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The Gin Act of 1751 in England

Essay by   •  March 8, 2011  •  Case Study  •  2,106 Words (9 Pages)  •  1,558 Views

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In 18th century England, a steady rise in the sale of gin was occurred. The Gin Act of 1751, which prohibited gin distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants and increased fees charged to merchants, eliminated small gin shops thereby leaving the distribution of gin to larger distillers and retailers. This act controlled the consumption of gin by the average population of England, therefore ending the crime, health risks, poor image, and social and economic stagnation that the drinking of gin had caused. Before this act, however, there were various views concerning whether or not the problem should be dealt with, and if so, how the problem of gin and its causes should be handled. There were simply three groups of people whose ideas would shape the answer to the gin problem: the people who were for the restriction of Gin sale, those who were against the restriction of gin sale, and those who pointed out the effects of gin on society. These positions were usually somewhat influenced by a person's job or social status, but one thing is for certain, you were against the restrictions if it emptied your pocketbook and you were for them if they filled your pocketbook. As William Pulteney states it, "There is not an inn, an alehouse, or a coffeehouse in the kingdom, but what owes a great part of its profits to the sale of gin." This statement shows how money was the true motivator for the people of England in the 1700's, and how people were willing to sell gin if they profited even at the expense of the health and well-being for many others. It seems, however, that over time the growth in production of gin and the realization of its negative effects changed many people's thoughts of gin. Gin definitely had an affect on society by creating a world of danger and crime, that many citizens were anxious to be rid of.

Many citizens supported and benefitted from the sale of gin. By the beginning of the 1700's England had already gone through the agricultural revolution, which forced the supply and demand of wheat and grain to skyrocket. Distilling wheat for gin helped the government and its people by providing relief from the overproduction of wheat. As Daniel Defoe expectedly states, "The distilling of grain is one of the most essential things to support the landed interest and therefore is especially to be preserved," (Doc 2). Defoe, being a wealthy landowner, saw the importance of gin to the economy of property owners of England, and he himself probably liked the taste. He saw the importance of gin to the economy and also as a helpful drink for one's health and spirits. As reflected in the Gin Act of 1751, it is only in unmoderated drinking that gin is evil and dangerous. When used in moderation, gin was very helpful to the people who were sick, worked long hours, or cold and wet from England's bad climate. It was somewhat like a pick-me-up drink for common people. This feeling is shown by Lord Bathurst who realizes how a drink of gin cannot cause evil or crime, but it is the people who abuse the liquor that commit the crime. He states, "liquor is necessary upon many occasions for the relief or support of nature," (Doc 8). In England, gin was at first viewed as an escape from the world, as something you could use to "drown your sorrows". In England, when beer was prevalent, society had much less crime and evil. But gin, a much more alcohol concentrated drink was much more dangerous, and because people kept buying it, there would always be people selling it and making significant money. William Pulteney shares Defoe's view on how England's economy has become too reliable on the sale of gin for any restrictions against it, but his words were spoken at a much later time. As shown in the Preamble of the Gin Act of 1751, he knew that gin's sale had increased greatly over the last 30 years becoming essential in England's economy. He obviously states "I cannot give my consent to any regulation which will put them out of the business to which they owe their chief support," (Doc 4). Pulteney shows the understanding that restricting gin's sale would put many families out of food and shelter. But like Defoe, he had an economic self-interest in the sale of gin as it probably brought in a lot of money for him. The distiller's who based all of their income off of gin were obviously against restrictions on its sale. As John Moore, as expected, says, "The Gin Act.... strikes at the very root of property rights," (Doc 5). He noted how restrictions on its sale would create great competition between distillers, and would put many people out of business. There were many reasons for people to be against any restrictions on the sale of gin: It was essential to the economy of many people, when used in moderation it was helpful, some money made from gin helped other parts of society, it relieved the government and people of their wheat surplus, and finally, most people simply didn't like the power the government showed when it placed such a large tax on something people believed it may eventually spread to other essential things.

Many people believed that gin was here for one purpose, the destruction of the society, economy, and normalcy. People realized how relatively easily it was to become drunk off of gin in comparison to beer. Since it was much more addictive, when a person had one glass they always wanted more. This principle fueled the vicious circle of the supply and demand of gin. This addiction took people's time away from their work, family, and social obligations, and gave way to cursing, committing crimes, and brawling. This attitude toward gin's evils is shown in a newspaper article. It states, "One must see.... a crowd of poor ragged people, cursing and quarreling with one another over repeated glasses of these destructive liquids.," (Doc 3). This article shows common conceptions of gin in that day. That it caused evil, unrest, and showed the destruction of social normalcy. This article's attitude is shared in a speech by Lord Lonsdale to Parliament. Both of these documents are reflected in the Gin Act of 1751, which

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