Thursday, March 19, 2009

Communism, the Civil War, and St. Louis beer

Although it's written in an overwrought style, this article is an interesting look at the beginnings of St. Louis as a brewing center of the US. Here are some excerpts:

Budweiser’s maker, Anheuser-Busch had roots in St. Louis that went back before the Civil War. <...>

St. Louis in the 1850s was a raw river town situated where the Missouri River and the broad Mississippi met. It was a frontier town in many ways and the jumping off point. It was the “end of the line” for civilization. But it was also one of the first American industrial cities, with one of the heaviest concentration of of factory workers in the country. And these workers were not native-born Americans.

A great many of them came straight from Germany. <...> And, at the same time, surrounding this heavily left wing, working class, German-speaking city was a countryside filled with some of the most ugly, racist, pro-slavery forces in the U.S. <..>

the German workers arrived as beer drinkers and quite a few of them were first class brewers. There were some Irish among the workers, and they too were fans of the Germans’ sudsy “liquid bread.”

Before long St. Louis was peppered with huge German beer halls, where the often lonely immigrants found community and a feeling of home. For reasons I haven’t yet uncovered, the reactionary political forces of Missouri territory were anti-beer. <...>

St. Louis has a major strategic importance for the [Civil] war: It was the major anti-slavery center on the Mississippi. <..>as war broke out, all sides prepared to seize St. Louis by force. And if it had fallen <...> it would have been quite hard for the Union’s armies to gain a foothold on the Mississippi <...>

On the surface, the politics of St. Louis did not look promising. After 1860, the new governor Claiborne Fox Jackson was clearly a pro-slavery diehard <...>

the German workers started to prepare for battle. Led by veterans of the 1848 Revolutions, they started to secretly train themselves in discipline and military tactics. Their plan: to rise up against the state government in armed insurrection, to seize the armory, and defeat the governor’s army.

Where did they do their drills? In the cavernous beer halls of St. Louis. <...>

Led by heroic army officer Nathaniel Lyons the anti-slavery forces struck and struck hard. They seized St. Louis and the armory. <...> They routed the Governor’s troops in the early battles.
Go to the entire piece here.

: The link leads to you to a story which is posted on the Kasama website, a self-acknowledged Communist project. In Tagalog, a language of the Phillipines, "kasama" means comrade your companion traveling the long road with you. In the 20th century, Communist Party sympathizers were known as "fellow travelers."

I feel abashed in feeling that I must state this, but: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party, nor an adherent to its principles. This story was sent to me as a look at early US beer history, especially in light of the 2008 sale of American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch to an international conglomerate.


  1. Glad you found this piece interesting, Tom.

    Actually the word "Kasama" in Tagalog means "comrade" (not merely "fellow traveler"). And (as you might expect) it is amusing that you feel the need to disavow communist politics, just in order to post one of my articles.

    Actually, to be clear, Kasama has no connection with the Communist Party of the U.S. (which most communists consider extremely conservative and non-revolutionary). So the communism you are now associated with has a much more radical and Maoist flavor than the CPUSA.

    Cheers. And prosit!

  2. Well, if its any consolation, I'm a communist and I followed a link from Kasama to YOU. Its sad that fifty years after Joe McCarthy's witchhunts people feel obligated to demonstrate that they aren't communists even in the context of passing on a good bit of history on the always important topic of BEER.

  3. Beer and communism actually have a long history in the United States. One of the very first labor demonstrations in the Chicago was a result of the city closing down bars on Sundays. The result was the Chicago Beer Riot or Chicago Lager Riot. The "rioters," German revolutionaries who escaped from Germany after the revolutions of 1848 were crushed.

    Prohibition was, in part, an anti-communist move. Beer halls, bars, etc., were frequent meeting places for radicals, revolutionaries, and labor organizers in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

    Even today, the motto of the Chicago Socialist Party is: Beer! Brats! Bolshevism!



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