The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer Co-Founder Tom Schlafly
Some alert readers (ARs) may recall from last month’s column that Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare both died on April 23, 1616. What I failed to mention was that the 400th anniversary of their respective deaths was the quincentennial (500th anniversary) of the Reinheitsgebot, one of the most important laws in the history of jurisprudence.
On April 23, 1516 Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV issued a feudal edict in Ingolstadt, about 60 miles north of Munich. The entire document was 315 words long and primarily concerned price controls for beer. The 31 words that came to be known as the German Beer Purity Law restricted the ingredients that could be used in beer to barley, hops and water. Many historians have concluded that the duke’s primary motivation was not maintaining the purity of beer. Rather, he simply wanted to conserve wheat, so it could be used for baking bread. One way to do so was to prohibit his subjects from brewing beer with any grain other than barley.
The decree was not originally called the Reinheitsgebot, but was variously known as the Substitutionsverbot (prohibition of substitutes) or Surrogatsverbot (prohibition of surrogates). The benefits of this law, which initially applied only to Bavaria, were so self-evident that Baden adopted the standards in 1896, and Wuerttemberg followed suit in 1900. In 1906 the law’s provisions took effect in the entire Second German Reich. The name Reinheitsgebot (purity law) was coined on March 4, 1918. The following year, in the aftermath of the First World War (WWI), Bavaria declared that it would not join the Weimar Republic unless its beloved Reinheitsgebot were part of the federal tax code. The rest of Germany acquiesced in Bavaria’s demand.
In the past half-millennium the Reinheitsgebot has been expanded from 31 words to more than 12 pages, a growth that can best be explained, at least in my opinion, by the introduction of democracy to Germany. Five hundred years ago Duke Wilhelm didn’t need to worry about anyone’s opinion but his own. The law was what he wanted it to be. Nowadays, laws are passed by hundreds of legislators and supplemented by regulations and interpretations from thousands of bureaucrats. It’s hardly surprising that something crafted by several buildings full of bureaucrats would be a lot longer than a simple edict penned by someone who didn’t have to answer to anyone.
One of the most famous champions of democracy for Germany was Woodrow Wilson (WW), who was elected president in 1912. After WWI broke out in Europe in 1914, WW maintained a policy of American neutrality. In 1916 he campaigned for re-election with the slogan “He kept us out of war.” Shortly after being re-elected, WW decided to stop keeping us out of war. He was inaugurated for his second term in March of 1917 and on April 2, 1917, WW urged the U.S. Congress to enter WWI against Germany in order to make the world “safe for democracy.”
While many ARs were probably already familiar with WW’s role in first opposing WWI before getting us into it (Sound familiar?) and with his politically incorrect views on race that caused some folks at Princeton University to demand that the WW School of Public and International Affairs be renamed, I’m guessing that far fewer ARs knew that WW was the last presidential candidate from either major party to be nominated in St. Louis. I am not making this up. One hundred years ago, in June of 1916, the Democrats met a few blocks west of where The Schlafly Tap Room stands today and picked WW as their nominee.
The convention was held in the St. Louis Coliseum, which was bounded by Washington, Jefferson, Locust and Beaumont. It was built on the site of Uhrig’s Cave, a popular theater and outdoor beer garden. The cornerstone had been laid in August of 1908 by August Schlafly, the president of the St. Louis Coliseum Company. Yes, that August Schlafly. Although I knew that my great grandfather was a serial entrepreneur, I had no idea he had anything to do with the St. Louis Coliseum. According to contemporary accounts, a crowd of thousands cheered loudly when he sealed the cornerstone with a silver trowel.
Over the course of next few decades the Coliseum hosted conventions, Veiled Prophet Balls, boxing matches, track meets, tennis matches, political rallies, swimming competitions and a seven-week revival by the prohibitionist preacher Billy Sunday. When the Kiel Auditorium opened in 1934, balls, concerts and other events migrated away from the Coliseum. The last event held there was a wrestling match in 1939. Fourteen years later, in 1953, the building was demolished.
It’s worth noting that the building that now houses The Schlafly Tap Room had been around for several years when August Schlafly laid the cornerstone of the Coliseum. Today, not far from Uhrig’s Cave, a thriving beer garden once again graces the neighborhood. What better place to have another political convention? Say what? Why not? After a 100-year hiatus St. Louis is due.
Having been spurned by the two major parties for more than a century, I think St. Louis should take the hint and stop wooing them. How about having a convention for the Beer Drinkers Party? As many ARs already know, I have often written about the party in this space, but have been derelict when it comes to organization. In order to simplify the process, I’m proposing no rules with respect to credentials and delegates…these being the issues that cause nasty fights at the major party conventions. Realizing that parties need to have platforms, I have a modest proposal for the Beer Drinkers Party. Suppose we stand for beer laws that are short, simple, fair and easy to understand. Like the 31-word Reinheitsgebot.