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Revenuers & Moonshiners: Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865-1900.

Revenuers & Moonshiners: Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865-1900. By Wilbur R. Miller (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. xii plus 251 pp.).

As author Wilbur Miller admits in his Preface, this is a book more about Revenuers than Moonshiners. Not only does the author make this point in the Preface but his first chapter is a review of the historical literature on bureaucratic institutions and the national government in the late nineteenth century. Miller argues that successful prosecution of whiskey tax evaders demonstrates that the national government preserved its authority in the south even as federal reconstruction policies failed miserably. He says that historians have ignored this very important evidence of the sustained power of the national government. "Whether the national government could collect its taxes there [in the mountain south] was an issue of national importance," Professor Miller tells us (p. 13).

Although the second and third chapters are an attempt to discuss moonshiners in the context of their society and culture in the mountain south, with appropriate references to my own work as well as that of Ronald Eller, Durwood Dunn, and Gordon McKinney, these chapters do not seem especially relevant to the story Professor Miller wants to tell. Therefore, his summary of the recent literature on mountain communities before industrialization is interesting and reasonably accurate but is not analytically integrated with the "meat" of his research and analysis.

Professor Miller's real story which begins in Chapter Four is actually an exciting tale complete with a beginning, a middle, and a happy ending. Its hero is General Green B. Raum who, when appointed Commissioner of Internal Revenue in 1876, "determined to suppress illicit distilling and restore respect for federal law" (p. 97). Raum was a Democrat-turned-Republican bureaucrat, who took a Revenue service that was losing money and made it, not only into a paying proposition, but into a powerful and permanent arm of the Federal government. Miller even compares General Raum's strategies (Raum was a Civil War veteran) to those of General Grant during the Civil War (p.127). In Chapters 4 through 6, entitled respectively, "A Losing Battle," "General Raum to the Rescue," and "Moonshiners in Retreat," Miller makes impressive and thorough use of federal records to recreate General Raum's war against the moonshiners. Some obstacles Raum encountered are the ones one might expect, such as violent resistance from the moonshiners and their protection by neighbors as well as political resistance from local politicians who objected to the legitimacy of the tax. But there are also some surprising obstacles such as corrupt and unreliable subordinates in the field who sometimes made arrests for the fees they could collect, state and local officials who prosecuted federal revenue officials for violence in pursuit of their duty, or state officials who disputed the jurisdiction of the Federal revenue service.

Raum, argues Miller, was firmly committed to forceful methods, including the use of military units to search out and arrest moonshiners, but his ultimate success was also due to his willingness to be lenient when the situation warranted. This combination of military force (at least until it was outlawed in 1878), along with lenient sentencing, according to Miller, eventually gained the respect and agreement of the "better citizens" in the mountain south. Although Miller mentions modernization and the emergence of a "new" south as elements in the increasing public sentiment against moonshiners, he clearly believes that General Raum's methods were the crucial factor.

When Raum left office in 1883, the war against moonshiners was not over; in fact, it erupted again in the late 1880s and after 1895. But Raum's legacy, argues Miller, was that the massive force employed from 1877 to 1883 was no longer necessary. Moonshiners were no longer inclined to fight back, they more often ran away, and most local politicians accepted the legitimacy of the revenue service. In fact, many former moonshiners actually became revenue agents while public sentiment supported the whiskey tax. Professor Miller's discussion in the last two chapters of the conflict between the later prohibition movement and the revenue service is very enlightening but clearly an epilogue to the triumph of General Raum in preserving the power of the Federal government in an era when that power had been successfully challenged by white supremacists in the south. Indeed, a more accurate title would have been, "General Raum's War Against the Moonshiners."

Altina L. Waller State University of New York, Plattsburgh
COPYRIGHT 1993 Journal of Social History
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Waller, Altina L.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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