Monday, February 02, 2015

Reconstruction Clinton, SC: Liquor and Temperance

Clinton, SC, early 20th century
Part of a series on Reconstruction-era Laurens County, SC
Clinton, South Carolina, in the early years was "like many western railroad camps, . . . and did a big business in cotton." Until the Charleston to Spartanburg railroad was built, Clinton was the embarking point for most of the Upstate of South Carolina.  Because of that, Clinton was also a place to misbehave while away from home for those with some extra cash in their pocket. William P. Jacobs describes Clinton this way:
Clinton had at the very outset and for a long time afterward a very unsavory reputation.  Horse‑racing, chicken‑fighting, gander‑pulling, gambling and drinking, rowdyism, brawling and other little disorders like the above, were the distinguishing features of the place.  It was said in the days when I first knew the place, that ladies did not like to pass through the town in coming from the lower part of the county to the county seat, and took care to leave the town off their line of travel.[1]
From its very beginnings, alcohol was part of life. The first settler of Laurens County, John Duncan, was also its first distiller, and by the War, "most every merchant kept whiskey on tap for his customer's enjoyment."[2]  In the 1850's Laurens County citizens in presentment to the Grand Jury complained about "a late Act of Congress imposing a duty on private distilleries as a grievance of the first magnitude" and asked Laurens County legislators to "remonstrate with Congress as to the expediency of forthwith repealing said law."[3]  In the early years, the words Clinton and Prohibition were not thought of together, rather Clinton was the center of the anti‑ prohibition sentiment.  Dr. Jacobs explains:
Just after I came to Clinton a Spartanburg citizen told me that he went from store to store and he could find nobody in condition to wait on him.  Merchants and clerks were stretched on their counters all asleep, while fumes of liquor told the tale.  Whether he told the truth or not, it indicates the fact that an idea was abroad that Clinton was not for temperance. For it must be faced that at that time the reputation of the town was more of a concern to the mothers, sisters, and wives, than to the men of the town.
The first fourteen year town charter ran out in 1866, and the first question was a wet or dry council, and wet was unanimous. Liquor resulted in several murders which shocked the community which was now getting regular preaching.  Mostly the ladies of the town spoke of "what a bad name this will give to Clinton."[4]


Then in the eighteen seventies temperance suddenly came alive.  A Templars lodge was organized with James M. Wright the school teacher, W.B. Bell the lodge chief, and R.S. Phinney, Clinton's patron saint and store owner as leading members.  They put out a series of temperance questions to the Templars and local populace which are recorded in Thomas M. Workman’s unpublished journal To Sayings and Doings:  This Book is most Truly Dedicated: 
            "Before making a regular practice of drinking intoxicating liquors a man should be able to answer the following five questions in the affirmative: 
1st‑ Do you know that drinking intoxicating drinks will do you good?  and as some liquors are poisonous the next question follows as a matter of course, 
            2nd‑ Do you know that the sort you will use are the sort to do you good? 
            3rd‑ Do you know precisely when you  have taken enough to do you good? 
            4th‑ Will you under any and all circumstances never exceed this limit? 
5th‑ Do you know that you will never set a bad example and lead others or give encouragement to anyone who cannot contain himself within a proper limit? 
Workman adds, “I think a person who can answer "yes" to each of the above questions[,] especially the latter two, has a legal and indisputable right to use those drinks."
Clinton elected a dry council in 1879, and all the barrooms were closed.  The next year the town requested the Legislature to enact permanent prohibition in Clinton, and it was one of the first towns in the State to go temperant.  Dr. Jacobs had led the charge in prayer and preaching against liquor.  Afterward he looked back at his victory and adds:
At one time the town was spoken of as the 'worst hole in South Carolina,' [but] it was the proposal at the very outset to make Clinton a clean place, the sort of place men and women could afford to raise their children in.  The town up to 1880 was almost without exception, a town of Presbyterian people.[5]
The old barroom was torn down and the barroom’s bricks were used in the chimney of W.P. Jacob's new home on South Broad Street, as an ironic last insult to liquor from the man who brought prohibition to Clinton.[6]



[1]Jacobs, Literary, p. 13.
[2]Jacobs, Literary, p. 56.
[3]Foy, p. 16 .
[4]Jacobs, Literary, p. 21.
[5]Jacobs, Literary, p. 21. Thomas M. Workman’s unpublished journal To Sayings and Doings:  This Book is most Truly Dedicated, 1875, p. 79.
[6]Foy, p. 23.