Today, the Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Coin remembers the Philadelphia whisky riots of 150 years ago.
The following two articles show the impacts of the government taxation and revenue officers on the illegal whisky industry and the legal use of whisky in other products.
From the Pittsburgh Commercial newspaper of October 3, 1867:
Attempt to Seize Illicit Stills — The Revenue Officers Driven Away by a Mob — Several Persons Wounded.
Philadelphia, October 3.
The revenue inspectors made a raid on the unlicensed whisky stills in the northern part of the city on Saturday last, and were driven off by the people in the vicinity.
Today they made another raid with an increased force, but fared worse than Saturday, having several of their party badly wounded with bricks and pistol shots.
They seized several stills and were taking them off in cars, when a large crowd of men and women attacked them, recovered the copper vessels and drove off the officers.
Deputy United States Marshal Schuyler received six serious wounds. Thomas Lance, one of the rioters, was shot in the head.
The affair occurred near Port Richmond, which is mostly inhabited by the lowest class of Irish.
Deputy Marshal Schuyler had his pistol taken from him. His wounds are not serious, though he was severely beaten about the head and arms.
Deputy Marshal Gordon acted with great bravery when the rioters charged upon the furniture and cars loaded with distillery apparatus, and drove the crowd back several times.
The worms, stills and other materials were carried off by the rioters and hidden in different parts of the distillery district.
It was impossible for the officers to find the whereabouts of the stills.
The city police force appeared upon the ground and escorted the revenue officers on the cars running into the city.
The revenue officers did the best they could under the circumstances, but the force was too small and the raid badly timed, as it was between twelve and one o’clock, and the coal crackers, Irish from the coal wharves, were all at home and ready for the officials.
But, the revenuers also hampered legal trade of whisky products in Philadelphia.
From the American Journal of Pharmacy of May 1868:
The Tax on Alcohol. —
Many efforts have been made to reach the understanding of Congress in reference to the great burthen of this tax on legitimate manufacturers requiring Alcohol, and the disastrous inroads it has caused on public morals by presenting a temptation too strong for resistance by the officials to whose care the revenue laws relative to whiskey are committed.
The following memorial is a new effort and explains itself. To the Congress of the United States:
The Philadelphia Drug Exchange, composed of the Druggists, Manufacturing Chemists and Pharmaceutists, Perfumers, and others, beg leave to lay before your Honorable bodies a brief statement.
The manufacture of chemicals is probably larger in Philadelphia and its vicinity than in all the rest of the United States.
Many processes of this manufacture depend mainly upon Alcohol as a material, or as a medium; so that the useful consumption of Distilled Spirits is perhaps more fully represented in our Association than in any other single organization of this country.
The amount of this consumption for industrial purposes, in Philadelphia, is estimated to be, under favorable circumstances, about twenty thousand barrels of proof spirit annually.
On March 21st, 1867, when the evasion of the $2 tax had become common and safe, the Drug Exchange took the following action:
“Whereas, The Amendatory Tax Law passed by Congress at its last session, contains this clause: —
“Sec. 21. And be it further enacted. That whenever any Distilled Spirits so found, elsewhere than in a Bonded Wharehouse, shall be sold or offered for sale at a less price than the tax imposed by law thereon, such selling or offering for sale as aforesaid shall be taken and deemed as prima faciœ evidence that said spirits have riot been removed from a Bonded Warehouse according to law, and that the tax imposed upon the same has not been paid, and the same shall, without further evidence, be liable to seizure and forfeiture.
“And Whereas, We are anxious to maintain and vindicate our character as law-abiding citizens, however easy or profitable the violation of the law might be;
“And Whereas, In such adherence to the letter and spirit of the law, we are liable, through dishonorable competition, to the loss of all that part of our business which depends upon the use or sale of distilled spirits: Therefore
“Resolved, That we, members of the Philadelphia Drug Exchange. — Druggists, Manufacturing Chemists, Perfumers and Brokers, — will not buy, offer, or sell distilled spirits, or alcohol, either directly or indirectly, at a less price than the Government Tax, either by a net price, or by any commission, drawback, return, or any counterbalancing advantage whereby the spirit of the law may be violated, or its intention defeated.
“Resolved, That for our own protection, and for the assistance of the Government, we will endeavor by every honorable means to discountenance and discourage any evasion of the law, and to prevent the recurrence of any such violations which may come to our knowledge.”
These resolutions were signed by a large portion of the Drug and Manufacturing interest, and were faithfully adhered to, through constant temptation and most trying loss.
Meantime, all manufacturers and dealers in whose business the article enters, who were anxious to comply with the law, saw their trade gradually pass into channels not obstructed by scruples on this point.
Their constant appeals and patient waiting have developed only more clearly the helplessness or indifference of the Government officials, notwithstanding the stringent provisions of the law.
We beg, therefore, to add our earnest protest against further experiment with the tax of two dollars per gallon on Distilled Spirits.
Its results as to revenue, and to public morality, we may confidently leave to be judged by your honorable bodies; but for the interests of honest industrial pursuits, we earnestly urge that its failure and injustice are demonstrated.
The demoralization already caused by it will be felt by generations to come.
The Druggist, the Chemist, the Perfumer, the Varnish-maker, see with dismay, a gloomy alternative presented.
They may maintain the law and incur the ruin of their business; or, they may violate it, and bear the humiliating consciousness of complicity with fraud, in order to earn their daily bread.
We respectfully petition that the tax may at least be reduced to fifty cents per gallon, as recommended by the Special Commissioner of the Revenue.
The same evils, in degree, might exist at that rate; but the main motive of enormous gain being withdrawn, distillation would be likely to return to its legitimate channels, and to fall again under the control of those responsible establishments who have shown some disposition to meet the demands of the Government.
Our deliberate conviction is, however, that a lower rate, — probably 25 cents per gallon — will ultimately be found to be more desirable, for both revenue and morals.
It would restore the use of Distilled Spirits to many branches of industry from which it is now excluded by its high price.
A prominent instance is the manufacture of White Lead, in which several of us are engaged, and in which large quantities of Whisky were formerly used; but we have been compelled to seek a cheaper substitute.
A low price would also extend its consumption among Varnish- makers, Dyers, Soap-makers, and for many minor uses.
For the Philadelphia Drug Exchange, Robert Shoemaker, President.
The Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s portrayal of an illegal backwoods whisky still, circa 1867.