Whiskey ring - Political scandal and extortion

Whiskey ring

The Whiskey Ring was all about a group of distillers and public officials who defrauded the federal government of liquor taxes in the late 1800’s.

Soon after the Civil War taxes were raised to very high levels, in some cases up to eight times the price of the liquor.

Large distillers, chiefly in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago, bribed government officials in order to retain the tax proceeds.

The Whiskey ring affair was a public scandal, but it was considered impregnable because of its strong political connections.

The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury at the time was a guy called Benjamin H. Bristow who decided he would try to break the conspiracy without the knowledge of the President.

To avoid warning the suspects, he assigned secret investigators from outside the Treasury Department to collect as much evidence as they could.

In May 1875, he arrested the persons involved and seized the distilleries. Over $3 million in taxes was recovered, and of 238 persons indicted, 110 were convicted in Jefferson City.

Although President Grant's secretary, Orville E. Babcock, was acquitted through the personal intervention of the President, many people believed that the Whiskey Ring was part of a plot to finance the Republican party by fraud, but this was never actually proved.

The scandal, along with other alleged abuses of power by the Republican party, contributed to national weariness of Reconstruction, which ended after Grant's presidency with the Compromise of 1877.

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