The Spirits of Independence
Few history books mention Mrs. Clappams in Boston, Tondee’s Long Room in Savannah, or other 18th-century taverns. Baylen J. Linnekin wants to change that.
Taverns were the era’s “most essential” public spaces, Linnekin argues in The Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly (Spring 2012). Colonists may have come for the booze—before independence, the typical American drank the equivalent of some six ounces of strong liquor a day—but they stayed for the ideas. Over whiskey, rum, claret, and hard cider, they made history.
When a tax dispute prompted the royal governor to dissolve the Virginia assembly in 1765, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and other assemblymen hied to a tavern, where they agreed to boycott British goods. Similarly, in a New York City tavern, some 200 merchants pledged to stop buying anything British until Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. And by one account, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in a Philadelphia tavern.
In Linnekin’s view, the authors of the First Amendment guaranteed “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” partly because of their experience with tavern gatherings. He believes that other parts of the Bill of Rights also reflect concerns about food and drink. For example, the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment protects hunting. On occasion, the Founders explicitly linked comestibles and liberty. In the early 1780s, Jefferson wrote that “the legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others,” and cited France’s ban on potatoes as an example of officialdom’s overreach.
Linnekin has an agenda: He heads Keep Food Legal, a nonprofit that opposes efforts to ban or restrict foods, from bacon-wrapped hot dogs to artisanal cheeses. Through his research, he hopes to give his arguments for “culinary freedom” a historical pedigree.
So go ahead. Eat foie gras and wash it down with raw milk. It’s the American way.