11 Freedoms that Drunks, Slackers, Prostitutes and Pirates Pioneered and The Founding Fathers Opposed
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6. Children's Play
The pleasure culture of early American cities extended to children, who enjoyed a rapid growth in the manufacturing of toys in the 18th century. Following on the pro-work, anti-leisure ideology of the Founding Fathers, the authors of children's textbooks pummeled their young readers with injunctions to work hard and avoid play. On the first page of a standard, early-19th century school primer was a poem warning, "Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do." And Noah Webster's American Spelling Book, which was the best-selling textbook of the 19th century, instructed its young readers that "[a] wise child loves to learn his books, but the fool would choose to play with toys."
America's love of gaming was born in saloons, where wagers were made on every conceivable contest of chance or skill. Benjamin Rush recommended the elimination of horse racing, cockfighting, and Sunday amusements, which led to "gaming - drunkenness - and uncleanness," as well as general debauchery. John Adams blamed the sensual, aimless culture of a monarchy for "so much Cards and Backgammon; so much Horse Racing and Cockfighting."
Henry Laurens, a president of the Continental Congress, at one point hoped for defeat in the War of Independence, which he thought would bring an end to the love of sporting amusements among Americans. To Lauren, sport was a prime indicator of a doomed society. He believed that the Olympic Games "and other fooleries" had "brought on the desolation of Greece."
During the War of Independence there was more than one tavern for every 100 residents of Philadelphia, the rebels' capital (by contrast, there is now one alcohol serving business for every 1,000 residents in Philadelphia). In New York there were enough taverns to allow every resident of the city to be drinking in a bar at the same time. In Boston, liquor was sold at one of every eight residential houses. Though the Founders did their share of the drinking in early America, in public they attacked the practice during and after the Revolution. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, and Robert Morris were among many of the Founding Fathers who supported excise taxes on alcohol after the Revolution as a means to curb drinking. In 1784, Benjamin Rush published An Inquiry into the Effects of Spiritous Liquors, which became one of the most important of the Founding Fathers' many anti-pleasure manifestoes during the early national period. Rush argued that drink and democracy could not mix. He also invented the idea that chronic drunkenness is a biological disease and that the only cure is life-long abstinence. "'Taste not, handle not, touch not' should be inscribed upon every vessel that contains spirits in the house of a man, who wishes to be cured by habits of intemperance," Rush wrote. These claims became the basis not only for the temperance movement in the 19th century but also for the prohibition movement in the early 20th century, and the "science" of addiction treatment in the late 20th century. The idea of the modern-day rehabilitation center was also invented by Rush, who called for drunkards to be taken off the streets and locked up in a special asylum in Philadelphia called the "Sober House." Not all Americans agreed with the Founding Fathers. The government's attempt in 1794 to enforce the national whiskey tax in western Pennsylvania resulted in what came to be called the Whiskey Rebellion, when renegades all over the region not only refused to pay up but also tarred and feathered tax collectors.