WHISKEY BOMB PLOTS OF 1888 AND BEYOND
From the famous whiskey ring of 1874 to the pool of 1881 and the
trust of 1887, and from the abandonment of the "trust" dress and
the reorganization into one corporation in 1890 down to the
present , the private regulation of the liquor traffic has
gone on. It is a regulation of a good deal more than the liquor
traffic. More than one chapter of our history exhibits the
government itself holding to these rectifiers relations
suggestive of anything but rectification.
By February, 1888, all the important distilleries in the Northern
States were in the Trust, excepting two, the larger of which was
in Chicago. In April the Chicago distillery firm published the
fact that they had caught a spy of the Trust in their works. He
had given them a confession in writing. In September it was
discovered that the valve of a vat in this distillery had been
tampered with in such a way as to have caused an explosion had it
not been found out in time. In December the country was startled
by the news that this distillery had been the scene of an awful
explosion of dynamite. All the buildings in the neighborhood
were shaken and many panes of glass were broken. A jagged hole
about three feet square was torn in the roof. A package of
dynamite which had failed to explode, though the fuse had been
lighted, was found on the premises by the Chicago police.
The Chicago representative of the whiskey combination ridiculed
the idea that the Trust had had anything to do with this.
On February 11, 1891, the explosion of December, 1888, was
recalled by the unexpected arrest of the secretary of the
combination in Chicago by the United States authorities. The
Grand Jury of Cook County [Illinois] found an indictment,
February 17th, against the prisoner. April 20th he was indicted
by the Federal Grand Jury. The crime of which he was charged was
attempting to bribe a government gauger to blow up the
troublesome distillery. The gauger whom the secretary endeavored
to enlist had been loyal to *his* trust, the government, and had
made known to his superiors the offer and purpose of the bribe.
The gauger through whom the secretary of the Trust had attempted
to execute his plans was called as a witness before the Committee
of Congress which investigated the Trust in 1893. His testimony:
Late in December, 1890, I received a letter from the
secretary of the whiskey combination at Peoria [Illinois],
telling me that he would like to meet me. I met him. He
said, "You may be able to do considerable good here; not
only for us, but of considerable advantage to yourself.
You can get $10,000 by assisting us in this thing; in fact,
to make matters right, you could get in three months
He met the secretary again on January 25th, 1891.
"Now," said the secretary, "I can give you something which,
if put under a cistern, will in three or four hours go off,
and no person know what it was or who did it."
The gauger surrendered the infernal machine [special bomb] to one
of his superiors in the government. A chemist who inspected it
said that it was his opinion it would have gone off in *three*
If the explosion had been carried out 150 men at work in the
distillery would have been destroyed. The evidence given
Congress afterwards tended to show that part of the plan was that
the bribed gauger who was to set and explode the infernal machine
was not to be allowed to survive to claim his reward and perhaps
repent and tell. The fuse was fixed so that the explosion would
be instantaneous instead of giving the time promised him to get
out of the way.
On June 8th, 1891, the judge of the United States Court in
Chicago quashed the Federal indictment, on the ground that it is
not a crime under any of the United States laws for an internal
revenue officer to set fire to a distillery of his own volition
and impulse, and that it is not a crime against the United States
for another person to bribe him to do such an act. He held that
the offender could only be punished through the State courts.
The United States had property in the distillery to the extent of
$800,000 due for taxes, which was a legal lien on the property;
but the United States District Attorney and the judge could find
no Federal law under which, for the gauger to destroy this
property of the United States, or for the Whiskey Trust to bribe
him to do so, it was a crime. When the indictments framed by the
State's Attorney of Chicago came before the State courts, three
of the four were found defective and were quashed. The State's
Attorney had said, at the time the Federal proceedings were
quashed, that of his four indictments he relied most upon that
for conspiracy; "but in court yesterday," reported the New York
World newspaper, "the State Attorney let the charge of conspiracy
fall to the ground because, as he said, there was not evidence
enough to secure a conviction."
"We haven't the evidence of the gauger; I don't know where he
is," the State's Attorney said.
But the gauger declared in a public letter in February, 1893,
"Myself and others with positive evidence were always ready to
testify, and I have the facts today."
The judge of the State court held the motion to quash until July,
1891, and then announced that he would make no decision until
August. He withheld his ruling until October. Then he held the
secretary for trial on two counts, charging conspiracy to bribe
the gauger and destroy the independent distillery; but remarked
"informally," the newspapers said, that conviction would be
When the case was called March 22, 1892, a delay was granted
"until next Monday," to enable the prisoner's counsel to read the
"bill of particulars" to find out what he was charged with. The
secretary did not trouble himself to attend court. His case was
not heard of again until June 24th, when he was released on a
*nolle prosequi* entered by the State's Attorney because the
evidence was "insufficient," and the secretary became a free man.
That was the end.
[Synopsis of *Wealth against Commonwealth* by Henry Demarest
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