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The Politics of AlcoholA History of the Drink Question in England$
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James Nicholls

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780719077050

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719077050.001.0001

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A new kind of drunkenness: the gin craze

A new kind of drunkenness: the gin craze

(p.34) 3 A new kind of drunkenness: the gin craze
The Politics of Alcohol

James Nicholls

Manchester University Press

Culture, not drink per se, has moulded the drink question in England. The ‘gin craze’ represents a change of emphasis in this regard. The feverish public debate on gin was shot through with anxieties over class, the economy, national identity, and the protection of moral norms. Over time, gin exposed fundamental contradictions at the heart of the new market economy of which London was the crucible. As levels of drunkenness continued to rise a small but well-organised group of campaigners led by Thomas Wilson, the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the physician Stephen Hales and Sir Joseph Jekyll, MP for Reigate, began to lobby for a radical and previously untried strategy: gin legislation which was ‘in its nature a prohibition’. Both Wilson and Hales built many of their arguments around the language of disease. The effects of the 1736 Gin Act were a salutary lesson for those who felt that the practical difficulties of prohibition were surmountable. Prohibition also provided the opportunity for Robert Walpole's political opponents to exploit legislation widely perceived as an attack on individual liberty.

Keywords:   England, gin craze, drink question, drunkenness, market economy, Thomas Wilson, Stephen Hales, disease, 1736 Gin Act, prohibition

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