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Liberty Poles

In looking for a way to retire the new federal government's war debt, Alexander Hamilton suggested a tax on whiskey. This became the first test of whether the Federal Government in the United States could rule. Liberty Poles were erected to stop it.

On the frontier, settlers and livestock upstream made water contamination a problem. Whiskey was disease-free and safe to drink. It was not their only beverage, but was so important that it was used as currency. Even ministers were paid in rye whiskey. Frontiersmen were poor and were lucky to come by twenty dollars of currency in a year. Taking some of that with a tax on whiskey seemed to them like taxing breathing.

They had just fought a war in part to prevent a government far away in England from taxing them without representation. A tax on tea had impelled some Americans to dump tea into a harbor. Now, a new government far away on the east coast, as one of its first acts concerning them, was trying to impose a tax on their primary beverage. In response they erected "Liberty Poles" as statements about wanting liberty from this incursion on their freedom. George Washington marched over 7000 troops to face them. It is said that along the road there was a liberty pole every four or five miles. This was a "make or break" moment for the new federal government of the United States. Either it would be able to rule and tax its citizens or it would not. This act, that was protested with "liberty poles," established that it would.

Their Poles

The odds are that their poles were round and made out of green, not seasoned and sawed, timber. Working green wood was standard at the time, and turning it on a lathe to make it round was also. For a couple of thousand years simple foot powered lathes had been made on location in forests for turning green wood. People did that as commonly then as they mow lawns today .

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