A Sense of New Possibilities
Digital History ID 185
The American Revolution bred an exhilarating sense of new possibilities. In the following letter, in which he anticipates the hopes of later abolitionists and temperance (anti-alcohol) reformers, George Clymer (1739-1810), a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Pennsylvania, reveals the extent to which American political leaders viewed government and its taxing authority not merely as an tool for furthering political interests, but also as an instrument of soulcraft--a means of moral betterment and character formation. To prevent the nation's republican experiment from unraveling into anarchy, many Americans were convinced that it was necessary to instill within citizens the kind of character, virtue, and moral ideals essential for self-government.
Since rum and mollasses were produced by slave labor on West Indian plantations, a tax on alcohol stood out as an antislavery measure.
The impost has not yet taken its complete shape, but enough of it is seen to pronounce upon it, and I am afraid there are some of its features you will not like. Among the expected glories of the Constitution, next to the abolition of Slavery was that of Rum, but molasses has shipwrecked New England virtue and we must look to the day still more distant for the promised blessing--some hope...that a congressional excise will reach the distillations, if not the states must individually defend themselves against the poison.
Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute
Additional information: George Clymer to Dr. Benjamin Rush
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