Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Whiskey Ring Scandal

I was looking at the results of our last opinion poll and I have to admit I had guessed that Watergate would win. Why? Because it is within living memory (although I must admit not mine - I was born yet...actually my parents weren't even married yet) and so it stands out more clearly. In any case, it definitely was a major scandal and will stay in the history books as it resulted in the only resignation of a US President thus far.

But for today, I decided to highlight the lowest ranked scandal - Grant's Whiskey Ring. The American Presidency has a nice summary of this event:

Whiskey Ring, The, in American history, a national internal revenue scandal, which was exposed in 1875 through the efforts of Secretary of the Treasury Benjamin H. Bristow. Statistics showed that for some years prior to 1875 the United States had, in St. Louis, Mo., alone, lost at least $1,200,000 of tax revenue which it should have received from whiskey, yet special agents of the Treasury set to work from time to time had failed to do more than cause an occasional flurry among the thieves. The Whiskey Ring was organized in St. Louis when the Liberal Republicans there achieved their first success. It occurred to certain politicians to have revenue officers raise a campaign fund among the distillers. This idea the officers modified later, raising money in the same way for themselves, and in return conniving at the grossest thievery. As it became necessary to hide the frauds, newspapers and higher officials were hushed, till the ring assumed national dimensions. Its headquarters were at St. Louis, but it had branches at Milwaukee, Chicago, Peoria, Cincinnati, and New Orleans, and an agent at Washington, D.C. A huge corruption fund was distributed among gagers, storekeepers, collectors, and other officials, according to a fixed schedule of prices. As a result of the investigation by Secretary Bristow arrests were made in nearly every leading city. Indictments were found against 152 liquor men and other private parties, and against 86 government officials, notably the chief clerk in the Treasury Department, and President Ulysses S. Grant's private secretary, Gen. Orville E. Babcock.

The cartoon is by Thomas Nast and is from March of 1876 in Harper's Weekly.

For more information, check out our earlier blog on this topic as well.

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