"Whiskey Speech" orator Judge "Soggy" Sweat dies

CORINTH - Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr., a former judge and lawyer whose 1952 "Whiskey Speech" became a monument to political doubletalk, died Friday after a battle with Parkinson's disease.

Sweat, 73, died at a Corinth nursing home. His professional and political career included stints as a legislator, district attorney, circuit court judge and college professor.

Sweat will be remembered most for his "Whiskey Speech" delivered in the Mississippi House in 1952 when lawmakers were debating legalizing liquor.

Liquor was illegal in Mississippi. But the state collected what was called a "black market" tax on it totaling millions of dollars.

Sweat, who was elected to the House in 1947 at the age of 24, served one term and delivered the speech during his last year in office.

"It was a tour de force," Sweat said in a 1989 interview with "The Daily Corinthian" newspaper.

"The banquet that night at the old King Edward Hotel was being held. The senators, their wives, members of the House and others were guests.

"Bose Holburn had heard I was working on a universal approach to the whiskey issue. He called me that night and asked me to get up and take a stand on the issue," Sweat recalled.

In the copyrighted speech, Sweat condemns whiskey as "the Devil's brew, the poison scourge and the bloody monster."

Then he praises alcohol as the "oil of conversation" and "the philosophic wine."

After the classic example of political doublespeak, he concluded by saying, "This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise."

Sweat said when he first gave the speech, the crowd sat in silence.

"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," he said.

Sweat's "Whiskey Speech"

Here's the famous "Whiskey Speech; then-Rep. N.S. "Soggy" Sweat Jr. delivered on April 4, 1952, at a banquet while the prohibition issue was before the Legislature.

"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.


"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."

The Clarion Ledger, Saturday, February 24, 1996, Jackson, MS, p. 3B.

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