This is the next installment in our continuing series, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?”
Throughout the eighteenth century temperance was defined as moderation.(1) Being temperate in all things, or at least being seen as such, was desirable. Even Benjamin Franklin, the Founder known for having a good time all the time, placed temperance first on his list of 13 virtues, saying, “Eat not to dulness; drink not to elevation.”
Franklin wasn’t the only one to suggest temperance. Reminders, gentle and otherwise, to lead a temperate life were common, because it was believed being intemperate caused many ills, physical and social. One saying went that, “AFTER SWEET MEAT COMES SOUR SAUCE,” which was explained as
… an excellent Monition to Temperance and Sobriety, for that whatsoever is excessive and unreasonable, either in our Actions or our Passions or Appetites, in either drinking or eating, to Gluttony; either in point of Wit, Mirth, or Wantonness to Intemperance; of Lust, Leachery, or Lewdness to Iniquity, will certainly make the sweetest Meat we can eat rise as sour as a Crab in our Stomachs; for there is a rank Poison in the Tail of all unlawful Pleasures…(2)
By the way, the crab mentioned above is shorthand for a crab apple.
Eighteenth-century temperance was motivated by the enlightened, self-improving culture of the time. As the century progressed, more and more people grew concerned about alcohol’s physical, moral, and social impact. This temperance, led by two Philadelphia social reformers, believed distilled liquors were a real danger.
in 1774 Anthony Benezet, a Philadelphia teacher and Quaker, published The Mighty Destroyer Displayed, targeting hard liquor as the root of many ills, from untimely death to slavery. He said that, “alcohol enfeebles drinkers,” and, “thousands die annually by alcohol, but no one blames it.”
Though focused on hard liquor, his conclusion made little distinction between fermented and distilled beverages. He warned that, “All intoxicating liquors may be considered as poisons; however disguised, that is their real character, and sooner or later they will have their effect.”
However, he does mention cider as beneficial. Benezet suggested water and molasses with a little cider was a refreshing and healthful drink for harvesters. He’s quick to mention that the cider is desirable for its addition of acid, not alcohol.(3)
A year after Benezet published The Mighty Destroyer the American Revolution began. During the war, alcohol was a part of army life. Rum was issued to soldiers as a daily ration and as a reward for extra service.(4) The Continental Army’s Surgeon General, Dr. Benjamin Rush, grew concerned about the healthfulness of drinking among soldiers, particularly rum drinking. In 1778 he published Directions for Preserving the Health of Soldiers, covering the appropriate dress, diet, exercise, cleanliness, encampments, and exercise for American soldiers. Under “Diet” he argued that, “The use of rum, by gradually wearing away the powers of the [body’s] system, lays the foundation of fevers, fluxes, jaundices, and the most of the diseases which occur in the military hospitals.” Despite his attempts, rum continued to be issued for the rest of the war.
Clearly Dr. Rush is not one of those drinking writers.
He carried these concerns into civilian life. In 1784, ten years after Benezet’s work and one year after the Revolutionary War ended, Rush published An Inquiry Into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body. Expanding on his thoughts from Directions, he said that, “Liquor destroys more lives than the sword,” and that distilled beverages inhibit the morals and manners of drinkers.
Unlike Benezet, Rush doesn’t think all alcohol is ultimately poison. He listed the alcohols which he felt were beneficial when consumed in moderation. At the top of his list was cider, which he called, “This excellent liquor” and said it, “contains a small quantity of spirit, but so diluted and blunted, by being combined with an acid and a large quantity of saccharine matter and water, as to be perfectly inoffensive and wholesome.”(5)
To help his readers gauge their level of health through their drinking habits, Rush included a “Moral and Physical Thermometer.” He rated drinks from healthiest at the top (water) to most dangerous at the bottom (peppered rum), along with the each drink’s effects and outcomes. According to the thermometer, cider is a “temperance” drink which can lead to “cheerfulness, strength, and nourishment, when taken only at meals, and in moderate quantities.”
Benezet and Rush are not as vehement in their temperance as later generations would become. Neither is trying to outlaw alcohol in any way, appealing instead to their readers to make healthy choices. And neither think cider is a particular problem. Cider, it seems, is the only alcoholic drink they both find any value in.
NEXT TIME: Cider is no longer wholesome as Temperance gets intemperate.
1. For “temperance” as moderation see Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (London, 1775) and Daniel Fenning, The Royal English Dictionary (London, 1775).
2. You can find the proverb in Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (London, 1775). I have no idea what makes it an “excellent monition.”
3. For value of acid taste, see Benezet, 26-7.
4. Cider was also issued early in the war, but discontinued as a regular ration by late 1776.
5. Rush says cider, beer, and wine are the three most useful alcoholic beverages.