The Alcoholic Republic
The colonization of America brought about many new ways of life: new living conditions, new skills to be learned, and new land to explore and settle. Relations with the natives provided food and basic skill sets, and it also paved the way for new colonists arriving in such a foreign land. However, life for colonists coming to settle America was no vacation. Depending on your family’s background and where you decided to settle, daily life was an adventure. In Virginia, rapscallions, who had never worked a day in their life, squandered their days drinking and gambling. New Hampshire set up actual town squares; churches, schools, town halls. Soon enough, however, a similar theme started to become more and more apparent as well as more and more concerning. Alcohol and excessive drinking became extremely prevalent in early Americans’ lives. There are many factors that led to such alcoholism, and many factors that led into the increasing numbers of Americans to embrace temperance. Taverns were believed, by the lower classes, to be nurseries of freedom. By the upper classes, they were believed to be seedbeds for rowdy, drunk, and subordinate colonists. Again, due to many factors, alcoholism witnessed an excessive peak as well as harsh opposition from temperance groups.
During the early 19th century, many factors led early Americans to excessive drinking. First, while colonists were developing their own towns and cities, one major economic factor that led to such binge drinking was that of trade routes. Colonists began trading in the West Indies and were receiving rum as part of barter payments. These spirituous liquors were easy to obtain and came in hefty amounts. W. J. Rorabaugh noted, “Unlike other goods, including molasses, run shipped easily, could be warehoused cheaply, withstood any climate and improper handling, and increased in value as it aged. Rum was the currency of the age.”1 Such an influx of rum into America caused prices to...
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