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  1. #1
    **DONOTDELETE**
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    History and Historians

    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 209.214.170.4


    John,
    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.

    Mike Veach

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  2. #2
    **DONOTDELETE**
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    Re: History and Historians

    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).

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  3. #3
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    Re: History and Historians

    aw, com' on! I want to tell you my favorite rock group!

    [IMG]/wwwthreads/images/smile.gif[/IMG]

    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.


    Greg


  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: History and Historians

    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

  5. #5
    **DONOTDELETE**
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    Re: History and Historians

    Chuck,
    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.
    Mike Veach


  6. #6
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: History and Historians

    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

  7. #7
    **DONOTDELETE**
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    Re: History and Historians

    Chuck the good distiller might have been looked upon as was the good gunsmith. Men of virtue meeting a goodly need.

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

  8. #8
    The Boss
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    Re: History and Historians

    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.




    Cheers,

    Jim Butler
    Straightbourbon.com

  9. #9
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    Re: History and Historians

    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


  10. #10
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    Re: History and Historians

    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....

    Greg


 

 

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