The Gin Act in England – 1751 The judgments for and against the Gin Act of 1751 in England are distinctly separated into two divergent groups: those supportive of the act, and those wholly opposed to the motion. Many beheld the Gin Act as a resource to offset the significant negative impacts caused by the over-consumption of gin. Others believed the act violated the individual’s right to own and control property and would convey a negative impact on England’s trade and economic statuses. 5) The Preamble of the Gin Act of 1751, therefore, disregards economic concerns to purely express the social concerns of excessive gin drinking and addresses its detriment to British society by way of health, morals, and productivity. Those opposed to the Gin Act were primarily concerned with the negative economic impact it would generate. The introduction of the Gin Act would undermine English entrepreneurs, businesses, and multitudes of families whose livelihoods depended on a vigorous gin market. 4) Additionally, the gin trade was beneficial to the English economy in that Britain’s output of grain was far greater than the people or cattle could consume and gin production provided a remedy to carry off the excess grain. (2) Some argued that gin had slowly developed into an important part of English economy and also culture. Drinking gin was not a crime, although religious peoples saw public drunkenness as a sinful act. In turn, the religious community favored the Gin Act due to their belief that it would limit and restrict immorality caused by drunkenness. 10) Others against the act, however, believed an occasional drink was necessary upon many occasions for the relief of the cold, foggy climate of England. (8) One Member of Parliament opposed to the act reasoned that the Crown would suffer an ample amount with the act in place. The gin tax generated 70, 000 pounds per year to His Majesty. The proposed Gin Act would raise the fees so high that no person would be willing to pay them and the King would lose an abundant amount of revenue every year. 6) This viewpoint served to elucidate the expense the act would have on the country in order to mend social and moral issues. Arguments disparate to the Gin Act, although valid, shared the lack of realism of the social devastation gin was causing the country. Those in favor of the Gin Act, however, centered their arguments on the social concerns caused by gin and the drunkenness of the English people. (1) Gin was inexpensive, easily accessible, and drunkenness became an addiction to many English citizens.
Because of this, there was an outburst in the popularity of gin, especially among lower class citizens. By the initiation of the act in 1751, gin production in England had increased by 600% since 1701. Urban poverty became a visible, widespread component of life in the large cites of England such as London. (3) As depicted in William Hogarth’s print titled Gin Lane, you can clearly see how gin had caused devastation to the urban poor of London. Death and decay encompass the scene of Gin Lane.
Businesses were closed, citizens spent there only money to feed their habit of drinking, and a half-naked baby is seen falling from the arms of its mother and plunges to its death. (11) Observers feared that if the evils of gin brought to society continued to increase, drunkenness would become a characteristic of the people and the efficiency of labor and productivity in society as a whole would suffer. (13) This uncertainty of a stable English society was also shared among English politicians.
Due to an increase in crime and declining public health, the nation’s jails were becoming overcrowded and people came to depend on hospitals for provisions and medical care which they could no longer afford. (9) Combined with a decrease in economic productivity, the English Parliament was effusively encouraged to take tangible actions to curtail the gin trade. The Preamble of the Gin Act recognized the concerns voiced by the supporters of the act, those who had social concerns, and overlooked the economic concerns voice by those opposed to the Gin Act.
The Preamble of the Gin Act discusses the negativities brought forth by drunken citizens, such as detriment in health, privation of productivity, and overall morality within the country. (7) The Preamble alludes the act is being put in place for the overall well-being of His Majesty’s subjects however, in reality; a vast part of Parliament’s motivation to enact this motion was in fear of English social insecurity and impending collapse. The overconsumption of gin was devastating the productivity of a large number of citizens and threatened the foundation of English social structure.
These social issues, as previously brought forth by those in favor of the Gin Act, are reiterated in the Preamble. In the deliberation of the Gin Act of 1751, those who approved of it strived to repair social debauchment caused by the unfettered production of gin within England. Those against it futilely argued that the Gin Act would cause great decline and additional consequences for the English economy, as well as English trade. Some believed the Gin Act was hostile to property rights and was only the beginning of further, irrational taxes by Parliament. 5) Despite the valid points address by the business community in England discussing economic consequences, they failed to convince the English Parliament to withdraw from the motion. Parliament believed that the Gin Act would offset the dangerous impact gin had on England’s social system. Crime, illness and disease, lack of morality and more was put in crisis from the growing rate of addiction to the liquor. Overall, the Gin Act can be seen as an effort to restore harmony and soberness throughout the country.