For a long time, I have been kicking around the idea of writing something about the history of money. Money is something seldom understood yet politicized in America. Most everybody does not understand debt, inflation, Monetary Policy, etc. but it never stops them from having an opinion. Recently, some have been beating the drum for the Gold Standard – a fool hearty idea, to say the least (more on that later).
Before I expound on these ideas, here is a fun little infographic on money. Hat tip to Kate at Ghergich & Co. for sending me this!
A History of U.S. Money
An infographic from the team at the Quicken Loans Zing Blog.
Clarence Earl Gideon – petty thief and famous Supreme Court plantiff in Gideon v. Wainwright
After the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the first ten amendments to the Constitution became law. Over the years, it has been the task of the federal courts (most notably the Supreme Court) to determine how to interpret the rights and protections inherent in the Bill of Rights. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees, “In criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right… to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”  What that guarantee means has evolved over the years as the Supreme Court has evaluated cases relating to this particular clause of the Sixth Amendment.
Linda Monk wrote, “The right to counsel is the most important in the Sixth Amendment, because without it the defendant is unable to assert any other rights he has. It is almost impossible for a layperson to navigate the complicated legal system alone.” The right to counsel is a commonly known right guaranteed by the first ten amendments, as this right is often referenced on television courtroom and law dramas in the reading of the Miranda Rights to suspected criminals. While the Sixth Amendment has been unchanged since 1791, our interpretation of the right to counsel has changed considerably.
Originally, the right to counsel was interpreted to mean that you had the right to pay an attorney to be present at trial, leaving those who could not afford an attorney unable to execute such privilege. Programs to help the poor accused of crimes were implemented in cities across the country, but were largely voluntary and very limited – less than three percent of the nation’s counties even had public defender programs before 1963. Even if one were lucky enough to have free or pro bono counsel, often such counsel lacked quality or a commitment to defending the accused. In 1930, the Cook County’s public defender’s office described its purpose as “to assist the court and to expedite guilty pleas.” While some indigent defendants would have the benefit of counsel in criminal cases, the quality and quantity of public defenders were certainly lacking in the early 20th Century.
Opium, derived from the poppy plant seen here, was brought in to China in great quantities by the British in the first half of the 19th Century.
For many scholars, the defeat of China in the Opium War (1839-1842) represents both the opening of China and the beginning of modern Chinese history. China’s defeat at the hands of the British and the subsequent signing of the Treaty of Nanking (1842) not only showed the military superiority of the Western barbarians, but also destroyed the pseudo-tributary status of the Canton system – thus shifting the trade control to the West. However, in order to understand the importance of both the war and the ensuing treaty one must understand the philosophies behind the coercive policies that the British detested. Based on their sinocentric worldview, the Chinese responded to both British attempts at diplomatic equality and the pushing of opium through Canton with hostility and distrust. The Chinese policy makers from their first contact with the westerners to Lin Zexu believed the Western barbarian had to be controlled with force to prevent their corrupting influence in the Celestial Empire. Their fundamental belief in moral and cultural supremacy over the British guided every response to the West up to their inevitable defeat in the Opium War, which destroyed China’s policies of coercion.
Writing on Sino-British relations prior to 1842, Franz Shurmann and Orville Schell note, “The Chinese authorities consented to communicate with the British only in the context of an inferior-superior relationship.” Since their first contact with Europeans, the Chinese regarded them as inferior beings. Although they came on ships (unlike the usual foreigners that came on horses) they were of no great importance – they were merely ‘hairy barbarians’ and ‘foreign devils’ whose rough habits and mannerisms were troublesome to the Chinese. These barbarians where ignorant of the values and norms of society – making them disgusting and animal-like. Within China, Confucianist philosophies dominated the way the Chinese interacted. It was believed that the more you followed the Confucian ideal, the higher up you were on the social level. The foreigners, in the minds of the Chinese, did not practice propriety, righteousness, moderation, benevolence, and other ideals that were central to Confucian ethics. Therefore, how could foreigners be on the level of even the lowest Chinese if they were completely unaware of Confucianism? Why would an emperor atop of the Confucian Empire interact with such barbarians? China had all that it needed and knew it was the best society in the world. While it was China’s duty to be benevolent to foreigners it certainly did not have to assume a level of equality.
Much like the other tributary nations in China’s history, Europeans were allowed to trade with China out of benevolence, but then only if the trading was done on China’s terms. China knew that its silks and teas were of the finest quality and felt that an unwillingness to share the fruits of its superior society would be brutish and barbaric. However any attempts at diplomacy on the assumption of equal footing would not be tolerated. Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) embodied these beliefs when he stated in an edict to King George III China had no need for the items of other nations items and that all must ‘tremblingly obey’ the orders of the Emperor. Hoping for some form of equality, King George had written to the Qianlong Emperor in order to discuss trade on other diplomatic issues on an equal footing. However, the inferiority of the barbarians and their assumptions that they could discuss matters with the Son of Heaven were not well received. In China, few were virtuous enough to converse with the Emperor – let alone a foreign barbarian! Under Qianlong, the British were forced into using a single port – Canton – in which to conduct their trade, and only then with a select number of Cohong merchants. This system (known as the Canton system) would be the preferred system of trade by future emperors – much to the dismay of the British. However, because of its demands for Chinese exports and the profits that it could wield, Britain had to accept a system where they were considered an inferior nation. Continue reading
An Anti-Saloon League poster promoting the cause of prohibition.
This is fifth and final post in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition. While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history. This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it!
Read part one here.
Read part two here.
Read part three here.
Read part four here.
Attempts to pass a prohibition amendment in the United States Congress began in 1876. In the 1880s, several states created laws restricting or outlawing liquor. With the launch of the Progressive Movement at the turn of the century, alcohol and its influences became incorporated with their goal to purify society, enfranchise women, and reform the machine politics of years past. Around the same time, a powerful political group known as the Anti-Saloon league was born. Unlike the WCTU which was a broad reform group, the Anti-Saloon League had only one purpose: the prohibition of all intoxicating liquors in America.
The WCTU had successfully educated several generations on the dangers of alcohol, while also tying the rights of women and the right to vote to prohibition. Progressives soon joined the cause of prohibition as well, under the ideology that going dry would solve both political corruption and urban poverty. As Progressives, the WCTU, Prohibition Party, and Anti-Saloon League warned of the scourge of alcohol, their message struck a chord with nativists and xenophobes who feared the impact of changing urban demographics that had begun in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. Temperence and Prohibition advocates “were disproportionately rural white Protestants of northern European ethnic stock, and such reformers sometimes saw prohibition as a means of controlling or reforming Catholics, immigrants, African American and poor whites.” When the United States entered World War I in 1917, anti-German sentiment only furthered the cause of prohibitionists as many brewing companies were owned by German Americans. By that time, twenty-three states had prohibition laws and many others had considered similar laws. The American public was turning against alcohol. In an interesting irony, radical WCTU member Carrie Nation (who had previously lost a husband due to drink) received hundreds of supporters while she toured Kansas staging ‘hatchetation,’ which vandalized bars and smashed liquor bottles. Though she created thousands of dollars of damage to businesses, Nation was never tried of any major crimes. Continue reading
A political cartoon featuring radical prohibitionist Carrie Nation, known for smashing up saloons with her hatchet.
This is part four in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition. While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history. This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it!
Read part one here.
Read part two here.
Read part three here.
The Civil War and Reconstruction provided a lengthy respite for the temperance movement. In the 1870s, the temperance movement experienced a revival that lasted until the Twentieth Century prohibition era. Beginning in 1869, Russell’s National Prohibition Party became a force at both the National and State level. However, it was the formation of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Cleveland, Ohio that mobilized women to the temperance movement like never before.
The WCTU was inspired by a prominent doctor’s lectures on the dangers of alcohol. After the lecture, women in New York and Ohio staged pray-ins and silent protests at various saloons in an effort to drive liquor out of their communities. As the movement spread, their actions drove liquor out of 250 communities. Later that year, the WCTU was officially formed and held a national convention with the slogan “For the God and Home and Native Land.” The WCTU’s interests were two fold – to eradicate drinking and to promote women’s rights and equality. Behind the idea of protecting the home and improving society, the WCTU quickly became the largest woman’s group in the world. At the time, women had little rights in America, even in cases of rape and spousal abuse. For the WCTU, the rights of women, protection of the family, and the evils of liquor went hand in hand. “Women and children had often been victimized by drunken men; and the saloons where men had gathered were …vicious, corrupt dens.” The WCTU linked tobacco and alcohol use to problems with prostitution, labor, and various public health issues as well. Selling women as ‘home protectors,’ the WCTU’s membership grew from 149,527 in 1890 and over 248,343 in 1910.
Lyman Beecher – American Temperance Society Co-founder
This is part three in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition. While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history. This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it!
Read part one here.
Read Part two here.
While social historians point to the Jacksonian age as an influence on drinking – the messages self reliance, masculinity and rugged individualism seemed tailor made for the hard drinker and distiller – drinking in America was also buoyed by European immigration and the growth of cities in pre-Civil War America. From 1830 to 1860 two million Irish immigrated to the United States, bringing with them a culture of drinking and public house frequenting. Escaping political persecution and famine, these Irish settled mostly in busy Northern urban centers. They often faced discrimination (both racial and religious due to their Catholicism), abject poverty, and dangerous factory work. In an effort to connect their communities and escape their difficult living conditions, Irish men bonded together through social gatherings and drinking Irish whiskey. “Faced with an openly hostile environment, and both unable and unwilling to Americanize, the immigrants seized upon drinking as a major symbol of ethnic loyalty. That is they drank hard to assert their Irishness.” Visiting the public house for a drinking session also served another purpose. By congregating among themselves, the Irish used the pub as a way to keep off the streets and out of trouble. This cause was supported by Irish American leaders, who could use these visits to organize politically and pass out free drinks to elicit support. While the Irish pub served its political purposes well (in cities like Boston, Chicago, and New York the Irish would wield considerable clout) )rter) it also lead to higher rates of inebriation and the pervasive stereotype of the ‘drunken Irishman’,
A “woodcut” used by the Harrison/Tyler campaign in 1840.
This is part two in a series recounting the history of drinking in America leading up to Prohibition. While we hear a lot about the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition, seldom discussed is the importance of alcohol (and its consumption) at earlier dates in American history. This research was very interesting and I hope you enjoy it! Read part one here.
Concerns about the wide spread use of alcohol in young America started taking form in religious circles. Methodists and Quakers warned parishioners of the dangers of hard liquor to social order. The Quaker Anthony Benezet, who founded the first anti-slavery society on the American Continent, called alcohol “The Great Destroyer” and warned of the medical and social problems associated with excessive drinking in a 1774 pamphlet . While many religious organizations saw nothing wrong with alcohol, stigma was attached to drinking too much. While moderate drinking was accepted, heavy drinking began to be regarded as a sin.
The most influential figure in the early temperance movement was Dr. Benjamin Rush, who served as Surgeon General of the Continental Army and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In 1784, Dr. Rush published An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors upon the Human Body, and Their Influence upon the Happiness of Society. In his pamphlet, Rush broke new ground, becoming one of the earliest people in the medical field to suggest that liquor broke down the body and helped produce both mental and physical illness. Of equal concern, was Rush’s opinion that the continual drinking of liquor would result in the dissolution of government and the collective American spirit. Rush called for government limitations on drink asking, “Should the customs of civilized life, preserve our nation for extinction, and, even from an increase of mortality, by these liquors; they cannot prevent our country being governed by men, chosen by intemperate and corrupted voters?” Despite his condemnation of liquor, Rush did not admonish the drinking of all alcoholic beverages. Whereas Rush believed hard liquors like rum, liquor, and gin were evil and Antifederal, he supported the consumption of cider and beer as “invaluable FEDERAL liquors’ which promoted cheerfulness and political stability.”