how george washington got votes

Today’s selection — from Drinking in America by Susan Cheever. Money, alcohol, and votes were regular companions at polling places in colonial and early America:

“George Washington, a wealthy Virginia aristocrat who loved par­ties and fox hunting, found out about the connection between drink­ing and voting for the American electorate the hard way. A rigorous military commander who drove his soldiers hard and expected much of them, he began to aspire to a government position after he did not get a command in the British military. While seeking a seat in the Vir­ginia Assembly in 1755, he was roundly defeated.
George Washington depicted during his French & Indian War days.

“Two years later he ran again, but this time he delivered 144 gallons of rum, punch, cider, and wine to the polling places distributed by election volunteers who urged the voters to drink up. At 307 votes, he got a return on his investment of almost two votes per gallon. Most elections featured vats and barrels of free liquor as well as the candi­date in hand to drink along with his constituency. Candidates showed off their generosity as well as their drinking capacity. Although voting while intoxicated was normal for the colonists, French traveler Ferdi­nand Bayard was horrified to notice, ‘Candidates offer drunkenness openly to anyone who is willing to give them his vote.’

“A few years later the writer George Prentice described a Kentucky election that lasted three days. ‘During that period whiskey and apple toddy flow through our cities and villages like the Euphrates through ancient Babylon.’ Later, after the Revolution, some of the Founding Fathers objected to the American way of voting. James Madison, who drank a pint of whiskey daily to aid his digestion, was also running for the Virginia Assembly in 1777. Madison decided that bribing the voters with alcohol was beneath his dignity and the dignity of the new nation. The influence of liquor at the polls was ‘inconsistent with the purity of moral and republican virtues,’ he announced. He lost.
Old courthouse in Philadelphia during the October 1, 1764 election
“Later, when he became Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, Madison’s ideas about democracy began to sharpen. A Virginia aris­tocrat who had grown up on a plantation, he did not believe in ‘excessive democracy’; democracy was too precious to waste on the common man. This belief, which may have begun with his horror at the way polling places were conducted, led him to favor a strong fed­eral government, and he eventually helped Alexander Hamilton­ — another man who was disturbed by drunkenness — draft The Federal­ist Papers.”

Drinking in America: Our Secret History

Author: Susan Cheever
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Copyright 2015 by Susan Cheever
Pages: 40-41

If you wish to read further: Buy Now

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