William Hogeland's THE WHISKEY REBELLION

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William Hogeland's THE WHISKEY REBELLION

Unread postby tlsmothers » Wed May 03, 2006 2:49 am

Anybody heard of this one, yet? http://www.whiskey-rebellion.com/ I'm looking to get a review copy this week. May bring some into the store and have this guy do an event with us.
"Drinking just to get drunk is like having sex just to get pregnant." --Robert Hess
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Unread postby Brewer » Wed May 03, 2006 9:18 am

I'd never heard of this book before, but it sounds like it would be an interesting read.
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Unread postby cowdery » Fri May 05, 2006 2:21 pm

I just started it last night. Looks like a good read. It's brand new.
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Unread postby Strayed » Fri May 05, 2006 10:02 pm

President Washington and Alexander Hamilton lead an overwhelming force against insurgent farmers and laborers in the wild west

I haven't read that particular book, but as you might suppose I've certainly read plenty about this particular subject. I gather from the advertising text that the book may cover some refreshingly different angles; that would be very good. Unfortunately, part of the advertising blurb (the part I quoted above) seems to make the same mistake most other treatments of the Whiskey Rebellion do, and I feel a need to add my two cents (or Continental dollar, whichever is worth more).

It wasn't those low-class, uneducated, riff-raff "farmers and laborers" that were the problem; there were rebellious distillers all over the western frontier, including Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Kentucky. Some were landowners and civic leaders. There was never even a remote consideration of sending federal troops into those states to enforce the excise tax, which was ignored every bit as thoroughly everywhere as it was in western Pennsylvania. The use of federal armed forces was targeted specifically against the "almost-nation" of Westsylvania, which had enough issues with the federalist government that its own civil leadership was actively considering separation from the United States. Had they been successful at doing that, they would almost certainly have been joined by Kentucky and perhaps other frontier areas, and would likely have entered into treaties with Spain and Britain. And the federally-consecrated United States would probably not have "long endured" another four score years.

Where whiskey came into the picture was in the fact that distilled spirits share with gold the property of permanance. Once distilled and sealed into a container, spirits can be stored indefinitely. We often hear that whiskey was used for barter in the frontier areas, but the image commonly presented, that of a penniless farmer trading a jug of hootch for some groceries and new pair of overalls, is both simplistic and false. A warehouse full of whiskey barrels is, in effect, a bank. And script could be written against deposits there, just as a ten-dollar bill once represented a claim against ten dollars worth of gold (later silver) on deposit in Alexander Hamilton's "warehouse". In fact, Hamilton had already used such notes to purchase from his friends and business associates (at face value) all the Continental dollars they had obtained from those same farmers at pennies on the dollar. It was, in fact, repayment of that very "federal debt" that is usually cited as the sole purpose of the excise tax on distillery equipment.

And make no mistake; it was NOT a tax on whiskey. It was a tax on the means of MAKING whiskey. The excise tax of 1791 was calculated on the potential output of the still; the amount of whiskey actually produced was of no consequence.

What made the use of whiskey as a monetary standard particularly intolerable to the federalist mentality was that it provided a method by which wealth (permanent wealth, not perishible goods to be sold for federal dollars) could be created by members of socially inferior classes. In the eyes of elitists such as Hamilton, that would have included both scratch-farmers and plantation owners; the difference being that the latter were "gentlemen-by-association" whose wealth was obtained, via bankers and brokers, from the federal aristocracy (and as a loan from his bank). These attitudes are still present today, and they continue to affect the relationship between the federal treasury and those with the capability of creating distilled spirits (especially STORED distilled spirits, such as whiskey).

The excise tax on whiskey served several purposes, the two major ones being to pay for Hamilton's fiscal generosity and to remove the economic basis of the potentially independent Westsylvania state. I've often found it interesting that we are given only the former as the reason for the confrontation -- although it completely failed to accomplish that objective -- and the latter is virtually never mentioned, although that was absolutely successful.
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Unread postby tlsmothers » Mon May 15, 2006 9:15 pm

He does touch on Westsylvania's desire for independence. I have only begun the first half of the book. The writing style leaves you feeling like you have been in a therapy session with some of the key players like Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. The author tells a story that lures you in and doesn't bog you down with just historic dates and footnotes.
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Unread postby cowdery » Tue May 16, 2006 9:57 pm

Trust me on this. You can't judge a book by its ad blurbs, which are not only usually not written by the author, but usually are written by somebody who has not read the book. I'm about 2/3 through it and it is a real eye-opener. One thing that has impressed me is that, unlike a lot of historians who write about a subject in which whiskey-making plays a part, he gets the whiskey-making parts right. It appears to be almost entirely based on primary sources, i.e., letters, journals, official records, etc. The author is not per se a historian, he's a writer.
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Unread postby Strayed » Wed May 17, 2006 12:03 am

I just ordered a copy. Can't argue with the likes of Chuck and LeNell.
(Oh, all right, yes I can... but I can see I better pick up some ammunition first :D )
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed May 24, 2006 10:08 am

I am about 100 pages into the book and this story is more and more reminding me of the debate John and I (with input from Chuck Cowdery and Linn, as I recall) had on straightboubon about 6 years ago. I am looking forward to finishing this book to see what his final conclusions are concerning the rebellion.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue May 30, 2006 10:53 am

I have finished the book and will try to do a review tonight. It was very interesting and points out many of the same issues discussed in a "New Nation" history class I had in college. I enjoyed seeing these issues in context of the Whiskey Rebellion. It emphasizes the East/West conflict that is also quite apparent in Madison's notes on the constitutional convention. I am not sure that Hamilton was quite the manipulator that Hogeland depicts him as, but he was a tricky one. I would be interested in seeing some more of his sources on Hamilton.

One point that I found interesting is the fact that when people fled the area, they probably left the area completely and settled on the Mississippi River, out of the reach of the Federal prosecutors. Coming to Kentucky would have been a waste of time if they wanted to avoid prosecution. The leader of the rebel congress settled in Louisiana.

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Unread postby cowdery » Tue May 30, 2006 10:06 pm

Hogeland does reference a couple of old saws about the Whiskey Rebellion that I think you, Mike, have successfully debunked, the "fled to Kentucky" myth as well as the one about the dominent influence of the Scots-Irish on early frontier distilling. Overall, though, I found it an enjoyable and enlightening read, but people should read it because they are interested in that period in American history. If they read it because they are interested in the history of American whiskey, they'll probably be disappointed.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed May 31, 2006 10:30 am

Chuck,
In his notes at the end of the book Hogeland does state that the Scots-Irish connection is more myth than fact. I found these notes very interesting reading. This is one of the few times I have found a writer discussing the different schools of thought in American Historians.

I would adjust your statement about reading this book in saying that you will learn about American history of the period and an important period in the development of the whiskey industry, but I agree there is not a lot about the actual whiskey. Still I found the book enjoyable and I would recommend it for a whiskey library.

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Unread postby EllenJ » Fri Jun 02, 2006 1:56 pm

I'm really enjoying this book. I haven't finished it yet, but I have an unusual style of reading non-fiction books: I scan the whole book quickly, then come back to different parts that attract my attention or if other parts don't seem to "make sense". Eventually I read every word of the book, but what I learn from it that way is more internalized than if I just took it sequentially the way it's published. One challenge I have (not always successfully overcome) is to avoid doing the same thing in my writing.

So I haven't "finished" the book yet, nor even come close, but it's certainly fascinating. I won't say "refreshing", of course; anyone who finds themselves surprised or suddenly sees logical answers to the questions left open by our popular notions about the "whiskey rebellion" (and other American Revolution issues) either isn't familiar with Our Fine Website or has only been looking at the pictures. Mr. Hogeland has produced a delightful (if somewhat roughly written) narrative about the very themes I've been hammering away at in this and other venues for nearly eight years now.

That began when -- very early in our relationship -- Mike Veach pointed out to me that we should not necessarily take everything we read at face value. On an another internet forum, (where some of us here helped develop this discussion format) a newcomer to the world of bourbon had asked about its origins. And I, with the supreme confidence that comes from having recently read something about it for the first time, proudly announced that, as a result of the whiskey rebellion, the Scotch-Irish settlers of western Pennsylvania were driven down the Ohio River and into Kentucky.

"Not so!" exclaimed the future hall-of-fame'er, "Most of Kentucky's distillers came across the mountains. Have you ever noticed that not a single old bourbon family name came here from western PA?". He was correct, of course, and thus I learned to begin paying more attention to what makes sense and what doesn't, rather than simply accepting as fact whatever explanation was most commonly published.

I also noticed that, despite the occasional Joseph Finch or Sam Thompson, most of the distillers who DID settle in Pennsylvania all seemed to have such fine, old Scotch-Irish names as Overholt, and Boehm, and Schreve, Guckenheimer, Schenck, Foust, and so forth. To this day, it seems like just about every "official" source of American whiskey history I know points to such Scotch-Irish settlers* as bourbon's and rye's original distillers; and until William Hogeland's book becomes as successful as I hope it will, those same "authorities" will continue to attribute the origins of Kentucky bourbon with refugee tax-evaders from Pittsburgh.

--------------------------------------------------------------------
* By the way, many of the books I've read even get that part wrong, describing the farmer/distillers as Scotsmen and Irishmen, instead of Scotch-Irish -- another national group altogether, more properly called Ulstermen. If you're not sure of the difference, simply contact your nearest IRA/Sien Fein representative and they'll be happy to explain it to you. Let's just say that they probably weren't putting out any special St. Patrick's day bottlings. knowwhadduhmeanvern?
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Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Jun 02, 2006 2:29 pm

John,
Interesting notes on your thought process - I must say that does explain a lot about our debates!

I still think that for the most interesting point on the book is the fact that when the people fleeing the army went west out of the government jurisdiction, they meant out of the United States into what was then spanish territory. Hogeland mentions the leader of the rebellion was living near New Orleans and in the Taylor-Hay papers Richard Taylor, Jr. mentions seeing someone in New Orleans who was invovlved in the whiskey troubles in Kentucky living there in the 1820's. Why flee to Kentucky if Federal Courts could still come after you. Spanish Louisiana is the more logical choice for a refuge.

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Unread postby EllenJ » Fri Jun 02, 2006 3:57 pm

David Braddock did indeed flee to Feliciana, now known as St. Francisville, in Spanish West Florida (today's Louisiana). He didn't exactly arrive as a refugee; with a large land grant from Spain, he established a plantation and built a mansion in 1796 which is today known as the Myrtle Plantation House (http://www.whiskeyrebellion.org/bradford3/myrtles.htm). On March 9, 1799 President John Adams signed a full pardon, but Braddock and his family remained there, through the re-aquisition of the territory by France and the purchase by the United States, until his death in 1808.

It is, of course, haunted :roll:
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Pardon John Adams. President of the United States of America.


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Unread postby gillmang » Fri Jun 02, 2006 4:48 pm

I haven't read this new book so any judgement must await that process. I should say though that I am less (maybe influenced by law's inherent conservatism) likely than some to be skeptical of received explanations. I think for example of the origin of the beer type "porter", which contemporary accounts ascribe to the popularity of the beer amongst London porters (movers who did hard physical work). In later years all kinds of alternative explanations appeared for the name yet the traditional explanation still makes the most sense to me. As for the Scots-Irish and whiskey, I am not qualified to give an authoritative opinion, but I do know they were a hugely influential group in American history. They did massively settle the new frontiers. Most came from Ulster but many allied groups came from Scotland (e.g., the Samuels ancestors, I understand). All these people would have known or known of cereal whiskey back home, as would the ancestors of the very Scots- or Scots-Irish-sounding Samuel M'Harry who wrote (in Pennsylvania) Practical Distilling in around 1810. Surely many German-Americans distilled but they may (I believe) have been influenced in what they made by the Scots and Scots-Irish. The reverse could have occurred too, and no doubt did to a degree (e.g. rye whiskey, probably), but the Scottishness (which culturally to me includes the Ulstermen) of distilling in Pennsylvania, Kentucky,Tennessee and Maryland and elsewhere is evident in the names Craig, Crow, Daniel, Hannis, Thompson, McCormick, Brown (might be English originally but I suspect Scots origins there too), Moore and one can go on. Initially this concerned (this SCots-Irish connection to whisky) moonshining but this would have rubbed off on the people who aged and commercialised whisky too - it was "in their blood". Sure, people with English-origin names (and ultimately German and some Jewish-Americans) excelled in American whisky production but whiskey was never the staple in England or Wales (or Germany as far as I know or the Jewish areas in Europe) that it was in Scotland and Ulster and it did not carry the cultural significance elsewhere that it did in Scotland and Ireland. (I am perfectly willing to believe that Southern Irish contributed to American whisky culture too but they came mostly in the 1800's and after and by then the pattern of whisky making and consumption was established). I still believe that the massive movement (in successive waves) of Scots and Scots-Irish settlers to America in the 1700's is what implanted cereal distillation permanently in America.

Gary
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