History Says

I was calling on a white-bearded patriarch who was a trifle vain of his historical learning. He could not read, but one of his daughters read to him, and he had learned by heart nearly all that lay between the two lids of a “Universal History” such as book agents peddle about. Like one of John Fox’s characters, he was fond of the expression “hist’ry says” so-and-so, and he considered it a clincher in all matters of debate.

Our conversation drifted to the topic of moonshining.

“Down to the time of the Civil War,” declared the old settler, “nobody paid tax on the whiskey he made. Hit was thataway in my Pa’s time, and in Gran’sir’s, too. And so ’way back to the time of George Washington. Now, hist’ry says that Washington was the Father of his Country; and I reckon he was the greatest man that ever lived—don’t you?”

I murmured a complaisant assent.

“Waal, sir, if ’t was right to make free whiskey in Washington’s day, hit’s right now!” and the old man brought his fist down on the table.

“But that is where you make a mistake,” I replied. “Washington did enforce a whiskey tax.” Then I told about the Whiskey Insurrection of 1794.

This was news to Grandpa. He listened with deep attention, his brows lowering as the narrative proceeded. When it was finished he offered no comment, but brooded to himself in silence. My own thoughts wandered far afield, until recalled to the topic by a blunt demand:

“You say Washington done that?”

“He did.”

“George Washington?”

“Yes, sir: the Father of his Country.”

“Waal, I’m satisfied now that Washington was a leetle-grain cracked.”