Drinking Is a Part of American Culture

During a third of the eighteenth-century, the typical American annually drank more distilled liquor than at any other time in our history. Alcohol was believed to have health benefits. Alcohol was a safe drink compared to water. However, there were colonials who deplored alcohol surrounding drunkenness. They also viewed alcohol as a threat to the nation. The criticism of liquor firstly came from religion. Religion is often intertwined with the opinions of alcohol. Spirituous liquor was God’s good creature, however, overindulgence in liquor was considered to be evil and those who drank excessively were looked down upon.

There were many educated people who condemned alcohol altogether. This change of mind was due to rational philosophy, rejection of tradition, advances in science, especially medicine. In the years following the Revolution, the consumption of spirits declined. This is because Americans began to think differently. They had abandoned old customs and adopted customs that would benefit their country.

After 1830, the temperance movement, and later on high federal taxation discouraged the drinking of distilled beverages.

The upper class believed taverns should be regulated, organized, and decorous. For their demands to be met they looked to licensing and regulation. However, the upper-class efforts to restrain public drunkenness failed due to defiance. This essay will discuss, how the birth of a republic and the growth of scientific rationalism in the eighteenth century, which emphasized human reason as a force for political, economic and even religious reform, led to increased skepticism of alcohol, especially among the educated elite of the American Revolutionary period.

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Drinking is a part of American culture. People of all ages drank spirits. People drank different spirits alongside their meals, celebrations, funerals, and to numb their emotions. The reason for the excessive consumption of alcohol was that colonists believed water was unhealthy and it often made them sick. Therefore, alcohol was a safer choice; it was practical to consume. “Americans believed that rum, gin, and brandy were nutritious and healthful. Distilled spirits were viewed as foods that supplemented limited and monotonous diets, as medications that could cure colds, fevers, and snakebites, frosted toes, and broken legs, and as relaxants that would relieve depression, reduce tension, and enable hardworking laborers to enjoy a moment of happy, frivolous camaraderie.” (Rorabaugh, W. J. chapter 2 pg. 25)

There were many benefits to consuming distilled spirits. Spirits were cheap and accessible therefore consumption of alcohol increased. Despite distilled spirits having “healthy benefits,” and looked upon as something everyone should consume daily, drinking to the point of drunkenness was looked down upon; it was viewed negatively. “This high tide of rum brought with it a new style of drinking. Public drunkenness became a vehicle for the expression of anger and hostility. It also became evident to some people that drunkenness led to thievery, lechery, and brutality. The association of rum with crime and disorder caused these Americans to perceive inebriation itself as a major social problem. (Rorabaugh, W. J. Chapter 2 pg. 30) Consumption of alcohol had troublesome side effects. Alcohol altered your personality and rationality in an unpleasant way. This led people to abstain from liquor.

Religion has been closely intertwined with opinions toward alcohol. For instance, In the late seventeenth-century, Reverend Increase Mather preached that alcohol drink was “a good creation of God.” He believed that a man should indulge in “God’s creation” though, without wasting or abusing it. However, Mather felt that a man should not overindulge consuming alcohol. Mather’s son took a different stance on the issue. In 1708, Cotton Mather agreed with his father that “God created” distilled spirits for men to partake in. This is because spirits had health benefits. However, Mather deplored drunkenness. “Mather saw inebriation as a source of social unrest, as a sign of divine affliction, and as a warning of eternal damnation… What Puritan Mather feared especially was that the Flood of RUM would overwhelm all good orders among us.”(chapter 2 pg. 31) Mather proclaimed that drunkenness is sinful. The punishment for drunkenness is eternal Hell. Also, Mather was worried intoxication could cause social problems.

“The source of Mather alarm was that the wealthy elite, whom he addressed, could best afford to buy rum and were, therefore, the most likely to overindulge.” Upper-class inebriation had frightening consequences.” The higher ranks of society must renounce drunkenness in order to be a model for the rest. Let persons of the Best sort, be Exemplary for this piece of Abstinence; and then, he predicted, let the lowest people be at that point, we’ll consent unto it As good as the Best. This would be a good order to be preserved.” (Chapter 2 pg. 31)

The upper-class had access to retrieve alcohol, therefore could overindulge. Mather knows that alcohol has extreme consequences so he is calling upon the wealthy to lead the rest of society in abstinence. Abstinence is the key to uphold order.

In the middle of the eighteenth-century, there were many educated people who condemned alcohol altogether. This change of mind was due to rational philosophy, rejection of tradition, advances in science, especially medicine. As early as the 1720s there were a few scientists who stated that alcohol was toxic, and by the 1730s this perspective was gaining support. For instance, The founder of Georgia, James Oglethorpe attempted to “ban rum from his Georgia colony at the urging of the Rev. Stephen Hales, one of the colony’s trustees, a physiologist and the author of two anti-spirits treatises.” (chapter 2 pg.38) This shows that people were taking the issue of alcohol very seriously. Alcohol and how it affected your health made people listen; it led people to oppose or ban liquor. Benjamin Rush was a Christian and a physician, He believed that alcohol did not have any health benefits, but in fact, alcohol was bad for your health; alcohol was a progressive disease. Rush was concerned that the overconsumption of alcohol might destroy the newly formed America. His concern led him to write a pamphlet, and it describes how one might fall to the disease of overconsumption of alcohol.

Furthermore, the pamphlet describes various distilled spirits and their effects on the body and mind. Rush urges moderate drinking, eating, and exercise. “Spirituous liquor he believed should be replaced with beer, light wine, weak rum punch, sour milk, or switchel, a drink composed of vinegar, sugar, and water. (Chapter 2 pg. 41) It is made clear that Rush didn’t want people to stop drinking entirely, he wanted people to be mindful of their intake of alcohol. He also urged people to look for alternatives. Rush’s pamphlet influenced people to give up on distilled spirits. “Foreign travellers observed that the revolutionary war years had produced a marked change in upper-class drinking practices…some Americans drank water. Another visitor who returned to America after the war noted that gentlemen’s drinking clubs had disappeared, that Americans appear to drink less, and that the Virginia gentry no longer felt an obligation to send guests home drunk.” (chapter 2 pgs. 45-46) Abstinence was indeed spreading because of the realization that alcohol was detrimental to health.

In the years following the Revolution, the consumption of spirits declined. This is because Americans began to think differently. They had abandoned old customs and adopted customs that would benefit their country like never before. After 1830, the temperance movement, and later on high federal taxation discouraged the drinking of distilled beverages. Anthony Benezet, a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker, opposed distilled liquors and he expressed his anxiousness for changing drinking practices in colonial America. He believed that hard liquors were the cause of illnesses so, therefore, it was evil. He stated that if men were to consume alcohol they should be responsible, and know when to stop.

“A republic of free men, he contended, had no place for the bondage of men either to other men or to distilled spirits; Americans must liberate themselves from customs that impeded the nation’s development as a haven for free, rational men. Here for the first time, we see liberty viewed in a new light, not as a man’s freedom to drink unlimited quantities of alcohol but as a man’s freedom to be his own master, with the attendant responsibility to exercise self-control, moderation, and reason.”(chapter 2 pg. 37)

We have the freedom to drink whenever we want and we also have the freedom to consume as much liquor as we want. However, we have a choice. Having a choice is our freedom. A choice to stop consuming vast amounts of liquor. If we don’t choose wisely, liquor has consequences. Liquor can take hold of our senses; our reasoning.

Taverns in Colonial America were certainly a major establishment in societal culture. During the first half of the eighteenth-century, taverns were necessary for the well being of a community. Functions of taverns included a place for refreshment, inns for travelers, places of entertainment, and meeting places for the most highly respected people in a town. Though most importantly, taverns served to carry on the drinking culture in America. The upper-class were able to surveil drinking and enforce restraints due to the hierarchical nature of colonial society. “Although men were deemed equal before the law and before God, their social and political inequalities were recognized and respected.

New Englanders followed the advice of their educated, socially prominent Congregational clergy, and in free and open elections they chose men from upper classes as tithingmen, school overseers, town selectmen, and legislative representatives.” (chapter 2 pg. 27) The upper class believed taverns should be regulated, organized, and decorous. For their demands to be met they looked to licensing. In the late seventeenth-century, Massachusetts, the law allowed only voters, church members, the colony’s elite, to hold licenses. “Such regulations led to the kind of situation that existed in the town of Danvers, where the licensed taverners included two deacons and an ordained Congregational minister. Even when members of the upper classes did not themselves manage the public houses, the licensing system kept publicans subservient to the town or country authorities who held the power to grant or deny permits.” (chapter 2 pg. 28)

However, there was defiance among many people. People still decided to go to taverns. This was when the upper class realized that they didn’t have supreme control of the taverns. “Hearty, carefree, freewheeling, benign drinking, monitored and to some extent controlled by the upper classes, would probably have prevailed indefinitely if the per capita consumption of distilled spirits had remained stable. All signs, however, indicate that rum drinking increased after 1720. Nor was this increase surprising, for the price of distilled spirits fell.” (chapter 2 pg. 29) Once rum became cheaper and abundant, more people bought more spirits. The increase in demand attracted many traders. This made people return to taverns.

The upper-class then attempted to impose stricter laws on regulation. “Measures were enacted to discourage Sunday sales; to require all taverns to provide lodging to travelers; to revoke licenses if gaming were permitted on the premises; to prohibit sales to seamen, and to stop a person from buying liquor without his master’s consent.”(chapter 2 pg. 34) The upper class made many modifications and reenactments. Though, their plans didn’t go through and were ignored. The upper class stopped being authoritative. Once they understood that they weren’t able to control public houses, they concluded that taverns “were a pest to society” (chapter 2 pg. 34.) After the Revolution Americans thought that the liberty gained from Biritians was also connected to the freedom to drink whenever, however, and how much.

“Did not both freedoms give a man the right to choose for himself? Upper-class patriots found it difficult after the revolution to attack the popular sentiment that elite control of taverns was analogous to English control of America. As a consequence, drinking houses emerged from the war with increased vitality and independence, and the legal regulation of licensed premises waned.” (chapter 2 pg. 35)

Taverns were the product of the Revolution. Just like the Revolution gave Americans their Freedom and independence. People who went to Taverns also had the freedom and independence to consume spirits merrily or to abstain from alcohol entirely.

In conclusion, drinking is a part of American culture. There were many benefits to consuming distilled spirits. Religion is often intertwined with the opinions of alcohol. Spirituous liquor was God’s good creature, however, overindulgence in liquor was considered to be evil and those who drank excessively were looked down upon. In the middle of the eighteenth-century, there were many educated people who condemned alcohol altogether. This change of mind was due to rational philosophy, rejection of tradition, advances in science, especially medicine. As early as the 1720s there were a few scientists who stated that alcohol was toxic, and by the 1730s this perspective was gaining support. In the years following the Revolution, the consumption of spirits declined. However, those who continue to consume alcohol should be responsible and know when to stop. The upper class tried to license and regulate taverns in order to establish order. However, due to defiance among colonials; the Upper-class was overpowered and stripped themselves of authority. Taverns were looked down upon in an unfavorable manner. Colonials, however, gained the freedom to consume or abstain from alcohol.

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Drinking Is a Part of American Culture. (2022, Apr 26). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/drinking-is-a-part-of-american-culture/

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