Drinking Age Debate

To some, it’s simply¬†“to drink or not to drink.” To others, it really is “to [die] or not to [die].” For the first time in twenty-five years, it seems now is the time to rehash the question. But, before considering whether or not the current drinking age of 21 years should be adjusted, it is best to examine this issue from its roots to its shoots, so to speak. After a brief historical survey, I’ll opine away.

The History

drinkingageWhile popular opinion would have you believe that this saga began in the 1920’s, contention on the topic began brewing much earlier. In 1629, the Virginia Colonial Assembly ruled that “Ministers shall not give themselves to excess in drinkinge, or riott, or spending their tyme idellye day or night.” In 1637, Massachusetts decreed that no one should stay in a tavern “longer than necessary occasions.” Meanwhile, Plymouth Colony outlawed the sale of alcohol to newly arrived strangers which cost “more than 2 pence.” These efforts to control excessive drinking are humorous, considering that Puritans took 42 tons of beer and 10,000 gallons of wine with them on the trip to Massachusetts – and only 14 tons of water.

Throughout the seventeenth and most of the eighteenth centuries, the spectre of prohibition made its presence known only in efforts to control individual consumption. During the last quarter of the eighteen century, prohibitionists realized their efforts might be more successful if they attacked the source. Thus John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, denounced distilling as a sin and called for its Prohibition in 1773. Despite a burgeoning number of people denouncing alcohol altogether, the camp in favor of alcohol remained staunchly unconvinced. When Harvard students were “left ‘wanting beer betwixt brewings a week and a week and a half together,” the first master at Harvard was fired.

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