Noah S. Sweat
Judge Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr. (October 2, 1922 – February 23, 1996) was a judge, law professor, and state representative in the U.S. state of Mississippi, notable for his 1952 speech on the floor of the Mississippi state legislature concerning whiskey. Reportedly the speech took Sweat two and a half months to write. The speech is renowned for the grand rhetorical terms in which it seems to come down firmly and decisively on both sides of the question. The speech gave rise to the phrase if-by-whiskey, used to illustrate such equivocation in argument.
The 1952 speech by Mississippi state Rep. (and Judge) Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., reprised by Mississippi state Rep. Ed Perry on 100th anniversary of opening of the Mississippi state Capitol, as broadcast on public radio. (Duration: 3 minutes 27 seconds)
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Sweat was elected to the House in 1947, at the age of 24. He served only one term, at the end of which he delivered his speech.
He subsequently pursued his career in law. Judge Sweat was the founder of the Mississippi Judicial College of the University of Mississippi Law Center. The writer John Grisham worked as his assistant as a law student in 1980.
The "whiskey speech"
The "whiskey speech" concerned the question of the prohibition of alcoholic liquor, a law that was still in force in Mississippi at the time the speech was delivered.
My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, this is how I feel about whiskey:
If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.
But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.
Sweat later recalled, "When I finished the first half of the speech, there was a tremendous burst of applause. The second half of the speech, after the close of which, the wets all applauded. The drys were as unhappy with the second part of the speech as the wets were with the first half".
- Safire, William (1997) Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04005-4. Page 876.
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