Which Founding Father Was the Biggest Lush?

This article was originally published by The Influence, a news site that covers the full spectrum of human relationships with drugs. Follow The Influence on Facebook or Twitter.


In between starting America and perpetuating slavery, the Founding Fathers got drunk. Really, really drunk.

Heavy alcohol consumption was the norm in eighteenth century America, with colonists imbibing such appetizing concoctions as Rattle-Skull, Flip, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle Belly and Syllabub (Ugh. Dear aspiring hipster bar proprietors: Please don’t start a Revolutionary War speakeasy). Many commoners and aristocrats drank in the morning and throughout the day.

“If I take a settler after my coffee, a cooler at nine, a bracer at ten, a whetter at eleven and two or three stiffners during the forenoon, who has any right to complain?” declared one Georgian of the time, quite reasonably.

The Founding Fathers were no exception, although Ben Franklin did have some sage words about overdoing it, noting that “nothing is more like a fool than a drunken man.”

But who among our vaunted first leaders was the biggest boozehound?

George Washington

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America’s first president oversaw America’s largest whiskey distillery on his estate. He also kept his soldiers well stocked with booze, according to MountVernon.com. (As it turns out, alcohol and drugs are pretty essential to convincing people to run off to get killed).

According to Thrillist, he drank a bottle of Madeira at night, accompanied by rum or beer. He made sure the booze flowed on special occasions, reportedly spending today’s equivalent of $15,000 on alcohol for his farewell party. His large wooden teeth would get so stained with booze that he’d regularly have to have them replaced.

Nevertheless, his score slides because he harangued soldiers who got too drunk and said this about hangovers: “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.”

Score: 5 out of 10 Rattle-Skulls

John Adams

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The Adams family once scandalized a French dignitary, Moreau de St. Méry, who sniffed in judgement at their “barbaric” drinking, described below.

[Dinner was] washed down with cider, weak or strong beer, then white wine…they keep drinking right through desert, toward the end of which any ladies…leave the table and withdraw by themselves, leaving the men free to drink as much as they please, because the bottles then go the round continuously, each man pouring for himself. Toasts are drunk, cigars are lighted, [and] diners run to the corners of the room hunting night tables and vases which will enable them to hold a greater amount of liquor.

Adams started his day with a small amount of cider, and apparently kept up with much younger men well into his forties.

Score: 6 out of 10 Rattle-Skulls

Ethan Allen

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A businessman and theologian, Ethan Allen helped lead a militia that captured Fort Ticonderoga during the revolutionary war. It was said of him, “None spoke oftener, laughed louder, drank deeper than he who had been chief hero.”

Indeed. When Allen was captured by the British he messed with them so much that they were likely happy to get rid of him in a prison exchange. According to the Journal of the American Revolution, he constantly spat insults at them and once bit off a nail from one of his handcuffs. He also demanded booze from his captors, and got wasted and started bar fights in the parole area.

His favorite drink, the Stone Wall, mixed rum and cider, according to Fomeo. 

Story goes that he got so wasted once that he passed out, got bitten by a snake and the snake got drunk. This story sounds like frat-boy lore and, well, is probably not true. But still. It’s telling that this story is told about him. Would people believe that about you?

Ethan Allen died a true hero’s death: either from a stroke or from falling off a sled while drunk.

Score: 8 out of 10 Rattle-Skulls 

Thomas Jefferson

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Jefferson imported fancy European wines and opened a vineyard on his estate.

But uncommonly for his day, he didn’t start the day with alcohol. Here, he describes his relatively moderate drinking habits:

I double, however, the Doctor’s glass and a half of wine, and even treble it with a friend; but halve its effects by drinking the weak wines only. The ardent wines I cannot drink, nor do I use ardent spirits in any form. Malt liquors and cider are my table drinks, and my breakfast, like that also of my friend, is of tea and coffee.

Boooo!

Score: 4 out of 10 of 10 Rattle-Skulls

John Hancock

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John Hancock was notorious for guzzling massive amounts of hard cider in the taverns of his native Boston. He was also an importer of rum. Historian Eric Burns has said, “George Washington slept here” is far less accurate than “John Hancock drank here,” according to Drunkard.com.

For good measure, he also smuggled rum and helped foment anti-British sentiment in the pubs and taverns.

Score: 6 out of 10 Rattle-Skulls 

This Fourth of July weekend, may the rattlesnakes fear you. 

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