Wine in Tennessee Groceries: Worthy Progeny of the Whiskey Rebellion

Wine in Tennessee Groceries: Worthy Progeny of the Whiskey Rebellion

Controversy surrounding alcoholic beverages is not a new phenomenon. Tennessee is currently torn by the debate over wine in grocery stores. But alcohol has divided Americans politically since our nation was born, often causing unusual alliances like the coalition of conservative church groups, liquor wholesalers and liquor store owners that currently oppose wine in grocery stores in Tennessee.

The Whiskey Rebellion is a fascinating nugget from the colorful history of alcohol, worthy of reflection.

The Whiskey Tax was the very first federal internal revenue tax, levied in 1791 to help pay for revolutionary war debt. The tax divided large and small distillers, by taxing smaller distillers at about twice the rate as large distillers.

The tax also pitted more-established Eastern towns, home to larger distillers, against frontier areas with small distilleries, where distilling crops to whiskey was one of the few ways to make money to purchase essential goods. Hauling whiskey by wagon on mud roads over the Appalachian Mountains was a much easier way for farmers to make money than trying to haul corn or other crops.

The tax - and unfairness of the tax for small distilleries in the frontier - fueled discontent about the lack of federal support for basic frontier needs, like troops to protect frontier towns from Native American attacks. Federal revenue agents were tarred and feathered, and eventually, frontier folks rose in arms in Western Pennsylvania.

The dispute ultimately lead President Washington to become the only sitting President to command troops in battle. The insurrection was quashed and the federal government's ability to tax was firmly established. The tax also established the government's ability to require every distillery to register.


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