Roy Exum / January 6, 2011

Soggy’s Classic Speech

The Honorable Noah S. Sweat, Jr., whose close friends used to call him by the wonderful nickname of “Soggy,” was a notable county judge and state legislator in the great State of Mississippi for about 50 years and the other day a friend shared with me a tape of a classic speech “Soggy” once given on the floor of the state’s Capital Building down in Jackson.

Judge Sweat was from Corinth, which most folks know is up in the right corner of The Magnolia State, right down from Tennessee’s McNairy County and just past where the Natchez Trace Parkway leads down from Nashville. Oh, it’s just beyond Iuka and Tishomingo, if that helps and you’re traveling west.

Anyway, “Soggy” was a card, evermore a great character, and in 1952 there was a raging debate in the state legislature on whether Mississippi should continue its prohibition of whiskey. For the record, I was a student at Ole Miss in 1967, the first year after the ban was finally lifted, and have always been eternally grateful.

But in 1952 “Soggy,” … er, Judge Sweat, became “the perfect politician” when he gave the world the best example of “double-speak” that has ever been recorded. Permit me to share the remarks that delighted darn-near everybody involved back in the day:

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.“

The perpetual rumor is that it took the judge over two months before he got the speech down pat. It should also be noted that "Soggy” died in February of 1996 but not before he became a beloved law professor at Ole Miss and was the founder of the Mississippi Judicial College in the University of Mississippi Law Center.

In 1997, famed New York Times columnist William Safire included the speech in his marvelous book, “Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History.” How many among us can boast that claim?

Yes, we still have politicians and, yes, some can still “double speak” but, lordy, I wish we had more like the Honorable Noah S. Sweat, Jr., the judge who most folks up around Corinth and Tishomingo once called “Soggy.”

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