“Listen, it’s the 18th century, you’d drink to chase the boredom too.”
America loves drinking so much that a bunch of people set us aside and said, “America, we think you may have a problem,” and actively banned the entire nation from drinking booze.
And our response to that was to say, “In the entire history of our nation, we have never repealed an amendment. Until now, GIVE US BACK OUR BOOZE YOU ASSHATS.” That’s history to be proud of, and it’s no surprise that many of the greatest figures behind this, the greatest country in the world, are also some of history’s greatest drinkers.
Which is why it is our duty, and frankly our pleasure, to introduce the latest running series to America Fun Fact of the Day. Welcome to America’s Drunkest Presidents, where we look at the drinking habits of our greatest presidents and tell you which ones were the drunkest.
This is important work we’re doing here. This is God’s work. One nation under God. One nation under drunk. Like, like the, you know. Like the Pledge of Allegiance? Only, okay, cards on the table, we’re pretty soused right now.
Let’s start with our first president, who spent more money on booze in a year than most people do in a decade.
America’s Drunkest Presidents: George Washington
“I’m not as Senator as you drunk I am, think.”
George Washington is one of those political figures who is so universally known in America that every article written about him has to start with a line like, “No, we all know how George Washington once…”
When we talk about our nation’s founding fathers every list pretty much has to have this dude at the very top. Now, yeah, a bunch of the more well known Washington stories are more myth than fact.
As much as everyone likes to fixate on it, Washington didn’t have wooden teeth, as if it really is that much different than the truth of “no, not wooden ones, but homeboy did wear dentures.”
We also tend to believe he was a great military tactical mind, when really he was…eh? Like it’s an easy narrative to say, “Well actually he was bad,” which he wasn’t, but he wasn’t some brilliant military mind, either. He had other brilliant minds on his side, and let them do their thing, and he did keep our nation united while at war with one of the largest empires the world has ever known, so he definitely deserves at least some of his mythic status on that point.
But, um, yeah, back to the main point. Was he a good president? One of the best. Was he a great American? Again, you’re not going to beat out Washington for that spot. And was he a prodigious drinker?
Those cheeks DO look a little flushed, don’t they?
While Washington was not the drunkest president in American history, he might have been the most prolific consumer and producer of alcohol. We not only know that Washington brewed his own beer and applejack, we know the actual recipes.
And not only do we know that Washington owned what was, at the time, the largest whiskey distillery in America, you can actually go out today and buy whiskey through his old Mt. Vernon estate which apparently tastes pretty damn good.
Our first president is on record as being against getting overly sloshed, as seen in a 1789 letter he wrote to Thomas Green where he stated, “An aching head and trembling limbs which are the inevitable effects of drinking, disincline the hands from work; hence begins sloth and that listlessness which ends in idleness.”
And actually that’s a pretty spot on description of how a hangover feels. Yeah, your head hurts, you get the shakes a little, and you’re pretty lazy. But don’t interpret that sentiment as Washington declaring that booze is bad—if anything, it just proved that he had such an inhuman tolerance that he could down liquor like a fucking champion without it affecting his performance the next day.
On a typical day, he would drink a full bottle of the fortified Portuguese wine Madeira (which he’d order 150 gallons at a time) just to get himself back to normal. On top of the wine, he’d drink beer while dining (using a silver pint cup like a fucking boss), rum, and punch.
Now, this was considered to be more or less “average” drinking in the 18th century, because, you know, there were no movies or internet or anything like that, but it still is a fairly impressive amount that clearly did not faze him in the slightest. The man could drink, is what we’re trying to say.
And even though accounts try to claim he wasn’t an all-out boozer, he at least burned a lot of his cash on it. From September of 1774 to March of 1775, he spent $600 on alcohol, which means he spent the equivalent of $10,000 dollars on just booze over the course of half a year!
That’s insane! Also, dude needs to get a Sam’s Club membership or something to try to keep those costs down. It’s estimated, during his time in office, he spent 7% of his income on alcohol which, considering that he was the third richest president in our nation’s history (2nd richest if you don’t quite believe Trump is as rich as he says he is) means that he was spending a lot of money getting himself and other people wasted.
And yes, getting other people drunk is an important part of the lore of George Washington. Because while he was one of America’s drunkest presidents, he also knew the importance of keeping other people happy through sweet, mind-numbing hootch, which he learned the hard way in his first foray into politics.
In 1757, Washington ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he lost handily, getting only 40 votes, good for 6.88% of that electorate. The reason why the man who would go on to be our first ever president was unable to sway such a small amount of voters? His refusal to partake in the practice of “treating” voters, or plying them with liquor as they made their votes.
Considering that these votes were cast by voice by voters who had traveled long and far to make their decision, the candidate that gave them booze after a long day tended to curry a lot of favor, which likely explains Washington’s loss. When he ran again in 1758, he took no chances.
He had his campaign manager, James Wood, buy 28 gallons of rum, 50 gallons of punch, 34 gallons of wine, 46 gallons of beer, and 2 gallons of cider for the roughly 700 people taking part in the vote.
He won handily by a 10% margin. His initial reaction to this? Calling out James Wood by saying, “my only fear is that you spent with too sparing a hand.” That’s right, “I don’t know if you bought enough booze,” was his response.
Pictured: Enough alcohol to make Washington say “I don’t think this’ll be enough for our party.”
Washington was always sure that people working for and with him were liquored up, or at least working with a nice buzz.
Now is the part of the article where we do that super uncomfortable thing to say, yeahhhh Washington totally had slaves, and they totally had a part in producing alcohol at Mt. Vernon. He allotted them a decent amount of rum, but ensured sure it wasn’t too much so that no work could get done (granted, a pint of rum per person is enough to get a lot of y’all pretty trashed if you decided to down it all at once).
But yes, that aspect is icky, and America has a very difficult history with slavery that includes evils that will likely never be fully healed in our lifetime, etc etc etc. Back to booze talk, because we are not the authority to turn this into a “let’s talk about the complicated legacy of our founding fathers who owned slaves” article without coming off as asses.
Anyway. Booze. He also harnessed the, let’s say, motivational properties of alcohol during the Revolutionary War. He believed, and we quote, “The benefits of moderate use of liquor have been experienced in all armies and are not to be disputed,” and also that, “There should always be sufficient quantity of spirits with the army, to furnish moderate supplies to the troops…it is so essential that it is not to be dispensed with.” He was going to make damn sure that his soldiers had booze at their disposal. It was extremely important to him.
And finally, the last item in the ledger to solidify Washington as one of the great drunk presidents was his insistence on partying. Like that one night in 1787 when he ran up a bar tab of about $15,000 is today’s money. That night, on September 14th, at a dinner with the First Troop of Philadelphia City Calvary, he saw the group order 60 bottles of claret, 54 of Madeira (naturally), eight bottles of cider and another eight bottles of whiskey to go with 22 bottles of porter and seven “large bowls of punch.”
This was just for 55 people, by the way. So yeah, everyone definitely got trashed. Washington, who we’ve established as being a fan of spending for booze, didn’t even front the bill that time! That honor went to Samuel Mills, a military officer and politician active in Philadelphia.
Of course, every drunk president needs a good drunk inaugural celebration. Washington’s did not disappoint. He made sure there was plenty of booze there, including barrels of rum from Barbados, which was totally illegal to have as England controlled Barbados at the time (well, they still pretty much do as well, but it was a bit more of a testy issue back then).
After Washington’s presidency, he set up his first sills for distilling whiskey in 1797, and was selling 11,000 barrels of whiskey a year at the time of his death in 1799. So, the main difference between his days as president and his days as a retired civilian is that instead of spending all his money on booze, he was earning money making booze that he could drink for himself. That’s probably also the reason why he stopped buying beer in 1793—he was making so much of the stuff of his own, he didn’t need to anymore.
George Washington was a lot of things to a lot of people. A leader. A president. That dude in the wig on the one dollar bill. A fucking mountain. But we feel it’s important to add one other ledger item to his legacy. One of America’s Drunkest Presidents. Something we can all aspire to.