Blondie and I found ourselves in the nation’s capital this weekend for a friend's wedding. D.C. offers a plethora of opportunities to combine sightseeing with historical learning - The Monuments, The Smithsonian, The White House, The Capital. So what did we choose to learn about? Why, booze of course!
The National Archives, which houses The Bill of Rights, The Constitution, and The Declaration of Independence, is currently running an exhibit entitled Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History. The exhibit, which runs through January 10, 2016, looks at the government’s tolerance, oversight, and control of alcohol through American history. If there ever was an exhibit up my alley, this is it.
Since the exhibit focuses on how the government treated alcohol in America, a good chunk of the exhibit focused on The Temperance Movement through that darkest of times in American history….Prohibition.
The Temperance Movement did not originally set out to ban all drinking. Hell, it didn’t even set out of ban all drunkenness. No, the original goal of The Temperance Movement was to stop drunkenness among the poor and working classes of this country. That is why one of the first major temperance organizations was named The Anti-Saloon League. Rich people didn’t visit saloons. The wealthy and elite of society drank at home and in their private clubs.
If you looked carefully at the Spirited Republic exhibit, it became clear that poor drinkers were the target of The Temperance Movement. For example, a cartoon entitled Why I Hate The Liquor Traffic featured a quote from J. Frank Hanley, Governor of Indiana which read:
“I hate the Liquor Traffic for the almshouses it peoples – for the prisons it fills – for the insanity it causes – for its countless graves in potters fields. I hate it for the grief it causes womankind, and for the shadow it throws upon the lives of children – its monstrous injustice to blameless little ones.”
Notice the words used: almshouses…prisons…potters fields. These words are associated with the poor. The rich didn’t need to worry about begging in a poorhouse, finding themselves in prison, or being buried in a nameless grave.
The Spirited Republic had more examples of this anti-poor-people-drinking movement. If you visit the exhibit, keep an eye out for displays of the stigma.
The exhibit also did a neat job of showing the use of alcohol, through toasts, in diplomatic relationships. There were clips of presidents from Carter to Reagan to Obama toasting other world leaders. Pretty cool.
If you’ll allow me an aside – I always find it comical when President Obama or any other politician poses with a beer for a photo op. It is so clearly forced. These men and women who run our country don’t hang out in the same sports bars and dives where the average drinker heads for a couple of pints. So why pretend they do? No one believes them. And I never liked judging politicians on the “would you have a beer with them” scale. I really don’t care if our leaders make great drinking buddies. I have plenty of friends I love having beers with and I don’t want any of them as our Commander-In-Chief. I want our president to be good at running the country. Who cares how good he is at drinking beer?
Ok, aside over. Back to the Spirited Republic exhibit.
If you find yourself in D.C. between now and January 10, 2016, I recommend making your way over to the National Archives and the Spirited Republic exhibit. Check out the United States’ most significant documents and learn about our country’s hot and cold relationship with alcohol. It’s free of charge, and small enough that touring the entire building won’t take you more than two to three hours. For more info, check out the Spirited Republic website: www.spiritedrepublic.org.
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