, and that's true as far as I can tell. However, the Beams, McKennas, Dants, Ripy's, Medleys, Peppers, etc. who arrived in the mid-1800's may well have done so because Kentucky was where the action was. Aspiring screen actors and cinematographers don't migrate to Chicago, even though there are film makers there; they go to Hollywood. Because that's where the industry is. That's where the stars are. That's the big-time. Had it not been for the Whiskey Rebellion, Pennsyvania and Maryland would have been "the big-time" for whiskey (albeit rye whiskey, not bourbon) and they would have gone there to seek their fortune. There would still be bourbon, of course. And probably a Wall-of-Fame, too. But it would have more of a local character since only a few afficianados would be aware of it (a little like the way rye is today).
So here is my dilemma: Without opposition, Carson's book (or rather the idea that the Whiskey Rebellion was a major factor in both U.S. history and the Kentucky bourbon industry) makes very tight internal logical sense. But, even though I've not heard anyone else offer it, your version (wherein the unpleasantness in Western Pennsylvania plays a less significant role) also makes good sense. I'm really interested in reading a lot more about your version of how bourbon came to be where it is today. And your documentation notes.
P.S. - I just realized I've been "hooked". Pretty clever, Mikey-moo! Now I can't wait for your d@mnned book to come out!! (like, I wouldn't have bought it anyway).
aw, com' on! I want to tell you my favorite rock group!
Seriously, thanks for lifting the topic and giving it space. That is one of my biggest concerns -- that things will get buried and only those of us who read every post will check them. I'd love to see this forum expand to involve more of the 222 registered and I perceive making clear threads to be one way. I know it is Jim's place but I am all for seeing "us" reach many people.
Thank You!! I do love a good historical debate. Now the question is where to start with your arguments. I think first of all I will start with your source, Carson's "Social History of Bourbon". One of the things that a absolutly hated about the book was the one sided way he portrayed historical events in order to create his "mood" for the book. One of the biggest flaws was his description of the whiskey rebellion. I never said the whiskey rebellion was not a serious rebellion, I simply said that it did not create this mass exodus of distillers to Kentucky. I still can not think of one name of a distiller who came to Kentucky from Pennsylvania because of the whiskey rebellion. Yes, there was a small army of farmers opposed to the tax and they did do some, as we would call in today's newspapers, "terrorist acts" such as tar and feather tax collectors and seize control of government buildings and such, but when the government showed a real resolve to quench this revolt, they disbanded fairly quick. Hamilton's army spent most of its time marching around the countryside looking impressive.
I said that a few were arrested and only two were CONVICTED of any crimes. These two were quickly pardoned because they were obviously scapegoats for the government. It is this lack of arrest and convictions that Thomas Jefferson is making fun of in his quote. He was well informed of what happened and was a champion for the farmer distillers. He ran his Presidential campaign with the promise to balance the budget and to repeal the whiskey tax. After when the election he did keep his promise.
Now about the rebellion in Kentucky. Kentuckians tarred and feathered a few tax collectors and refused to pay their taxes. The way the government handled the situation here was to have a very sympathetic person in charge of the situation who could convince the people the best way to fight the tax was in the courts. This delayed any overt violence until Hamilton's Army put forward a show of force in Pennsylvania. After the collapse of the rebellion in Pennsylvania the Kentuckians saw rthe wisdom of paying their taxes peacefully. My argument is that why would a distiller involved in the rebellion in Pennsylvania come to Kentucky when the tax was here too. If he was fleeing the tax collectors then Spanish territory or Canada would be the logical choices of refuge.
I have always been a little bothered by the knee-jerk conclusion that Pennsylvania distillers came to Kentucky in reaction to the excise tax and the federal government's efforts to stamp out the whiskey rebellion. My problems are:
- Kentucky wasn't that much more remote than western Pennsylvania.
- I've never seen a contemporary statement by a distiller stating that he came to Kentucky from Pennsylvania for that reason.
- Most of the distillers we know about didn't come from Pennsylvania.
- The Whiskey Rebellion wasn't that big a deal. Nobody got killed, etc.
- The same sorts of thing, vis a vis the excise tax, happened in Kentucky at the same time they were happening in Pennsylvania.
- People on the frontier were a pretty mobile lot. They might pull up stakes and move somewhere else for any number of reasons.
The problem is that people today seem to think of distillers as a breed apart when, in fact, distilling was a common farm occupation, like curing meat or baking bread.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
This is your points are well taken. You asked earlier about what I had against Carson's book and this is one of the things that bothers me about his writing. He does not look at both sides of issues and uses facts only to create his point of view. Go back and read it again and you will see what I mean. Carson tries to create the illusion of, as you so well put it, that distillers were a breed apart. The truth is that there were a lot of people distilling at the time of the whiskey rebellion. It was probably not as common as curing their own meat, but that had more to do with the expense of distilling equipment than anything.
"Kentuckians tarred & feathered a few tax collectors, and refused to pay their taxes." Good for them! We should do so today, except that tax collectors no longer come around (I wonder why?) and we must figure our taxes ourselves at our own expense. Tom Jefferson was right when he said "The government the governs best governs least." This is a far cry from todays Democratic party that want to expand government & hike taxes to the breaking point. It's no wonder they want to repeal the second amendment right to keep and bear arms. Good honest men would march upon Washington and overthrow that kind of dictatorial government. Tom Jefferson would have nothing whatsoever to do with todays democratic socialist party. Bigger government is *NOT* better government!
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.
Distilling may not have been as common as curing meat, but close. A better comparison might be to tanning leather. The point is that it was usually done as a sideline to farming or milling, not as a primary occupation.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
Chuck the good distiller might have been looked upon as was the good gunsmith. Men of virtue meeting a goodly need.
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.
John you've got a serious problem. It's called historical revisionism. That's a dirty word. You've got it bad. Chin up old friend there is a cure! It's called the truth. Keep your eyes wide open and pay attention!
You talk about a "chance to see different views of American history," Well here's your chance.
In another thread you call Alexander Hamilton a "right-winger". Wrong you are sir. There is no such thing as "right & left" until the mid 1800's when a group of madmen in Paris calling themselves communists hired Carl Marx to draft their manifesto, and unknowingly unleash the most wickedly evil inhumanities angainst humanity ever wittnessed by God and history.
Al Hamilton was a monarchist, and wanted George Washington to be crowned *KING*. That fifth collum monarchy movement was brought to a screaching halt when George said "no".
Hamiton then threw in his lot with the New England Federalist Party. They lost to Thomas Jefferson. Aaron Burr had beaten Hamiton's father-in-law for senetor of New York. Al made dispariging remarks about Aaron.. This pissed Aaron off. So he challenged Al to a duel. Al was a brave but dishonorable man. Aaron killed Al. Unfortunately dueling was no longer legal. Aaron took a hike to the "Orleans Territory." He was investigated for treason but aquitted. Twice.
What does all of this mean? Simple - John and his "theory" of Al Hamilton are wrong. There are a lot of bad people "out there" that want to rewrite history to suit themselves. These people are called "historical revisionists". That is far to polite for me, I call them liers, and would gladly challenge them to a duel. I'm a good shot with a pistol. America would be a better place. Right John?
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.
Greg, et al:
Riding herd on this forum is simply to great a task for one man. Provided that people who would cut and paste firmly grasp the notion of "is a kind of" as opposed to "is a part of", I'll gladly accept any help offered.
I would like to say that while I enjoy this forum immensely, the "History" topic has proven very interesting. I particularly enjoy the lively debate. Being from Kentucky, I thought the early threads were heading toward a feud! Most importantly, gaining different perspectives on the same issue is fascinating. It is amazing how a group can "witness" an event and yet draw very different conclusions. As long as someone can support a position with well-thought out, logical reasoning, I will always hear them out. I may not agree, but it does at least challenge me to look at my views from another perspective. Keep up the good work!
Ken, thanks for your participation! it's added much!
When you say Elmer T. Lee is lookin' over your shoulder that's a lot better than me saying I'm reading this book....
What you are saying is that primary source documentation is much more important than secondary sources. That is why I prefer primary sources and I have never seen a letter or other document that states "I came here to distill because of the rebellion in Pennsylvania".
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