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Whiskey Ring

Whiskey Ring, in U.S. history, a group of distillers and public officials who defrauded the federal government of liquor taxes. Soon after the Civil War these taxes were raised very high, in some cases to eight times the price of the liquor. Large distillers, chiefly in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago, bribed government officials in order to retain the tax proceeds. The Whiskey Ring was a public scandal, but it was considered impregnable because of its strong political connections. U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Benjamin H. Bristow resolved to break the conspiracy. To avoid warning the suspects, he assigned secret investigators from outside the Treasury Dept. to collect evidence. Striking suddenly in May, 1875, he arrested the persons and seized the distilleries involved. Over $3 million in taxes was recovered, and of 238 persons indicted 110 were convicted. Although President Grant's secretary, Orville E. Babcock, was acquitted through the personal intervention of the President, many persons believed that the Whiskey Ring was part of a plot to finance the Republican party by fraud.

See J. MacDonald, Secrets of the Great Whiskey Ring (1880, repr. 1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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