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The Unspoken Link Between Alcohol & American Politics

The Unspoken Link Between Alcohol & American Politics

Source: American Craft Beer

With the recent US Presidential Election taking place, millions of people around the world are watching closely to see who the next ‘Leader of the Free World‘ will be.

As Malaysians though, it wouldn’t be surprising if you didn’t care about the election at all. Even so, did you know that American politics and alcohol have had a deep connection since the country was founded?

Let’s see how they intertwine:

“A President I Can Have A Beer With”

Source: Foreo

As I mentioned earlier, alcohol’s role in American politics spans all the way back to the days of their first president, George Washington. He was such an avid fan of beer that he even brewed it himself.

Additionally, he also wrote a recipe in the year 1757 for something called “Small Beer” on the back of his notebook which was recovered and published by the New York Public Library and is still brewed today!

FUN FACT: While not a president, founding father Thomas Jefferson, was head over heels for wine after serving as France’s minister during the Revolutionary War.

America’s 4th President, James Madison| Source: Biography

President James Madison, was so in love with beer that he wanted to form a National Brewery to protect the nation’s brewing culture. If this plan actually fell through back then, a position called the Secretary of Beer would’ve been up for grabs.

Furthermore, the idea of having a beer-drinking, blue-collar regular joe as president was a sentiment that had always resonated with American voters. On the topic of voters, alcohol was also used in more… nefarious ways.

A Vote For Me, Is A Drink For You

Source: Pinterest

You can probably guess what I’m getting at from the heading above. For those of you who don’t, I’m talking about bribing voters with alcohol to gain votes or ‘treating‘ as they used to call it. Treating was usually done with ‘bumbo‘, or rum as we call it.

A fairly common practice during Colonial times, candidates who did this generally had a higher chance of winning. This was evident when George Washington (yes, America’s first president) ran for the Virginia state legislature in 1755.

Source: Journal of the American Revolution

Washington firmly opposed the practice of treating because he noticed that local Commonwealth bars left his soldiers “incessantly drunk and unfit for service” – a complaint he voiced to the state’s governor at the time. So, guess who won that election? Not Washington.

Imagine you were in Colonial America and had to travel countless miles to reach your local voting poll. Obviously you’d be tired and should a candidate offer you some ‘refreshments‘ after a long journey, you’d probably take it and vote for them instantly.

A Change Of Heart


I know you’re probably tired of hearing his name by now, but guess who tried to run again for the Virginia state legislature only three years after he lost. Yes, ol’ George Washington – only this time, he had a more favourable stance in regards to treating.

According to historian Daniel Okrent, it’s reported that Washington went out of his way to serve 144 gallons of alcohol from rum to beer and cider which is about half a gallon per vote of the astonishing 331 votes which won him the election.

Source: Reddit

Once again, here I go talking about people we’ve already mentioned. He looks a little different in the photo above but that right there is our pal, James Madison. Like Washington, Madison detested the idea of treating and tried campaigning again in 1777.

Unfortunately, due to his anti-treating stance he lost to a ‘less principled candidate’. Finally in 1811, Maryland took the first steps to end treating by passing a law which prohibited political candidates from purchasing alcohol for voters.

Drinking For Diplomacy

President Richard M. Nixon (right) & Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (left) share a toast at the White House on June 21, 1973 | Source: Time Magazine

Aside from helping politicians win over their own nation, alcohol has also been used as a means to aid in matters of international diplomacy, like in the picture above. The toast came after the two leaders signed a pact to limit offensive nuclear arsenals.

During summits or international meetings, politicians would first meet up at the hotel bars to discuss matters or make deals. Even in Arab nations where alcohol is illegal, politicians and/or diplomats will often offer visiting world leaders some drinks.

Former President Barack Obama & First Lady Michelle Obama sipping Guinness in an Irish pub | Source: The Guardian

In many instances, politicians would visit local bars and pubs on their international visits with their associates, simply for a photo-op. The reasoning behind this falls back to that whole ‘a president i can have a beer with‘ mentality.

Bill Clinton was famously known to take advantage of these opportunities to help with his image abroad. While helping negotiate peace in Northern Ireland, he too visited a pub in Dublin and posed for cameras with… hope you guessed it, a pint of Guinness.

21st Century Treats

People at a 2020 Donald Trump Rally with beers in hand | Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Backtracking to the practice of treating, it’s still done today only way more subtle than in the 1800s. Often times, political candidates from either side would typically serve alcoholic beverages (generally beer) at their rallies.

You might be thinking so what? But when you’ve had enough beers, liquor or what have you when a political candidate gives a speech, depending on where your political ideologies lie, you’d either be cheering along or booing really loudly.

These days, treating is just that – treats. It doesn’t really count as bribing anymore since people show up to these rallies with the main intention of supporting their candidate of choice. And if some drinks happen to be served at the venue, why not indulge right?

Maybe you should treat yourself to today’s daily picks:

Or look through our entire collection of alcohol and have your purchases delivered to you!


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