The Ravages of Rum: America

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Nicholas Gordon

From The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:

As the Indians are extremely apt to get drunk,
And, when so, are very quarrelsome and disorderly,
We strictly forbade selling any liquor to them.
And when they complained of this restriction,
We told them that if they would continue sober
During the negotiations over the treaty,
We would give them plenty of rum
When the business was over.
They promised this, and kept their promise,
Because they could get no liquor,
And the negotiations were conducted
In a very orderly fashion,
And concluded to mutual satisfaction.

They then claimed and received the rum.
This was in the afternoon.
In the evening, hearing a great noise among them,
The commissioners walked out
To see what the matter was.
We found they had made a great bonfire
In the middle of the square.
They were all drunk, men and women, quarreling and fighting.
Their dark-colored bodies, half naked,
Seen only by the gloomy light of the bonfire,
Running after and beating one another with firebrands,
Accompanied by their horrid yelling,
Formed a scene best resembling our ideas of hell.
There was no appeasing the tumult,
And we retired to our lodging.
At midnight a number of them
Came thundering at our door,
Demanding more rum,
Of which we took no notice.

The next day,
Sensible that they had misbehaved,
They sent three of their old counselors to make their apology.
The orator acknowledged the fault,
But laid it upon the rum;
And then endeavored to excuse the rum
By saying, "The Great Spirit, who made all things,
Made everything for some use.
And whatever use he designed anything for,
That use it should always be put to.
Now, when he made rum, he said,
'Let this be for the Indians to get drunk with,'
And so it must be."

And, indeed, if it be the design of Providence
To extirpate these savages
In order to make room for cultivators of the earth,
It seems not improbable
That rum may be the appointed means.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon. Free for personal or non-commercial use.

Audio and Video Music: Solo Cello Passion.
By Doug Maxwell. Music free to use at YouTube.

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