Whiskey Ring

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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. BristowBristow, Benjamin Helm
, 1832–96, American cabinet officer, b. Elkton, Ky. He was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1853. Bristow, a Union officer in the Civil War, was a state senator (1863–65), U.S. attorney for the Kentucky district (1866–70), and the first U.
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 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).

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References in periodicals archive ?
Grant surfaced this year with revelations involving what was called the Whiskey Ring. A group of distillers, chiefly in St.
Grant appointed John Brooks Henderson as special counsel to investigate the Whiskey Ring (or Whiskey Frauds) in 1875, it marked the first time a special federal prosecutor was named to look into alleged executive branch abuses (Greenberg 2000, 147).
By 1873, the Whiskey Ring cost the United States about $1.5 million per year (ibid.).
When prosecutor John Brooks Henderson accused Babcock of obstructing justice and attacked Grant in a closing argument made against another Whiskey Ring defendant, Attorney General Edwards Pierrepont fired Henderson after only seven months on the job (Greenberg 2000, 163).