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The Shibboleth of Safety

December 18, 2005

"A breath in favour of the law, was sufficient to ruin any man. It was considered as a badge of toryism. A clergyman was not thought orthodox in the pulpit, unless against the law: a physician was not capable of administering medicine, unless his principles were right in this respect: a lawyer could have got no practice, without at least concealing his sentiments, if for the law: a merchant, at a country store, could not get custom. On the contrary, to talk against the law, was the one way to office and emolument. In order to be recommended to the government, as a justice of the peace, you must be against the law. To go to the Assembly, you must make noise against it; and in order to go to Congress, or to keep in it, you must contrive, by some means, to be staunch in this one respect. It was the shibboleth of safety, and the ladder of ambition."

That was Hugh Henry Brackenridge, writing in his Incidents of the Western Insurrection (1794), and the law to which he refers created the federal excise tax on whiskey that lead to the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania.

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