Alcohol, Founding Fathers and US Presidents

The Spirit of ’76 Turns Out to be Ethanol

@weshagen @jwilkeswines @j.wilkes_wines

(Note:  This history lesson is not meant to encourage or glorify unhealthy drinking habits, instead it is a view into a different time with different views on fermented beverages and their importance in daily life.  It can certainly be implied that an Originalist/Founding Father perspective would never include alcohol prohibition, and Washington, Jefferson, the Adamses and Franklin likely would have hung Congressman Volstead for his Act.)

Revolutionary America:

Pilgrims landed in Massachussets instead of Virginia (as planned) because they were low on beer and needed supplies to brew more.
Without the ability to swiftly grow beer making supplies, the Pilgrims almost gave up on the New World to return to Europe until they discovered how to brew acorn beer, and then had great success in producing hard apple cider, which was a mainstay of Colonial and Rev. life..
In general, beer and cider were not considered alcoholic beverages as we understand them today. They were considered a staple drink in every household and were consumed by children daily.
Beer and Cider were consumed for breakfast and throughout the day, wine and spirits with dinner, arak punch was very common at parties, and spirits late into the night, especially by men.
Drinking water (especially cold water) was considered unhealthy, and there was a belief that alcohol, especially distilled spirits, were a healthy way to stave off the heat of Summer.
Every Founding Father brewed beer, distilled rum, whiskey or a combination of these. Washington, Franklin and Jefferson were especially committed to producing booze.
American whiskey appears on tavern drink lists by 1768.
During the revolution, the price of wine and spirits jumped 1000%.
The Boston Tea Party was fueled by beer. Those that dumped the tea into the harbor, dressed as Native Americans, had been drinking in a tavern for hours before they had the bright idea of attacking British trade interests.
Revolutionary Era persons (averaged between children, women and men) drank an average of 8 alcohol beverages a day.
It was quite common to drink 4 pints of beer or cider every day at work.
Revolutionary Era citizens were commonly defined as ‘1,2 or 3 bottle men’, meaning they drank 1, 2 or 3 pints of whiskey a day. That’s 16, 32 and 48 shots daily.
East of the Allegheny: Rum (coastal) and West of the Allegheny, Corn Whiskey.

Thomas Jefferson:

William and Mary College
Royal Governor Francis Fauquier, Huegenot, likely taught Jefferson his first lessons on fine wine
George Wythe, Jefferson’s law tutor, had a great cellar and also taught young Thomas wine.
Faves were sherry, madeira, port, claret, burgundy, Hock (Riesling), Arak, sweet wines of Canary islands and Malaga.
Common in Rev. America to buy wines with pounds of cured tobacco.
“No nation is drunken where wine is cheap. It is the only antidote to the bane of whiskey.”
“Wine is necessary for life.”
“Don’t conclude I’m a drinker. My measure is a perfectly sober one of 3-4 glasses of wine at dinner.”  His journals and writings show this to be accurate, showing his consumption was around 1.1 standard bottles of winea day between 1822-1824.

John  Adams:  known for his sobriety in general, it was still noted he drank hard and long into the wee hours for 6 days a week for seven weeks in a row during the Continental Congress.

Sam Adams:  Fined and nearly expelled at Harvard for his whiskey consumption.  Beer?  Remember they didn’t drink water, so it can be strongly implied he drank the 3-5 beers per day that every man woman and child averaged in 1790.

Benjamin Franklin:

Besides being a diplomat, statesman, inventor, scientist, and theorist, Benjamin Franklin was an accomplished author and publisher.  His own words do his love of the drink more justice than we ever could:

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”

“When Wine enters, out goes the Truth.”

“Never spare the Parson’s wine, nor the Baker’s pudding.”

“The discovery of wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation.  The universe is too full of stars.”

“Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

(Yes, often misquoted as “Beer is sure proof…”, a little research shows his true intent was wine.)

“Take counsel in wine, but resolve afterwards in water.” ”  –Wine America Website

“Ben was quite fond of hearty red Madeira, and while he was something less of a dedicated drunkard than some of his colleagues, he possessed a deep understanding of intoxication and all the positive elements of tying one on. The biblical flood, Franklin insisted, went down because men became wicked from drinking too much water, something God corrected once Noah hit dry land: “God, to relieve his dryness, created the vine and revealed to him the art of making le vin. By the aid of this liquid he unveiled more and more truth.”

A man with a sense of humor, Franklin composed a list of over 200 synonyms for being smashed. A few highlights: “he’s eaten a toad-and-a-half for breakfast”; “he makes Indentures with his Leggs”; “he’s had a Thump over the Head with Sampson’s jawbone.”

Franklin also suggested that we drinkers should thank the heavens that the human elbow is located where it is because we “are enabled to drink at our ease, the glass going directly to the mouth.” –Drunkard.com

George Washington:

Noted for dancing the night away with Martha after consuming an impressive 4 bottles of wine.
Washington’s revolutionary war account for alcohol was almost $1000 a month.
Washington had a great love for Porter style beers.
Washington’s estate produced an impressive 11,000 gallons of corn whiskey in 1799.  Washington was the largest individual producer of whiskey in the US after retiring the Presidency.

Apocryphal story of Ethan Allen:

The war hero of Ticonderoga got so drunk between battles in a cart that the rattlesnake that bit him was said to have passed out as well. He is said to have woken up momentarily, groggily swatted the air around him and complained of mosquitoes after the snakebite.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

The moderate drinkers fare better. Franklin D Roosevelt frequently tops the list of America’s greatest presidents, the commander-in-chief who defeated the Great Depression and led the US through World War Two.Throughout these turbulent years, FDR kept a martini close at hand and prized the rituals of cocktail hour, when he mixed stiff drinks for friends on his White House study desk. The conviviality of cocktail hour undoubtedly helped FDR unwind and briefly relieved the immense pressure he was under.  –BBC Website

Richard Nixon, from the New York Times, just for good measure:

“The most famous such anecdote comes from “The Final Days’’ by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in which Richard Nixon is depicted entertaining Congressmen on the Presidential yacht Sequoia, serving them a modest Bordeaux with their dinner of tenderloin while the stewards poured Nixon Margaux 1966, the bottle wrapped in a napkin to conceal the label. Tricky, Dick!” –Asimov
“But the most disturbing picture of presidential drinking is provided by Richard Nixon, a man prone to morose self-pity who medicated his moods with booze.According to his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s trouble was that a small amount of drink would set him off and late-night threats of military action were made when the president was the worse for wear.When North Korea shot down a US spy plane in April 1969, an enraged Nixon allegedly ordered a tactical nuclear strike and told the joint chiefs to recommend targets. According to the historian Anthony Summers, citing the CIA’s top Vietnam specialist at the time, George Carver, Henry Kissinger spoke to military commanders on the phone and agreed not to do anything until Nixon sobered up in the morning.”  –BBC Website

Lyndon Johnson:

LBJ’s special assistant for domestic affairs, Joseph A Califano, remembered a ride around the ranch with the president: “As we drove around we were followed by a car and a station wagon with Secret Service agents. The president drank Cutty Sark scotch and soda out of a large, white, plastic foam cup.”Periodically, Johnson would slow down and hold his left arm outside the car, shaking the cup and ice. A Secret Service agent would run up to the car, take the cup and go back to the station wagon. There another agent would refill it with ice, scotch and soda as the first agent trotted behind the wagon.”

Ronald Reagan and California Dreamin’:

“A California native and avid supporter of the domestic wine industry, Ronald Reagan is known for revolutionizing the way the White House looked at American wine.  Not only did he exclusively serve American sparkling wine in lieu of Champagne, but he is the first President to ever serve a Zinfandel at an official event.  His love of California wine was so great in fact, that upon moving to D.C. he sent himself a private supply of wine from Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling, and Stag’s Leap.  Reagan went above and beyond to showcase everything American wine had to offer, and in doing so set a precedent that is observed even today.”  –Wine America Website

Donald Trump:

“I’ve never had a drink,” Donald Trump told Fox News after his election last November. Unlike George W Bush, who was teetotal in office after giving up booze on his 40th birthday, Mr Trump has eschewed alcohol his whole life, making him a first among modern US presidents.The reason for Mr Trump’s sobriety is because his adored older brother Freddie died of illness stemming from alcoholism at the age of 42. “It was a very tough period of time,” he said, that convinced him never to drink.”If you don’t start you’re never going have a problem. If you do start you might have a problem. And it’s a tough problem to stop,” Mr Trump told Fox.

And to finish today’s celebration of Freedom and Intoxication, here is a chart of every President’s alleged Drug of Choice.  Who knew?