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!
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’,