The Impacts of Whiskey during the 19th Century
The development of Whiskey had a significant impact on societies during the nineteenth century. Its introduction affected the norms in the community. Whiskey came as a result of civilization and industrialization. Its manufacture impacted the society largely by inflicting social evils and also generating income (Mitenbuler 559). Whiskey manufacture gave way to one of the biggest movements in history which are The Temperance Reforms and the play The Girl of the Golden West’ by David Belasco which sets out the impacts of Whiskey (Belasco 5). Its settings are all similar to the events that took place in the West during the 19th century. It thus serves as a significant tool in outlining the impacts of Whiskey during that period. Through utilization of the play as well as other sources, it becomes possible to derive the impacts that Whiskey elicited more easily which is very viable for scholars as well as researchers.
The Impacts Elicited By Whiskey Manufacture
Social Norms Breakdown
During the 19th century, the society prioritized on social norms and values with excessive drinking being prohibited. Following the increment in Whiskey manufacture, the society underwent dynamism where heavy drinking gained prevalence. The marriage institution was the most affected by the heavy drinking associated with the whiskey manufactured. For instance, in the West, saloons, gambling joints and brothels sprouted encouraging prostitution and other social evils (McClellan 561). Miners who were away from their families would engage in promiscuity which was against the societies norms. The heavy drinking also initiated adultery in families, and at times faulty drinks would cause death to the breadwinners. The reason behind this is the fact that majority of the people tend to become disorderly upon the influence of alcohol.
In the play, the majority of the miners come in to drink and gamble. Belasco shows this impact through the character Billy Jackrabbit (Belasco 5). He frequently visits the bar to pick up cigar butts and at instances resorts to stealing drinks. At one occasion as a shot is fired from the dance hall, Nick the bartender rushes to monitor the situation. It serves as an opportune moment and Jackrabbit goes for it. He grabs four cigars from the bar (Belasco 5). It’s a clear indication of the society’s level of moral degradation and how alcoholism has influenced individuals to immoral, unacceptable acts. Belasco captures the attention of the audience unconsciously on the negative effects of alcoholism showing how addiction gradually entices individuals to resort to crude ways to satisfy their desires (Belasco 5).
Drinking had the largest impact on the family unit as it led to the escalation in domestic violence in families. Alcohol also posed a threat as it rendered the breadwinner unemployed or even dead. Individuals had a minute concern about the values guarding marriage and instead could spend time in brothels with prostitutes (Gusfield 225). Women who were married to alcoholic people were left alone at home with very little to use while their husbands spent time with other women.
The inflictions led to the implementation of the temperance reforms which were led by women. The reforms started in the 18th century and continued all the way to the 19th century as drinking worsened with increment in manufacturers. They aimed to ban the drink from the states and inhibit promiscuity, heavy spending, domestic violence, and death. The heavy drinking affected not only the families but also industrialization. Drunkards were unable to perform their duties efficiently in factories and industries compared to their farming counterparts. It increased the potential for sacking which would, in turn, deny the families income. The temperance movement was however met by some resistance from the manufacturers and sellers as it posed reducing sales and thus limiting income generation. The lack of concern for marriage and family can also be seen from the play. Mr. Rance, the County Sheriff, has his eye on the girl. He proposes to her but she refuses her advances ‘Will you marry me’ (Belasco 21). He continues with his persuasions, but she continually refutes claiming that he has a wife in New Orleans. He is even willing to pay a thousand dollars for a kiss from the girl ‘Give you a thousand dollars on the spot for a kiss’ (Belasco 22).
Whiskey manufacturing initiated the Temperance Movement which was a reform against drinking. It was rallied by women and some alcoholics who were aimed at nullifying alcohol consumption in the UK and the United States. Drinking was associated with unnecessary spending as individuals could overspend on drinks. Heavy drinking would initiate poverty as the money on basic commodities would all be spent on drinking. The wife and children would be left to suffer while the saloons flourished (Rorabaugh 980). Majority of men resorted to drinking to combat depression and anxiety. The continuous drinking initiated addiction and abuse; the individuals could not perform their daily tasks without having a drink.
From the play, the character Trinidad is seen buying drinks for the others. Nick follows his orders by pouring out whiskey to the others; ‘Whiskey for everybody (Nick sets out whiskey and glasses, and the men drink) (Belasco 8). In the case, Trinidad is overspending just to please the others. Through the character, Belasco can spring out the true nature of a Saloon and reality of activities (Belasco 8). Individuals who go out drinking usually do not go out alone. One has to spend buying for themselves and others just to sustain the joy.
Violence was also another significant feature of drinking. Drinking ended in brawls that sort to disrupt peace and harmony in the society. Alcohol manufactured in the 19th century was fusel causing the individuals to have serious hangovers and violent behaviour (Kosar 126). In the 19th century, urbanization and differentiated standards of living gave rise to crime and violence in society. The high alcohol consumption initiated bar brawls, domestic violence, and homicide. They were ways of expression as a result of the initiated social disparities in the society. The situation escalated in the Wild West which was highly characterized by violence, prostitution, and heavy drinking. The drunken individuals highly participated in bar brawls that seemingly ended in shootouts and deaths. Majority of criminal gangs moved to the West as gambling and drinking had made the region more prosperous. The rise in the whiskey manufacture also gave rise to the fake products which came to inflict harm on the consumers. Alcohol contents are a violence contributor (Gerson& Donald 310). Others argue that the violent nature is largely contributed by the drinking surrounding rather than the contents of the drink. They stipulate that the surroundings illicit moods and energy levels that when added together with high alcohol consumption serves to foster violence (Parker & Kathleen 295).From the play, ‘The Girl of the Golden West,’ Belasco shows the violence in his introduction on the Saloons setting (Belasco 8).
The music platform has an iron sheet meant to secure the singer against bullets in case of a brawl eruption. The precautionary measures taken against a brawls occurrence shows that there is always a high probability of disruption. Alcohol acts to distort the normal mental state where the illicit consumer behaviors which a normal minded person would not possess. The acts are as a result of the disorientation of the mind.
Alcohol drinking is often associated with gambling. Drunken individuals were highly prone to engage in bets and poker. During the 19th century, some of the pioneering structures erected in the west were recreational facilities. They were meant to entertain the men where they served whiskey, allowed promiscuity and gambling. The three always went hand in hand in the west. Gambling was seriously prioritized just like any other profession. Gambling initiated the development of many regions in that era, for instance, Mississippi and was highly associated with social evils (McClellan 559). Majority of the gangsters moved to the western regions as gambling had flourished the region. Some argue that gambling is not an evil but depends on the intents of the gamblers (Bloch 217).
In the play, Sidney Duck is portrayed as the best in playing poker as seen from the extract ‘An Australian known as “Sidney Duck,” fat, greasy, unctuous and cowardly. He is an expert at fancy shuffling’ (Belasco 4). This is a clear depiction of the association Whiskey consumption has on gambling. The Saloon business is financed by alcohol consumption and poker as seen in Rance’s conversation with the girl. She stipulates that she survives on proceeds from gambling and alcohol sales (Belasco 82).
In 1794, the American central government led by General George Washington fought against the whiskey tax resistance. The tax was meant to raise funds to finance the Revolutionary War debt. Apart from financing the debt, it was aimed at discouraging whiskey consumption in the American states (Mitenbuler 560). During the 19th century, whiskey production was a source of government revenue where the proceeds were used in running state affairs.
Whiskey sales served as a way of generating revenue in the 19th century. There are several instances that Belasco shows the income generating capability of whiskey in his play (Belasco 18). It’s seen when Minnie is advised by Ashby to bank with them as it would be more secure than her security. It’s stipulated in the extract ‘you must bank with us oftener, and then if this road-agent, Ramerrez, should drop in, you won’t lose so much,’ (Belasco 18).
Over the years, Whisky has had a large impact on society, both positive and negative. Whiskey manufacture has served as a recreational and revenue generation tool but also has inflicted harm on the society. Over the years, there have been cases of domestic violence, gun violence, gambling, promiscuity, and death all associated with alcohol consumption. The impacts were largely experienced in the Wild West during the 19th century. Whiskey has influenced the society as it has initiated some of the major movements in history, for instance, the Temperance Reforms; one of the biggest movements in history. Not only has it influenced society, but also it has been impacted. Reforms have enhanced gradual improvements over the years which have enhanced safety and regulated consumption. The impacts all depend on the individual’s decision.
Belasco, David. The girl of the golden west.Vol. 16551.1st World Publishing, 2006.
Bloch, Herbert A. “The sociology of gambling.” American Journal of Sociology 57.3 (1951): 215-221.
Gerson, Lowell W., and Donald A. Preston.”Alcohol consumption and the incidence of violent crime.”Journal of Studies on Alcohol 40.3 (1979): 307-312.
Gusfield, Joseph R. “Social structure and moral reform: A study of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.” American Journal of Sociology 61.3 (1955): 221-232.
Kosar, Kevin R. Whiskey: A global history. Reaktion Books, 2010.
McClellan, Michelle Lee. “America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies, and Grog Shops.” (2012): 558-559.
Mitenbuler, Reid. Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey. Penguin, 2015.
Parker, Robert Nash, and Kathleen Auerhahn.”Alcohol, drugs, and violence.”Annual Review of Sociology 24.1 (1998): 291-311.
Rorabaugh, William J. The alcoholic republic: An American tradition. Oxford University Press, 1981.
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