‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 11.’ by a Correspondent in New York (20 May, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Here the discussion focuses on drinking culture and alcoholism in the United States.

Drinking Habits Among the Yankees.

Mr William Pearce, the builder of the Arizona, Elbe, and Alaska steamships, has been in this country on a visit, and on being interviewed and questioned on the facilities for shipbuilding in this country as compared with Great Britain he says:—“We are, to be sure, hampered somewhat by the despotic system of Trades Unions among our working men. And, again, where our men work fifty-four hours in a week, yours work sixty. The working men in this country, too, are not so intemperate as ours are, which is another advantage American employers have.” “Angels and ministers of grace defend us,” where has this English shipbuilder got his information? It has long been my opinion that those who come here on a short pleasure trip, or just comes to see what o’clock it is in America, or only stops as long as digest the last meal they got on board the steamer that brought them out, know more about the history of America, geographically, geologically, commercially, socially, morally, and every other way than those who have been born and bred here for a long lifetimes. So it is with this Englishman. Does he mean to tell us that there is no despotic system of Trades Unions (as he loves to term it) in America? What he in his erroneous egotism calls despotism is far more rampant here than where he builds his ships. It is true that our working hours are properly six more per week than in the old country; but do Americans as a rule work more hours in a year than Scotchmen or Englishmen do? No, they do not. The Yankee thinks no more of taking a day to himself than a Scotchman does of taking a morning, and he does take it. Yankees don’t work nearly so steadily or continuously as this gentleman’s shipbuilders do. And, don’t you forget it, I don’t say that Uncle Sam is lazy. Oh no; I guess he only gets tired pretty often, and it takes a very small excuse to make him lay off work for a time. I thoroughly believe that if we had the Saturday half-holiday established here it would tend to lessen the taking of days during the week, for Americans, like other people, think that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. As to the charge of the British workman being more intemperate than American workmen, I will be as charitable as to think that he spoke more in ignorance than in trying to hurt his fellow-countrymen are more intemperate in every sense of the word than the Americans are, and I think it would be far better to remain silent than speak at random of things we know not of. The Excise Commissioners of New York City report they have licensed 8561 places to sell liquor, and there are at least 1500 unlicensed places in the city, making above 2000 reports for making drundarks [sic? drunkards?] in the city of New York alone. A correspondent of a newspaper says that the Astor House of that city has the largest bar business in the world, and adds—“It is a bad day’s business when they do not sell over 700 dollars worth of liquor.

In the city of Denver during the year 1880 the total income for the sale of boots and shoes, coal, and the products of the bakeries amounted to 1,875,000 dollars. The income for the sale of liquors for the same period was 2,000,000 dollars, or 25,000 dollars more for liquor than for the above necessaries of life. An authority on the subject says:—“A sum equal to the earnings of all the railways is drunk up every year in this country. Instead of men saving their money in case of hard times, they place their dollars in the liquor saloons, and draw an interest of bloodshot eyes and staggering gait. In time as they become better customers they get a substantial dividend of delerium tremens, and soon their brain succumbs.” Two million persons are employed in different branches of the liquor traffic. Four hundred murders and five hundred suicides annually are due to the drinking of alcohol in this country. And this is the land where sobriety is represented to be one of the characteristics of its people, and who are held up to you Scotch and English working men as worthy of imitation! Bah, the next time this English shipbuilder comes here to open his mouth and let his tongue say anything that has a mind to, let him take some other topic which he knows something about, and not come here in his ignorance and ridicule his fellow-countrymen, more especially the very men who build his ships and helped to build his fortune.

“O, ye wha are sae guid yersel’,

Sae pious and sae holy,

Ye’ve nought to do but mark an’ tell

Your neibours’ fauts an’ folly.”

Correspondent.

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