I am happy to learn you have been so far favored by the divine spirit as to be made sensible of those things which are for your good & that of your people, & of those which are hurtful to you: & particularly that you & they see the ruinous effects which the abuse of spirituous liquors have produced upon them … Spirituous liquors are not in themselves bad … it is the improper & intemperate use of them, by those in health, which makes them injurious. but as you find that your people cannot refrain from an ill use of them, I greatly applaud your resolution not to use them at all …
To Handsome Lake, November 3, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders applaud the wise choices of other leaders.
Lake was a spiritual leader among the Seneca Indians of New York. After a lifetime of abusing alcohol, he had been delivered of that curse and now actively promoted wellness among his people. That included a campaign against all alcohol use.
Jefferson, who loved wine but drank no hard liquor, appreciated Lake’s efforts. He distinguished between the use of alcohol for social enjoyment or medicinal purposes, a common practice, and alcohol abuse by healthy people. Since Lake’s people could not refrain from abusing alcohol, Jefferson applauded the leader’s choice to have it banned completely.
This letter was the source for a similar post in March, 2012.