The Corner

‘Demon Whiskey’

Several readers answered my plea for help yesterday about an 1854 court case that involved Abe Lincoln. The Lincoln Log, an excellent website, has this entry for May 18, 1854:

Lincoln and Stuart defend nine women from Marion, DeWitt County, charged with riot. Their offense consisted in destroying saloon keeper’s stock on his refusal to close his place of business. More than a hundred women attend trial. Jury find defendants guilty, but judge lets them off with fine of $2 each. Register, 27 May 1854; Record.

A historical marker in Illinois commemorates the episode:

Nine women from the village of Marion (now DeWitt), joined by women from Springfield, plotted against the village saloon frequented by their menfolk. The ladies banned together and crusaded against the “Demon Whiskey.” They stormed George Tanner’s saloon, rolled the whiskey barrels into the street, destroyed the kegs, and poured the vile liquid onto the ground. In May 1854, the ladies found themselves in the DeWitt County Courthouse for “riotously, unlawfully and with force turning out, wasting and destroying ten gallons of whiskey, of the value of five dollars.” They had not hired a defense attorney, but it just so happened Abraham Lincoln and John T. Stewart were present in the courtroom and offered their services. Lincoln argued the ladies were not criminals but righteous and moral women, attempting to save the men from the evils of alcohol. He declared they had been prompted by the same spirit and conviction as those who cast tea into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party. Lincoln and Stewart lost. A fine of two dollars each was imposed on the accused. The money, however, according to local lore, was never collected.

Cheers to my respondents. NRO readers know everything!

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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