Tavernocracy: Tavern Culture in Ohio’s Western Reserve

By: Adam Criblez

“I am sure the Americans can fix nothing without a drink. If you meet, you drink; if you part, you drink; if you make acquaintance, you drink; if you close a bargain, you drink; they quarrel in their drink, and they make it up with a drink. They drink because it is hot; they drink because it is cold. If successful in election, they drink and rejoice; if not, they drink and swear; they begin to drink early in the morning, they leave off late at night; they commence it early in life, and they continue it, until they soon drop into the grave. To use their expression, they way they drink, is ‘quite a caution.’ As for water, what the man said, when asked to belong to the Temperance Society, appears to be the general opinion: “It’s very good for navigation” — Frederick Marryat[1. Frederick Marryat, A Diary in America With Remarks on Its Institutions (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962), 389.]

In 1776, American colonists revolted against perceived inequities unjustly thrust upon them by a tyrannical English monarchy. After defeating the colonial power, Americans faced a new, perhaps more daunting, task; creating a new form of government based on tenants of freedom and a vague ideal known as republicanism. With limited precedent from which to draw, Americans heatedly debated what it meant to be an American citizen, what true virtue and republicanism stood for, and how this fledgling nation should be run. From the very beginning, this public discourse and private conversation poured forth from one of the nation’s most important centers for the dissemination of information; the rural tavern.[2. Throughout this work I will interchangeably use the terms ‘tavern’, ‘bar’, ‘ordinary’ and ‘public house’. I avoid using the terms ‘saloon’ and ‘hotel’ because they elicit decidedly post-bellum connotations.]

Within the tavern, men carried out the traditions of the revolution. They discussed American politics, drank American beverages, and escaped their defined roles in society through the close, if often forced, intimacy of the early nineteenth century tavern. It was in these walls that settlers discussed what it meant to be American and parlayed words into action. Continue reading Tavernocracy: Tavern Culture in Ohio’s Western Reserve