Presidential Alcohol Awareness - Part 1

by: Mike Miller

Hail to the Chief!

Leadership, by definition, starts at the top.  If the person at the top is a poor leader, the rest will follow.  When looking at the leadership of the United States of America, the image of the president sits at the top.  I firmly believe the president as a leader also is a role model for the citizens of our beloved-country.  Their personal conduct should be exemplary of what is considered strong, upstanding behavior.

As a teacher for both classroom and online alcohol classes, my students often like to discuss what I call “presidential drinking.”  Obviously during the past couple of US Presidents, the subject of alcohol has come up on more than one occasion.  This is the first of a 4-part series on the history of “presidential drinking.”

Blasted In the Past?

Let’s begin by going back to the earliest presidents, the Founding Fathers of our country.  Did they drink or were they teetotalers?

I’ll tell you this - wine was poured at the first-ever state dinner under the presidency of George Washington.  The General himself was not much of a drinker, although he was known to have a drink every once in a while.

His successor, however, was most-definitely known to partake in the consumption of alcohol – often quite heavily.  John Adams was a great man, a true patriot, and an essential member of the Founding Fathers.  He also was an alcoholic. 

Adams, like many of his generation, starting drinking at a young age.  Modern-day scientific studies have shown that the earlier one starts to drink, the more likely they are to have a problem with alcohol at some time in their lives.  And as I am sure you know, once you have a problem with alcohol, you always have a problem with alcohol.

It was a different time and there was no legal drinking age.  A hyper-intelligent man, Adams entered Harvard University at the age of 15.  He was well known to start drinking in the morning, usually beer for breakfast.  While alcohol is known to cause many health problems, Adams was one of the exceptions.  He died at the age of 90 due to old age!

A Toast to the Founding Fathers

Other members of the Founding Fathers who spent time in the Oval Office include Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  With this distinguished group I would include Benjamin Franklin, although he never spent time in the White House.  While both Jefferson and Madison were moderate drinkers, our jovial Renaissance man, Franklin, definitely liked his alcohol.

It was Benjamin Franklin whose great quote goes, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  Franklin was a major socialite who in his mid-life spent virtually all of his time socializing and beer, wine and whiskey all played parts in his life.

While a few of the Founding Fathers were known to be serious drinkers, maybe even alcoholic, there are not many stories of public drunkenness.  This group provided the written and moral framework through which our society still operates today.