The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer Co-Founder Tom Schlafly
Harvard University and I have something in common: a birthday. I was born on October 28, 1948 at the old St. John’s Hospital in the Central West End. More than three centuries earlier, on October 28, 1636, the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had passed a legislative act to establish Harvard College, though it’s only fair to point out that the act was actually passed on November 7, 1636 according to the calendar that was in effect in much of the world at the time.
Alert readers (AR) will recall that Massachusetts still followed Julian calendar in the 17th century. This was the calendar that had been established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. After a while people began to realize that it was woefully inaccurate. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII established the far more accurate Gregorian calendar, which was soon adopted in the Catholic countries of Europe and is currently followed in most of the world. Protestant countries, however, had a problem with following a papal calendar. They preferred following an inaccurate calendar established by a Roman emperor to submitting to the authority of a Roman pope by following his superior calendar. It wasn’t until 1752 that Britain and its colonies finally accepted the papal calendar. In Massachusetts and elsewhere in the British world the day after September 2, 1752 was September 14. Eleven days disappeared with the stroke of a pen and Britain’s calendar was back in synch with the earth’s orbit around the sun.
In other words, the claim that Harvard and I share a birthday warrants a footnote. The dates are the same, but they were determined according to different calendars. Whether we share a birthday or not, this astrological bond wasn’t enough for Harvard Law School to accept me when I applied for admission in 1974. Granted, I didn’t make a big deal about my birthday in the essay I submitted with my application. Perhaps I should have. Apparently the director of admissions put more weight on such factors as LSAT scores and undergraduate grades. Whatever the reason, I ended up at Georgetown Law School, not at Harvard.
Harvard Law School, which was founded in 1817, proudly and rightfully claims to be the oldest continuously operating law school in the United States. Without wishing to diminish the significance of this claim, I would simply note that Harvard had a brewery long before it had a law school. In the universe of American law schools Harvard’s definitely has seniority. On the Harvard campus, however, the law school is something of a newcomer, at least in comparison with beer.
According to the historian Gregg Smith, the author of Beer in America, The Early Years—1587-1840, John Harvard reputedly learned the art of brewing from William Shakespeare and developed plans to construct a brew house on campus. The college rules of 1667 included detailed instructions on operating the brewery. By 1686 Increase Mather, the father of Cotton Mather, a student at Harvard at the time, had become the rector of the college and drafted a Code of College Laws that addressed the beer supply among other important issues. Sadly, by the end of the 18th century, before Harvard Law School had been founded, the last of the college breweries had been shuttered.
Increase and Cotton Mather, like almost all the presidents of Harvard in the early days, were Puritan ministers who were undoubtedly highly resistant to following a calendar promulgated by a pope. It was under the leadership of these Puritan clergymen that Harvard adopted the motto, Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae. (Truth for Christ and his Church.) This motto was later shortened to the motto that adorns the university’s seal today, Veritas.
The pursuit of truth in various ways has been a human passion since long before the founding of Harvard. Back in the days when the Julian calendar was still accurate, the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote, “In vino veritas.” (In wine there is truth.) Not to be outdone by oenophiles, anonymous beer lovers coined the phrase, “In cerevisia veritas.” (In beer there is truth.) In this same spirit, a group of beer lovers at Harvard Law School recently founded an organization called Beeritas, dedicated to seeking veritatem in cerevisia. (For the benefit of ARs who have forgotten their high school Latin, veritatem is the accusative case of veritas, and is appropriate for the direct object of a verb.)
All of this is pertinent because I have been invited by Beeritas to give a talk about Schlafly Beer on April 2nd, five days before the 80th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition with respect to beer. Even though the event is the day after April Fools’ Day, I am not making this up. This is the actual veritas. I really am speaking at Harvard Law School. What I wasn’t able to accomplish with my LSAT score and undergraduate grades back in 1974 was finally made possible thanks to beer.