DBQ; Gin Act of 1751 The distilled liquor known as gin has been prevalent in British society since its introduction in 1688. By 1751 the country has reached such a crisis that the Parliament took important actions to remedy the problem. The arguments for and against the selling of gin that were presented to Parliament in 1751 dealt the effects of the abuse of gin on the poor, the overall effects on the health of the British citizens, and the economic impact on the society. These concerns can be discerned even by examining the Preamble to the legislation that was enacted emphasizing how controversial this act must have been during its time. The most prevalent and visible concern to the law makers of Britain was the effect of gin on the poor classes. A non-bias chart (doc 1) provided by the customs library clearly demonstrates that the production of gin increased by 400% from the year 1701 to 1751. Taking document one into account we examine the social view of an anonymous source in document 3. The pamphlet knows as the Distilled Liquors: The Bane of the Nation, 1773 (doc 3) suggests that since gin is a cheap drink that is marketed to the poor that the increases we see in document 1 are more than likely an increase in the consumption in the poorest of classes. This pamphlet seems to support the proposed gin restrictions as means of eliminating this problem. We continue to see this position on how gin is a drink marketed to the poor of society in document 13. The press medium, the London Tradesman, (doc 13) reports that the cheapness of the drink is the reason we have seen its distillation multiple ten times over the past half century. The effects continue to force the poor into their place keeping them addicted and unable to function in the labor force. What’s worse is the fact the author argues this is a generational problem that is a never ending cycle of misery for those affected. Even some members of the House of Lords, such as Lord Lonsdale, (doc 9) explain that the effects on the poor are pessimistic and ill-fated. He argues and debates in a speech made to Parliament that the cost is greater than just the lives lost. He explains that gin is the reason that crime is rampant on the streets and why the prisons are full. We see this vision illustrated by William Hogarth’s famous piece, Gin Lane (doc 11). As a social commentator of the time Hogarth has captured Lonsdale’s words in true depiction. We see the poisonous debauchery of the women as she carelessly flings her child from her arms due to her intoxicated state, illustrating how the effects of gin even drive the motherly instinct away from the people. The preamble of the Gin Act of 1751 demonstrates this concern directly referring to this low strata in society as the meanest and lowest sort as the ones who are engaging in the immoderate consumption of the liquor. The only voice that appears to be missing is from a lower class female point of view during the mid seventeen hundreds. Since women were rarely educated and had to subject themselves to professions such as prostitution if they found their means have been dissolved. It would be interesting to see the world through the eyes of the poor women who actually worked on Gin Lane if any exist.
In addition to the heated debate that took place in Parliament in regards to gin’s effect on the poor the question of the effects of the liquor on the physical health of the citizens also came into play. The preamble refers to this as the health and moral of the common people. Again, we can discern from Lord Lonsdale’s speech in 1739
(doc 9) that the liquor has causes rampant spreading of sexual diseases. This position is seen also in the local governments such as the county magistrates from Middlesex in 1776. (doc 7) Here the local magistrates argue that the excessive use of the liquor has destroyed thousands of his Majesty’s subjects, which can be taking to mean it ended their life because the pamphlet also says that a great number have been rendered unable to participate in society. Though there was another side to this health debate. Lord Bathust (doc 8) argues that a moderate drink was necessary in this time period to achieve medicinal benefits, much as drinking a glass of red wine today is seen to have health benefits. However, it is unclear if Lord Bathust has any qualifications in the medical field to back up his stated opinion. Being a Lord also he may have an economic stake in the gin industry and his motives are unclear.
The elephant in the room that is at the very heart of his debate is the question: what is more important the welfare of the people, or the economic implications of restrictions? A distiller known as John Moore (doc 5) paints this argument in a letter he scribed in 1736. His position shows the concerns of the businessmen who survive and profit from gin distribution. His argument is not only that it will affect him economical but it violates his right as a citizen. In 1736 it appears that the license fees were raised and he predicts a general excise tax will follow the following year. The Gin act of 1736 already placed a series of restrictions on gin distillers so the reader can feel the gravity of this situation in Moore’s words. The economic ramifications are further demonstrated in by another landowner, William Pulteney. (doc 4) It is unclear what his profession is but it can be assumed that as a landowner his economic investment would be at risk. His argument’s basis is that this “evil” has been ignored by Parliament and even condoned through several acts over the course of the past 100 years, and that it isn’t the gin trade itself that is the problem but the excessive abuse of the liquor by some of the population. Economically he continues to argue that the fiscal impact would not be limited to the distributors but that other establishments such as inns, coffeehouses, and ale houses would suffer. This would place an economic hardship on a large portion of the middle class business owners who owe their fiscal survival to the selling of gin. In addition to the business owners the agriculturalist would also face an economic downward trend due to the fact that much of the grain that is produced in the country is used for the production of gin and not for livestock or human consumption. Daniel Defoe writes this in a social review in 1713. (Doc 2) Since there would be a surplus of the crop on the market it can be discerned that the price of grain would plummet. Not only would this hardship affect the business class but the royal treasury would also take a hit according to a member of the House of Commons in a speech he delivered in 1736. (doc 6) This member might have been on the fiscal committee because his statistics he provides show that the 70,000 pounds collected in taxes from 1728 to 1736 would in be jeopardy if gin fees were raised in accordance with the proposed Gin Act of 1736. Whether or not his predictions were accurate was unclear. Still the effects that the poor societies who drink the cheap drink gin could add economic benefit might be seen in Hogarth’s companion piece to Gin Lane, Beer Street. (document 12) Yet, when one examines the sketch closely you can see the corner of Gin Lane. Even with the crime and health risks that accompany the gin issue it still may hold the economic rewards business owners desire. This appears to be a hotly contested issued but one that was treaded over carefully as to not appear insensitive by placing economic concerns over human tragedy.
The arguments presented in Parliament prior to the passing of the Gin Act of 1751 show that there was a heated debated between the two prevailing sides. These issues seem to start coming to life by 1736 and find no resolution till 1751 with passing of this law. This issues of how gin negatively affected the poor, how it damaged the health and well being of the common citizens, and how it economic effected were all elements considered during these processions.