The Law is Unjust

Our terms moonshiner and moonshining are not used in the mountains. Here an illicit distiller is called a blockader, his business is blockading, and the product is blockade liquor. Just as the smugglers of old Britain called themselves free-traders, thereby proclaiming that they risked and fought for a principle, so the moonshiner considers himself simply a blockade-runner dealing in contraband. His offense is only malum prohibitum, not malum in se.

There are two kinds of blockaders, big and little. The big blockader makes unlicensed whiskey on a fairly large scale. He may have several stills, operating alternately in different places, so as to avert suspicion. In any case, the still is large and the output is quite profitable. The owner himself may not actively engage in the work, but may furnish the capital and hire confederates to do the distilling for him, so that personally he shuns the appearance of evil. These big fellows are rare. They are the ones who seek collusion with the small-fry of Government officialdom, or, failing in that, instruct their minions to “kill on sight.”

The little moonshiner is a more interesting character, if for no other reason than that he fights fair, according to his code, and single-handed against tremendous odds. He is innocent of graft. There is nothing between him and the whole power of the Federal Government, except his own wits and a well-worn Winchester or muzzleloader. He is very poor; he is very ignorant; he has no friends at court; his apparatus is crude in the extreme, and his output is miserably small. This man is usually a good enough citizen in other ways, of decent standing in his own community, and a right good fellow toward all the world, save revenue officers. Although a criminal in the eyes of the law, he is soundly convinced that the law is unjust, and that he is only exercising his natural rights. Such a man, as President Frost has pointed out, suffers none of the moral degradation that comes from violating his conscience; his self-respect is whole.