Maybe this ain’t poetry in the way most people think of it. But back in 1952 Judge Sweat encapsulated the wonders and confusion of Mississippi in one speech about prohibition. That is enough for me.
So saith the man:
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, here 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.
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 into 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.
Clinton v. Smith, 493 So. 2d 331, 336 (Miss. 1986). Justice Robertson helpfully points out that the text of the great Whiskey Speech of former Circuit Judge Noah S. Sweat, Jr., of Corinth, “togther with an account of its origins,” appears in an article by one M. Hughes called “Judge Sweat and ‘The Original Whiskey Speech,’ in The Jurist (Vol. I, No.2, Spring, 1986) at pp. 16-17.
And for what it’s worth, I agree wholeheartedly with old Judge Sweat.
*Mississippi is still a dry state—we just opt out different cities and counties, leading to a brittle constellation of blue laws as you weave through hills, city, and Delta.