Whiskey Ring

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WHISKEY RING. During the Grant administration, a group of western distillers and Internal Revenue Service officials formed a conspiracy to evade the whiskey tax. After a lengthy investigation into the ring, Benjamin H. Bristow, the secretary of the treasury, procured the indictment of more than 230 persons, including the president's personal secretary, and the conviction of 110, including four government officials. The investigation turned up allegations that funds generated by the illegal abatements of taxes went to the Republican party to achieve a second term for Grant. The private secretary was acquitted, however, and no evidence implicated Grant himself.


McDonald, John. Secrets of the Great Whiskey Ring. St. Louis, Mo.: W. S. Bryan, 1880.

McFeely, William S. Grant: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981.

Simpson, Brooks D. The Reconstruction Presidents. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

JohnFrancisJr./a. g.

See alsoBelknap Scandal ; Corruption, Political ; Crédit Mobilier of America .

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Whiskey Ring, in U.S. history, a group of distillers and public officials who defrauded the federal government of liquor taxes. Soon after the Civil War these taxes were raised very high, in some cases to eight times the price of the liquor. Large distillers, chiefly in St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Chicago, bribed government officials in order to retain the tax proceeds. The Whiskey Ring was a public scandal, but it was considered impregnable because of its strong political connections. U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Benjamin H. Bristow resolved to break the conspiracy. To avoid warning the suspects, he assigned secret investigators from outside the Treasury Dept. to collect evidence. Striking suddenly in May, 1875, he arrested the persons and seized the distilleries involved. Over $3 million in taxes was recovered, and of 238 persons indicted 110 were convicted. Although President Grant's secretary, Orville E. Babcock, was acquitted through the personal intervention of the President, many persons believed that the Whiskey Ring was part of a plot to finance the Republican party by fraud.

See J. MacDonald, Secrets of the Great Whiskey Ring (1880, repr. 1969).