We are in the middle of an election campaign that could drive most people to drink. But that’s not unusual when you consider the fact that politicians have long fueled their campaigns with alcohol and rhetoric.
In 1755, George Washington lost his first political campaign for the Virginia House of Burgesses by 271 to 40 votes largely because his opponent hosted a booze-laden election-day party and Washington did not. He learned the lesson and three years later was swept into office thanks to abundant amounts of whiskey, cider and porter. Even though he did not drink, William Henry Harrison launched a successful campaign for the White House in 1840 backed by a strategy that included handing out whiskey in bottles shaped like log cabins. The victory celebration was short lived; the ninth U.S. President died of pneumonia after just a month in office.
Political pollsters use a variety of sophisticated algorithms to improve the accuracy of their election prognostications. One of the bellwether questions in recent elections has been “Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?” The current campaign aside, looking back at history, there are clearly some answers to this question that are more right than others. Here are a dozen Commanders in Chief that would be amazing Oval Office drinking buddies.
George Washington (1st U.S. President, Non-Partisan, served 1789-1797): At Mount Vernon, Washington operated both a brewery for the plantation and a commercial distillery. English-style porter was his drink of choice and Washington’s homebrewing was on a much greater scale than is common today. Beer production had to satisfy the household, including family, guests and servants. A 1757 recipe for a 30-gallon recipe for small beer in Washington’s personal notebook is now housed at the New York Public Library.
John Adams (2nd U.S. President, Federalist, served 1797-1801): Adams lived to be 90 years old, quite an amazing feat for the time. Historians said it was his ritual to start each morning with a glass of hard cider, followed by porter and madeira during the rest of the day.
Thomas Jefferson (3rd U.S. President, Democratic-Republican, served 1801-1809): Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and is said to be the one of the most knowledgeable wine enthusiasts to ever occupy the White House. But beer, too, was an important staple for Jefferson. Jefferson petitioned for Englishman Joseph Miller to be granted U.S. citizenship. Jefferson wrote, “[Miller] is about to settle in our country, and to establish a brewery, in which art I think him as skillful a man as has ever come to America. I wish to see this beverage become common instead of the whiskey which kills one third of our citizens and ruins their families.” One of Miller’s first acts in the U.S. was to teach Peter Hemings, a slave at Jefferson’s Monticello, how to brew beer.
James Madison (4th U.S. President, Democratic-Republican, served 1809-1817): While Madison was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, he proposed the Tariff Act of 1789, the first bill ever designed to tax and regulate goods, including alcoholic beverages. The congressman from Virginia did so to create a steady source of income for the new nation, and he wanted to give domestic manufacturers an advantage over foreign competitors. Madison said the bill would encourage “the manufacture of beer in every state in the Union” and he was right.
Franklin Pierce (14th U.S. President, Democratic, served 1853-1857): Pierce is said to have loved beer and most other types of alcohol, especially after his party did not support his re-election bid. It was widely reported that he told one supporter: “What can an ex-president of the United States do except get drunk?” Pierce died of cirrhosis of the liver.
James A. Garfield (20th U.S. President, Republican, served 1881): We don’t know much about how Garfield would have entertained in the White House – he was assassinated just four months after taking office—but we do know that while serving nine terms in Congress, he was noted to enjoy drinking beer and would hardly touch any other type of alcohol.
Chester A. Arthur (21st U.S. President, Republican, served 1881-1885): Following Garfield’s assassination, the Temperance movement put pressure on Arthur to turn the White House into a dry zone. Arthur is quoted as telling one of the anti-alcohol crowd, “I may be the president of the United States, but what I do with my private life is my own damned business!”
Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th U.S. President, Democratic, served 1885-1889 and 1893-1897): Cleveland loved beer long before he became President. While campaigning in 1870 to become Erie County, N.Y., District Attorney, Cleveland and his opponent agreed to limit their beer consumption to four per day to remain clear-headed during the race.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd U.S. President, Democratic, served 1933-1945): Elected during the Great Depression, his campaign called for the repeal of Prohibition. Temperance had been tested and failed. FDR realized brewing, winemaking and distilling would create jobs and tax revenue. Once in office, Roosevelt pushed Congress to repeal the Volstead Act. On March 22, 1933, Roosevelt signed the Beer and Wine Revenue Act, and said “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”
John F. Kennedy (35th U.S. President, Democratic, served 1961-1963): JFK served Dom Perignon Champagne at state functions at the White House and is said to have been fond of Heineken, a status symbol at the time.
James Earl Carter Jr. (39th U.S. President, Democratic, served 1977-1981): In his single term, Carter signed a bill in 1978 that launched the modern homebrewing movement, which spawned the first generation of American craft brewers. The law exempted homebrewed beer made for personal and family consumption from excise taxes. The law still allowed states to prohibit the making of beer, wine, cider and mead, but soon homebrew supply shops started to open.
Barack H. Obama (44th U.S. President, Democratic, served 2009-Present): During his first presidential campaign, he visited a brewpub. He famously hosted the “Beer Summit” in 2009 to try to resolve an alleged case of racial profiling involving a Harvard University professor and Cambridge Police. And he brought homebrewing to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, using honey from hives on the property to brew White House Honey Ale.
By the time Nov. 8th rolls around we can all be forgiven if we long for the days of one of these administrations—and a cold one to wash down the election results.