JUDGE SWEAT TAKES A STAND

August 4, 2010 § 1 Comment

It was my good fortune to have Judge Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat as a Trial Practice professor at the Ole Miss Law School.  He was in his 50’s by the time I encountered him, but he retained a jaunty air and wry sense of humor that captivated his students and others who came within his thrall.  His classes were renowned for their humor, but there was some serious learning, too.  Judge Sweat loved zipping around campus and Oxford in his sport car and dark-tinted aviator glasses.  He was a notorious prankster who enjoyed imbibing with good company from time to time.  On the serious side, he was a former Circuit Judge in Corinth, and was the moving force behind and founder of the Mississippi Judicial College.  He died in 1996.

Judge Sweat’s high water mark, so to speak, came as a young state legislator in 1952, when the body was debating control of alcohol, as it did for many years until legalization in 1966.  The debates were often fractious, and feelings ran strong.   

If the legislature was a lion’s den for lawmakers who dared to take a stand on the controversial issue, Judge Sweat was its Daniel.  On April 4, 1952, he delivered one of the most remarkable speeches in Mississippi history, and, indeed, in the history of American oratory.  Some say it was delivered on the floor of the legislature, and some say it was at a banquet.  No matter; it is genius of the first order.  Here is his short, brilliant address:          

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, here 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.

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