It’s incredible to think about how much our history has been shaped and tweaked by our fixation on drink. I find myself mulling over various crossroads in American history where alcohol has impacted changes in policy and even prevented battles. For instance, in 1862 a Union supply train was in route in Virginia when it was stopped by confederate soldiers. With a massive amount of whiskey on board the train the soldiers opted to plunder the precious cargo and become plastered drunk. This enabled the union troops to escape unscathed.
America’s history with alcohol can be viewed as a dark slippery slope but no one can refute the enormity of how much it has influenced the founding of our country. The Mayflower was originally heading south when they ran out of beer. The captain feared mutiny and stopped in at Plymouth instead to try and remedy the situation.
Would Abe Lincoln have been murdered without the aid of brandy? John Wilkes Booth was said to have been drunk on brandy, undoubtedly slurping up liquid courage, before he pulled the trigger to assassinate Lincoln. Perhaps if Lincolns body guard, John Frederick Parker, was not imbibing that night he would have had the wherewithal to prevent the attack from happening in the first place.
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson wrote out the first draft of the Declaration of Independence while drinking in a Philadelphian tavern? Or that whiskey paid for the building of the Erie Canal? Irish immigrants were paid 5 cents and 32 ounces of whiskey a day, including a 2 ounce shot upon waking every morning.
It’s as though alcohol has served as this hushed third party that has weaved itself into every aspect of our social and economic fabric. Alcohol consumption was such a normal and essential part of our life for a very long time. It was used as money in the form of bartering for many townspeople right up until George Washington created a tipple tariff and the Whiskey Rebellion raised hell over it. For the longest time water was considered dirty and unhealthy to consume so people drank only rum and whiskey in order to hydrate themselves.
Luckily, times have changed although alcohol does still play a powerful role in our culture. Is it used as means of de-stressing and for celebrating with friends and family.