Whiskey Nips: Thomas Jefferson and the Whiskey Tax

Thomas Jefferson was not much of a whiskey drinker. He actually hated whiskey, but played a key role in the history and development of whiskey. In 1791, Alexander Hamilton acted as the government treasury secretary and needed a way to get the government out of debt. His idea was to tax distillers and was the man behind the first tax on a domestic product which came to be known as the whiskey tax. It highly favored the mass producers over the farmers with small stills. The farmers paid taxes as if they were running their stills 24 hours a day year round while the large producers paid a flat tax and their cost per gallon of liter of whiskey distilled was much lower.

Jefferson was Secretary of State at the time and even though he was against this tax, he remained quiet on the issue because he had made a deal with Hamilton. The government was going to take on the states’ war debts, while moving the nation’s capital to Washington, D.C., from Philadelphia. A couple years after the taxes were enacted, people began to fight back because they thought it was unfair. A lot of them tried to hide what they were doing. They refused to pay the tax collectors while also beating them up and breaking into their homes. One of the tax collectors ended up getting tarred and feathered! This act of resistance came to be known as the whiskey rebellion.

When Jefferson became president in 1801, he wanted to end this mess that was created. He was able to repeal the whiskey tax as well as all other internal taxes. He believed that more power should be with the people, rather than the government. This allowed the farmers and small distillers to freely distill while making enough money to support their craft. They were able to develop their skills and take their time to age and create a better product to bring to market, preluding to the rise of craft distilleries.

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Cheers!

Tony Freund

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