Exhibit Review: Spirited Republic at the National Archives

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There’s not much I can tell you about this exhibit that the iBook and the National Archives website can’t but here’s a few good finds when/if you decide go:

Courtesy of National Archives

Courtesy of National Archives

  • George Washington’s document to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in 1792
  • Andrew Jackson’s petition for tax relief from whiskey tax in 1803, wherein he complains that “he could not believe that the United States would draw Money, from the misfortunes, of her Citizens.”
  • FDR’s 1932 Campaign Broadside urging voters to do their part for “repeal” and his White House Cocktail shaker set
  • Benjamin Rush’s “Drunkometer,” a circa 1920s predecessor to the breathalyzer
  • Some temperance postcards, propaganda and some prohibition repeal propaganda
  • IDs of some prohibition agents (like Daisy Simpson, pictured on the left), patents of alcohol paraphernalia approved during prohibition, medical and home-brew work arounds on the Volstead Act
  • A great cartoon by Walter Enright wherein the GOP elephant is walking on a fence between “Wet” and “Dry” country
  • Repeal-era labels from about 40 different beers
  • The Congressional Record books with the 18th and 21st amendment
  • A memorandum from WWII temperance advocates,”Alcohol– Hitler’s Best Friend”
  • Johnny Cash’s letter to Betty Ford in 1984 after she revealed her addiction to pain killers/alcohol

While I really enjoyed the exhibit given my background reading and watching Ken Burns’ series Prohibition, I felt the exhibit could have used more tactile objects. The Archives obviously has mostly paper documents (which are notoriously difficult to display well), it would have been cool to see a keg or a police tools or even just an old-time bottle to add a splash of excitement to the exhibit.

At the beginning of the exhibit, there’s a display of gallon jugs revealing how much alcohol an average American consumed in the 1700s/1800s. It is an impressive start but there’s nothing in the exhibit until the prohibition era that conveys how much alcohol played a role in the early days of the republic beyond an order to suppress a rebellion and a few petitions to the government.

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