In the early 1850s, the city of Portland, Maine, with a population of 21,000 might be called a sleepy little burg. But that was about to change thanks to a Maine law enacted in 1851 outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcohol anywhere in the state, except for medicinal and mechanical purposes.
Portland Mayor Neal S. Dow was an outspoken prohibitionist who fully supported the law, so much so that he was dubbed the “Napoleon of Temperance. ” However, Dow had authorized a large shipment of “medicinal and mechanical alcohol” that was being stored in the city vaults for distribution to pharmacists and doctors (authorized under the law). The good citizens of Portland got wind of this cache of alcohol and suspected the worst, that Dow was a hypocrite and a secret sot.
The Maine law had an interesting little clause allowing any three voters to apply for a search warrant if they suspected someone was selling liquor illegally. Three men did just that, appearing before a judge who issued a search warrant.
On the afternoon of June 2, a crowd of several hundred people, already irate over the law coming between them and their Harvey Wallbangers, gathered outside the building where the alcohol was being held. The crowd grew larger and surlier as it became obvious that the police were not going to seize the booze. As the crowd swelled, jostling became shoving, and the hurling of angry words became the hurling of rocks. The infamous Portland Rum Riot of 1855 was in full swing.
Police were unable to control the mob, and Mayor Dow called out the militia. When the protesters ignored the order to disperse, the militia, on Dow’s orders, fired into the crowd killing one man and wounding several others.
Dow was widely criticized for his strong-arm tactics during the incident and was later prosecuted for improperly acquiring the alcohol but was acquitted. The Maine Law was repealed the following year.
Sometimes when I reflect back on all the beer I drink I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, it is better that I drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver. ~ Jack Handey