Despite the efforts of the Temperance Movement in the mid-1800s to do away with tales of our founding fathers’ (at times) prodigious alcohol consumption in the history books, some stories have survived the 241 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Historical accounts of how hard the founding fathers drank provide us with a bit of perspective into how these great men partied before, after, and even during the making of important decisions that would come to shape our way of life. After all, at the time, alcohol pervaded not only every social occasion, but every meal, every church service, and yes, every political discussion.
Today, alcohol plays a much smaller role as a companion at every meal, thanks in large part to the availability of other beverages that are safe to drink, and plays an even smaller one in politics – or at least that’s what our elected officials would like us to think. Gone are the days of America’s greatest statesmen drinking bars dry and having to pay to replace the toilets after smashing them during a party – but if it comes as a surprise to you that America was ever such a nation, look no further than the surviving receipts from some of George Washington’s own parties.
One such receipt comes from a farewell party thrown for Washington in Philadelphia in 1787, just days before the framers of the Constitution would set its first signatures to dry. Washington’s guest list included 55 attendees, including other prominent figures in U.S. history like Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who proceeded to drink just about every drop of alcohol inside the City Tavern.
That isn’t creative license, the bill includes 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, eight bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of porter, eight of hard cider, 12 bottles of beer, and seven bowls of alcoholic punch.
Just in case you’re the type to count drinks, that means each and every person that attended Washington’s party, including the storied general himself, had to drink two bottles of wine, a number of shots of hard alcohol, and then a healthy dose of both beer and alcoholic punch. Every person at that party drank enough booze to throw another party for normal drinkers all by themselves.
The bill, when converted to 2011 dollars, came out to $15,400 for just alcohol. A second bill included the price of entertainment and musicians, because as we’ve determined by now, these guys knew how to party. They, of course, included a two percent fee the owner of the establishment tacked on to the bills for all the things the Founding Fathers broke, like bottles, tables, punch bowls and even chamber pots. Chamber pots, if you aren’t sure, are what they used instead of toilets prior to having plumbing in such establishments.
So on this Fourth of July, while you weigh the repercussions of that third beer, rest assured that our founding fathers would undoubtedly support your decision to have it. Just make sure you’ve got a ride home, because the one thing we know for sure the founding fathers never did was get behind the wheel of a car after drinking.
Have a happy and safe July 4th, everyone!
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons