I demand that my opponent be sober!

Originally posted 08 May 2012

If you were a general in the midst of a war, wouldn’t you want your opponents to be drunk? This is a question that might occur to a modern general, but not to an eighteenth-century commander. The proof is in this regulation issued by Sir William Howe to the citizens of occupied Philadelphia:


Rum rations were important to the morale of both sides, and Howe tried to prohibit rum trade as vigorously as he did salt and medicines. Why salt? It was used in pickling, and armies depended on pickled and preserved rations. Howe’s regulation was ineffective and counterproductive – since rum and salt were both used as currency in the coinage-poor colonies, this amounted to a shutdown of economic activity. The trade continued regardless, and the regulation was widely ignored.