Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/594

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

laws, who would not let a man step over a stone in his path or kiss not his neighbor's, but his own—wife on a seventh day, no more thought of prohibiting the drinking of liquor than of prohibiting the preaching of eight and ten hours' sermons. When they settled a town, they built, first of all, a meeting house and, next to it, a jail. The jail was for those who did not want to go to the meeting house. But the pint of "new" rum per laborer in the hayfield was as much a matter of course as the minister's madeira or sherry, or the magistrate's metheglin or eggnog or toddy. In the wainscoting around every fireplace was the sunken toddy-shelf to be drawn out of evenings, and when a meeting house was to be raised, the community were expected to drink as freely as Heaven had blessed them in good things or the means to pay for them. So lately as 1804, when the frame of the new meeting house in Brimfield, Mass., was to be raised, the town voted $121.32 for "rum, sugar, brandy, lemons, and wine" for the occasion. And there are but few towns in Massachusetts that are smaller than Brimfield. The Puritans, in their courts of justice, cited edicts and precedents, not from the reporters, but from the Pentateuch, and sent men to the jail or to the gibbet according to the laws of Rehoboam or Jeroboam. But, because the sons of Rechab drank no wine or strong drink, it no more occurred to them to forego wine and strong drink themselves than it did to forsake their substantial frame dwellings and camp out because these same Rechabites had forsworn houses and lived in tents on the plains of Arabia thirty centuries previously!

Liquor is legitimately and logically a subject of excise, and excise laws, which may operate in rem—that is, against the thing itself—are proper and constitutional. But it would puzzle writers upon constitutional law to find an origin for laws prohibiting the manufacture or purchase or sale of an article of commerce, though laws regulating all three are neither unconstitutional nor improper. Besides unwritten and written or statute law, there is also what is called the "police power" of a state or a community, that is, the power of keeping the public peace. All three of these jurisdictions may deal with the individual out of whom too much liquor may have made a law-breaker. That is to say, the drunkard has fractured the unwritten or moral law by breaking the rule of temperance in all things. He has broken the written law by becoming a public nuisance or a public charge, and the police power of the State may lay hands upon him and lock him up for being disorderly, or for lying drunk and so blocking up the public streets that orderly persons may not pass and repass. But in what manner or form the commodity we call liquor has broken or come under the penal force of any one of these three jurisdictions, it is difficult to imagine; and, therefore, because this is a hard ques-