The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition

By Herbert Asbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE

"The Good Creature of God"

The most intemperate era in American history began during the last half of the eighteenth century, when rum had become the principal medium of exchange in the slave trade and was nearing the peak of its importance as a factor of the colonial economy; and when whiskey, first distilled in western Pennsylvania, was beginning to be recognized as the easiest and most profitable way in which to market grain. It ended some fifty years after the Revolution, by which time American drinking habits had been somewhat modified by the first waves of European immigration, and the anti-liquor movement had begun to assume the character of a religious crusade, the basis of its strong appeal to the American people.

During this period of some eighty or ninety years, "the good creature of God," as liquor was called in some of the colonial laws, was considered a prime necessity, an indispensable part of clean and healthy living. It was a common article of diet, in many places almost as much so as bread, while even physicians looked upon it as a preventative of all diseases and a specific for many. Everybody drank--both sexes and nearly all ages. The aged and infirm sipped toddies of rum and water--heavy on the rum; babies were quieted by copious doses of a mixture of rum and

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