Friday, March 21, 2008

The Lager Beer Intifada

I've been reading the very interesting Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer by Maureen Ogle and found this story. In the decades prior to 1850 increasing numbers of German immigrants brought a different kind of alcohol culture to the US. One that was more casual and social that included drinking and recreation on Sundays. This spawned an anti-alcohol backlash leading to the rise of temperance movements and prohibition beginning in Maine. But the pro-beer and liquor factions weren't happy:

The Maine law, as it was called, banned the sale, manufacture, and consumption of alcohol. Maine's legislation electrified the temperance movement and a prohibition crusade fifty years before the better-known eruption. Between 1850 and 1855, legislators in two territories and eleven of the thirty-one states followed Maine's lead

But where prohibition prevailed, violence erupted as mobs challenged the alcohol bans, or exacted revenge on the "pestilent...foreign swarms" whom they blamed for inspiring the laws. Such was the case in Chicago after voters filled city hall with pro-temperance, anti-immigrant officials and the new mayor ordered a ban on Sunday drinking. The mostly native-born police force closed the city's foreign-owned beer gardens, beerhalls, and taverns but turned a blind eye to "American" taverns that stayed open in violation of the law. As the accused, most of them German, went on trial, six hundred men and boys, also mostly German stormed the courthouse and battled police in the streets. The Lager Beer Riot ended when both sides fired shots; one man died many were injured, and scores were arrested.

A few weeks later, it was Cincinnati's turn. Violence erupted on an election day in April, as a mob attacked German voting stations and destroyed more than a thousand ballots. Germans barricaded the bridge leading to the city's "Over the Rhine" Germantown, but their opponents, armed with a cannon and muskets, stormed the defenses. The conflict dragged on for three days, leaving many dead and wounded on both sides.

During the "Bloody Monday" riots in Louisville in August 1855, Germans, Irish, and nativists armed with muskets, bayonets, and cannons roamed the streets firing on each other and passers-by. Nineteen men died in that rampage. Violence erupted even in Portland, Maine, where Neal Dow bragged that prohibition had eradicated crime: rumors spread that Dow had purchased liquor and sold it to the state for medicinal purposes. A mob gathered outside the Portland liquor agency and Dow ordered the local militia group to the scene. When rioters broke into the building, Dow commanded the troops to fire. Their bullets killed one person and injured seven others.

The temperance campaign rent the fabric of Milwaukee. When the state legislature passed a bill that imposed new restrictions on alcohol sales, an angry crowd of men and boys lit bonfires and fired rifles, blew horns and pounded on pans. Eventually a mob of about three hundred surrounded the house of John Smith, Milwaukee's state representative and president of the local temperance society, and pelted it with rocks and bricks, smashing windows and terrifying the four children and two servants inside.

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