Did you know that Mississippi did not ratify the 21st amendment (Repeal) until 1966? It wasn’t until January 1, 2021 that a new Mississippi law legalized the possession of alcohol in every county in the state. One of the most interesting speeches relating to this unique situation, at least in my opinion, was written by Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat Jr., an American judge, law professor, and state representative for Mississippi. It is known as the “the whiskey speech” or the “If by whiskey” speech. He delivered it on Friday, April 4, 1952 in the state house at the end of his five-year term as a state representative.
“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, this is how I feel about whiskey:
“If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.
“But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
“This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”
At the end of Sweat’s first “If by whiskey” paragraph, the advocates for a dry Mississippi gave him a roaring round of applause. At the end of the second paragraph, the advocates for a wet state gave Sweat their roaring approval. The beauty of this speech is that it shows that two opposing opinions can coexist in the same person. It drives home the point that both sides of a divisive argument are valid and worthy of debate. Whiskey is and has always been a touchy subject in our relatively young country, but you could swap out just about any hot-button issue in American politics and form a similar argument. The point of debate may be to win the argument, but the effort put into the consideration of both sides of an argument by our government’s leaders is what makes our country great. The 18th amendment was the only Constitutional amendment to take away the rights of American citizens, but the 21st amendment showed the world that America can also admit to being wrong. Noah Sweat’s argument in 1952 remains valid today.