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Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (a special independence day episode this week) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 30 Notes:

It was a time without a standard. A time where everything was questioned, because everything should be questioned. And a time in history, about a very tragic and important moment of firsts, that we should never forget. This episode is a special Independence Day edition. 

Transcript of Podcast:

The wind whipped through the mountains on the western frontier, but that didn’t stop James from going out today. He had a deal to make and they were expecting him. He just wished he would have dressed warmer. James pulled his coat a little closer around him and waited.

They arrived a few minutes later, a group of them. More than he expected for a transaction like this. But, as long as they had what he needed, it didn’t matter.  

“Do you got it?” He yelled to them. James’ eyes went to the group gathered in front of him. His hand rested on his pistol, but he didn’t think things would come to that.  

They were a rough sort. Dirty, with threadbare clothes. Wearing hats and nervous faces. One of them, apparently the leader of the group, nodded and flicked his eyes to the side. Another one, this one a boy, opened a thick, burlap sack and showed James the contents. There were beets still covered in dried, fresh dirt with their leafy green heads still attached. Cucumbers too. They were all sitting on top of green beans, which was what most of the sack contained. 

James let out a low whistle. It was perfect. You see, James was a grain farmer and he usually just traded for the other vegetables he needed. That was how they did things out West. They were all there because they preferred shopping local. They preferred organic. They were helping each other out as best they could, because they all lived the same ideals. Self sufficiency on their western farms. Trying to outrun the sprawling cities and get back to nature. James and his family would can up most of what was in the sack and their dream of living off the land and not having to rely on the city life could survive for another year.  

“Give me a minute.” He retreated. When he returned he was carrying payment. “The amount you asked for.” He handed it over and the leader let a smile cross his face. “That’ll do perfect.”

“And thanks for making the trip here. I could have met you somewhere closer.” James offered.

The leader simply shrugged and gave a dismissive wave. “It’s no problem. We have a few other stops today.”

Then they all said their goodbyes and went on their ways. James returned to his home, which was not too far away from where he’d paid the group of men for their vegetables. His wife would be happy. It was early July and the weather was hot. The growing season wasn’t completed for many crops yet. But, having the insurance of early yields put everyone’s mind at ease. Life was hard on the western frontier, after all. 

Far away from the frontier, men were arguing with each other over the fate of the country. Andrew was one of these men. He had a clear direction too. Guiding principles that he so firmly believed in he was willing to die for them. Lucky for Andrew, all he had to do was sell those ideas in the great halls of Congress. Which he did. Because, although he was proposing something that had never been done before, he was proposing something that would only affect the rich. 

For many in Congress it was considered a luxury tax, and the rich could afford to pay it. The rich would barely notice. After all, wasn’t it for the good of the country that so many over the years had laid down their lives?

Wasn’t the expectation that all should do their part to ensure the success of America? And shouldn’t everyone pay their fair share? 

America’s in a debt crises. The debt needed to be kept in check. The debt needed to be paid down. We must make good on our obligations. That was the argument Andrew made. And his solution was taxing products manufactured in the US. 

While the bill did come under some fire it was passed readily. Many clung to the concept of a luxury tax and argued or soothed their consciouses by saying that it would hurt those who would feel it less. 

It was several weeks later, in mid July when James learned of this tax. He was on the western frontier, after all, far from the bustling cities and word traveled a little slower out there. He learned of it when the tax collectors showed up with their federal agents welding rifles and demanding their money. After all, it was a federally mandated tax. All had to pay it. And James, would have to pay it or face fines and prison.   

But, James didn’t want to pay it. James would pay for many things. Take his vegetables from the neighboring farm, for instance. He had no problem paying for that. But, to pay a tax like this, James would not do. 

The year was 1794 and the American Revolution had ended a little over a decade ago. The wounds were still fresh. Too fresh for James, who remembered fighting along side President George Washington. 

At that time, they were fighting for freedom from an oppressor. They were fighting to escape taxation. That was the dream they believed in. That was the dream they all earned with the blood they spilled and the nightmares that haunted them of soldiers screaming and dying. Limbs exploding from cannon fire. Hot led sizzling skin and sending an unruly stench into the air that he could never forget. 

No, James would pay for many things, but he would not pay for this. He could not afford to. He was a survivor on the western fringe of the United States of America. He was not one of those rich that congress said they were taxing. He, was not part of the luxury. This, was his livelihood and so the tax hit him harder. 

He wasn’t the only one either, and reports of the tarring and feathering of tax collectors began to surface. The farmers were angry. They had spoken. The poor, who were tilling up the land and trying to make a living as best they could, would not pay this tax because they had not been consulted about paying this tax…. And they could not afford it. 

Alexander Hamilton thought different though, and he said so to President George Washington when he asked. There was no way they could continue to pay off their debts without more income. They needed more money and this was, what seemed like, the easiest way to balance the scales. 

The fight for freedom had cost more than just lives. They’d paid in coin as well as blood. And they’d borrowed from allies around the world that wanted to see if this new nation, dedicated to the idea that all men are created equal, could survive it’s experiment and become what it set out to be. 

But, it was encountering its first hurdle. They broke free to escape taxation and now they were bringing taxation back. Wasn’t this just another tyrant under a different name?

What made these men, who now endeavored to levy taxes upon their fellow man any better or more righteous of such a levy than the King of England? President George Washington wrested with this and he relied on his secretary of state Alexander Hamilton to help him work through these things. 

Because, you see, this problem was one that encompassed the moral character of the country. Who did the country want to become if it would stand for freedom and independence for all? What shape, form and size would a government like that need to take?

The thing about decisions is that once you make the first one a natural progression down a certain path begins to happen. It’s much more difficult to pull yourself out of that pathway too and start over. It requires twice as much energy. So, while making the decision may be as easy as saying yes, living with the consequences of that decision is lasting. 

This was the situation that the first wards of our country found themselves in. They had no road map and no direction, beyond their confidence and trust in each other and their own moral character. They had to believe that their intentions were true, that their actions were right. 

So, when word of the uprisings on the western frontier was received by President George Washington he began to question his decision to support the tax. Had he made the right decision? Were their unintended consequences and people he never meant to suffer, now suffering because he was making decisions from thousands of miles away with a disregard for those struggling to survive. 

If only we could have such noble leaders today. Leaders that are guided by their moral character and not the game of politics. Leaders who desire to do good and right and not make a career out of getting fat on the teat of the taxpayer. If only, we, in our time, would be so lucky to be guided to people of passion, not people of greed, despite whether we agree with them on principles or not. 

The soul of America was fought for in the American Revolution. While there were many civil wars and many wars that fought for freedom, none before, or since have done so with such focus on the hope alone. For, America was nothing more than an idea, an undeveloped land of opportunity that could be shaped into anything. 

It was people like James who were shaping it, which is why James felt the need to once more take up his gun and defend against tyranny, this time an internal one. 

It was July 17, 1794 and James had his militia surrounding the home of General Neville. He saw the white flag fluttering and believed that the general wanted to discuss terms. After all, there was no way he alone was going to survive against the farmer raised militia that the people of the western frontier had raised in rebellion against the luxury tax. 

Only, his eyes deceived him. There was no white flag. And instead Major James McFarlane was shot and killed by someone from inside the house. His dream of homesteading on the western frontier would die with him. He’d survived the revolution, only to be taken by his own countrymen, men that he fought so hard to free. 

Months later President George Washington would try to negotiate with the disgruntled, poor farmers, who were expanding Westward and laying the groundwork for what is to become modern day America. The talks failed and, the president raised a militia of 13,000 troops and marched on the rebellion. 

By the time they arrived the 5,000 rebels had disbanded and only 150 were arrested. Two were convicted of treason, but over the next few years they would both be pardoned. 

The new taxation act, signed by Congress, and assumed to be a minor tax that would only inconvenience the rich would be forced down onto the farmers and their lives would change. 

It was the first time that the United States of America had raised an army and marched on its own people to enforce a law. But, we all know it wasn’t, nor will it, be the last.

The old powers of the world no doubt snickered behind their closed doors, glad to see those 13 colonies struggling and failing to control their people without force of death. And I’m sure for some there were even “I told you so’s.”

That wasn’t the only first though. Up until this point, in the relatively brief history of the United States of America, a tax had never been brought forth against its people. While they did tax goods entering the United States, no goods or sales were taxed in the United States. 

It took less than 15 years for this new country to break its word and start taxing its people once again. 

But, that wasn’t the only other first, either. 

You see, the reason James was so upset that he was willing to die for his principles versus pay the tax, was that the tax was on Whiskey. 

Yes, the first internal tax in the United States of America was on Whiskey. And while it was a luxury item for many of the wealthy in the cities, out on the Western Frontier,

Which at this time was Western Pennsylvania, 

Whiskey was a currency. 

Grain farmers could store their product for longer by converting it to Whiskey form. 

They could also transport it easier. 

So, frontier farmers, because they were poor, often traded whiskey as a form of currency, instead of gold and silver coins. 

The tax wasn’t just a tax on a vice, a drink, it was a tax on their currency, which meant it was a tax on their very livelihood. And for someone already risking their life on the frontier of America, this was an insult. 

Independence Day

As we near July 4th, I think this story was an especially important one to tell. 

We tend to get so caught up in the drinking and sunshine and fireworks of the holiday that we forget the tough decisions that our country once wrestled with. We forget that our country was once noble and filled with people who wanted to serve with morality and a sense of pride in what they do, even if they got it wrong from time to time. 

And this story is an important reminder that a government can turn against its people, and will, when the will of the government is different from the will of the people. So, with that, I’ll leave you with the inscription written on Major James McFarlane’s gravestone:

Here lies the body of Captain James McFarlane of Washington, PA. He departed this life July 17, 1794 aged 43. He served through the war with undaunted courage in defense of American independence against the lawless and despotic encroachments of Great Britain. He fell at last by the hands of an unprincipled villain in support of what he supposed to be the rights of his country, much lamented by a numerous and respectable circle of acquaintances.    

May you, especially now, remember what the rights of your country are. Happy Independence Day and a thank you to all those that live with principle and honor. We remember you always.

Anyway… I’ll drink to that.