In researching a new novel idea, I stumbled across an interesting piece of American history that I’d never heard of--the Whiskey Ring. I found the details fascinating, so I thought I would share them with you.
|President Ulysses S. Grant|
After becoming President, Grant surrounded himself with friends he’d made during the war. One such friend was Orville Babcock, whom he’d served with from the Battle of Vicksburg on through the end of the war. Grant made Babcock his personal secretary while in office.
As Grant came to the end of his first term, a former supporter was causing problems for the President. Senator Carl Schurz led liberal Republicans in trying to vote Grant out of office in the next election. The Republican Party realized they would have a fight to secure Grant’s reelection, so they set about raising funds for his campaign. The Whiskey Ring was born in 1871.
In its simplest form, those involved in the ring sold more whiskey than what they reported to the government for tax purposes. The difference then filled the Republican Party’s campaign accounts, and was, among other things, used to pay off newspapers which would print articles favoring the Grant administration.
But the Whiskey Ring was hardly simple. It stretched across the nation to cities like St. Louis, Chicago, New Orleans, and many others. In each city, people at every level of the whiskey-making and selling process were involved, either by choice or forced through coercion or blackmail. From the whiskey distillers and rectifiers on to the storekeepers and tavern owners, all the way to U.S. Treasury agents were involved. For one year starting in November 1871, the principle members of the ring received between $45,000 and $60,000 each. To put that in perspective of today’s dollars, that’s equivalent to $865,000 to almost $1,154,000. Needless to say, with that much money and power behind him, Grant won a second term in office in 1872.
Once Grant’s reelection was secured, it became a venture purely based on greed, defrauding the government of over a million and a half dollars a year for the next several years. It wasn’t until Grant appointed Benjamin H. Bristow to be the Secretary of the Treasury in June of 1874 that the tide began to change.
Next month, I’ll continue the story of Orville Babcock’s arrest and trial. For now, I’d love to know if you’ve heard of the Whiskey Ring before today, and what you think of this piece of our nation’s history.
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and made the top 10 and top 3 in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.