George Washington offered alcohol for votes

Ok, I am interested in politics, but don’t feel I’m an expert.  I love to look at history, and this past weekend found out some interesting things about the father of our country.  I was reading in the Wall Street Journal.  There was an article about possible election fraud, and it talked about some election fraud history in America.  I learned that George Washington actually offered alcohol for votes.  The article also states that James Madison lost for not offering alcohol.  Votes have been for sale in America since 1757, when George Washington bought alcohol for every voter in his district, Baumgartner says.

Now it was so interesting to me that I mentioned it to my brother in law.  He immediately called the Wall Street Journal biased, and said it was just tearing down Washington’s legacy, and he did not believe it was credible.  He even compared it to anti-mormon attacks, and called it revisionist history.  I found this stance interesting, because I have been accused of thinking poorly of Brigham Young.

So, I did a little more research.  Did you know that George Washington was the largest whiskey producer in America? Now to be fair, America was much smaller back then, it was before the revolution in 1776, the Word of Wisdom was unknown, and there was no Constitution, Bill of Rights, or any real democracy, so things were much different then, than they are today.  So, I’m willing to cut some slack.

I found it interesting that George Washington owned slaves.  In his will, he directed that his slaves be freed and educated.  Now while I would have preferred Washington did this before he died, I am glad that he had the foresight to free and educate his slaves. There’s an interesting link about Washington and slavery here. He correctly predicted that the slavery issue would tear the nation apart, which happened about 70 years later.

What do you make of this information?  Does it lessen your appreciation for Mr Washington, or make him a more real person?  Is this anti-Washington information that should be suppressed?  Do you think less of him?  For me, I still revere Washington, but I think he probably shouldn’t have offered alcohol for votes, and he should have released his slaves sooner.  (For the record, I revere Brigham Young, but wish he had handled the priesthood ban differently.)

14 comments on “George Washington offered alcohol for votes

  1. Is offering alcohol for votes substantially different than the promise of government handouts for your vote?

  2. I came across your post while searching for news on wine. However, since you are a Mormon, I need to tell you how awful and sordid it is that your religion has interfered with the rights of Gay Californians concerning Proposition 8. Like all right-thinking Americans, I wish you would keep your religion to yourself. You may have won this round, but you will lose the ultimate fight. God bless America, Gay people, democracy and human rights! Down with American Taliban theocrats!

  3. Tara,

    Since whiskey can make a person drunk immediately, while Corn subsidies take some more time to get drunk, I’d say there is a pretty big difference. Are you saying it’s a good idea to get drunk before voting? Any politician can break his promise on government handouts, but once you’ve drunk the whiskey, the free alcohol promise has been fulfilled.

    Care to answer my other questions?


    I understand your point of view, but I want to see if you’ve posted similar messages on Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, or other Evangelical blogs. As long as your consistent by calling Jews “Taliban theocrats,” then I don’t have as much of a problem with you lumping us all together. Then again, the Jewish Defense League might have a problem with your rhetoric, and call you anti-semitic. I understand your point of view, but I don’t think name-calling is constructive to your cause.

    Are you upset about the commercial in California showing 2 mormon missionaries tearing up a marriage license of a lesbian couple? Why didn’t they pick 2 rabbis, monks, or priests? Would it make any difference to you if they did?

    Look, this post isn’t about gay marriage–it’s about alcohol and the election. If you want to respectfullly answer my questions above, I’ll indulge a short threadjack.

    I am curious to hear what you think about George Washington offering alcohol to everyone in his voting district. Do you have a problem with this?

  4. How do we know that voters were given enough whiskey to get drunk? From another WSJ article, it seems that voters were given “a drink”. For men who were likely used to drinking whiskey, it doesn’t seem that one drink would cause them to get drunk. Impaired maybe, but not drunk. Even if it did, it seems that offering a drink to voters for their vote was a common practice. Apparently, Washington lost a previous election because he DIDN’T offer voters a drink. In any event, it appears that not everyone who received a drink voted for Washington. He gave out 144 gallons of whiskey, but only received 307 votes for his investment. That’s an average of 2 votes per gallon. Unless each person was given half a gallon of whiskey, it appears that not everyone was so easily swayed in their vote.

    My opinion of Washington isn’t lessened. It appears that offering a drink for votes was a common practice. He tried to play nice the first time and he ended up losing the election. I see no problem with him trying to level the playing field in this way if it wasn’t illegal. There was no word of wisdom, and there is evidence that Washington did not tolerate abuse of alcohol by his employees or soldiers and he recognized the need for moderation. You can say that you wish he hadn’t offered alcohol for votes, but if he hadn’t, he may not have won the election, and look at how much he did for our country as a result of his being elected and what a great example he was in many respects.

    The fact that he held slaves and didn’t release them sooner does not lessen my opinion of him either. It is a fact that this nation was founded as a slave nation, and many of our founding fathers were slave-holders. While I wish that things were different in that respect, I realize that we can’t change history and I don’t have the ability to see things through the eyes of those who lived then. I’m not going to judge them for simply holding slaves. I will only judge them based on their treatment of those slaves. But the fact that he saw the importance of giving his slaves an education says a whole lot to me.

  5. Wow, and I thought that today’s politicians use dirty tricks!

    Just kidding. 🙂 Actually, I’m not so much troubled by the fact that he was handing out alcohol for votes as I am by the fact that he was handing out something for votes. I don’t think it’s the same as promising “gov’t handouts” (if you mean social benefits by this) because if a candidate is going to promise something like welfare reform or gov’t health care, then that’s a part of his platform. But how would handing out free booze, or lemonade, or pizza, on the condition of a vote be ethical politics? I don’t like that. Now, if a candidate wants to hand out free stuff to everyone, regardless of how they’re going to vote, then I don’t really care. Just means free stuff for me. 🙂 I think, though, that handing out alcohol to get votes, with or without pre-conditions, is probably not really a wise thing to do anymore.

    With the slavery thing, I’m willing to cut Washington the same slack as I do for the Mormon leaders. It was a different time and a much different political climate. I don’t think they were necessarily evil for it, but it would have been better had they not gone there. So, to me, it’s understandable but still not right.

    MH, I would have hoped that the title of your blog would have tipped off Steve to perhaps cut you a little more slack. 🙂

  6. Tara,

    (1) George Washington refused to offer alcohol in his first election and lost. Same with Madison. Are you saying the ends justify the means? Remember, the crux of the WSJ article was election fraud, which is as old as the country. I don’t think Washington’s actions should be commended, as they go into a gray area that probably should be avoided. California won’t even allow donuts or coffee at elections, for fear of unduly influencing them.

    (2) Can you think any person you admire that has faults? If so, please give me an example.

  7. I’m not saying Washington’s actions should be commended. All I’m saying is that because most politicians were doing it, I don’t have a problem with Washington doing it in order to be competitive. That’s what I meant by leveling the playing field. It would be one thing if it was illegal, but I don’t know that it was. If it wasn’t illegal, I don’t see a problem with it. I would rather someone be honest up front with their bribery than to make promises to voters that they don’t intend to keep. Anyway, as I said, not everyone who was given alcohol by Washington ended up voting for him, so it isn’t as if someone was holding a gun to their heads in order to force them to vote for him.

    Lots of people I admire have/had faults. I just don’t think their faults are serious enough to think less of them. If someone’s faults are serious enough to think less of them, then I find it really hard to admire them. I might admire or be grateful for some of the things they’ve done, but as a person, I wouldn’t consider my views of them to be along the lines of admiration. I will try to think of a good example and get back to you. Gotta go for now.

  8. FD,

    I think you’re right on the money with your analysis. The WSJ article talked about election fraud, which has recently included handing out cigarettes to homeless people as an attempt to influence voting habits. The California law banning any sort of reward for voting or not voting goes after the same idea.

    While someone may have taken a drink of whiskey, and still voted against Washington is not really the issue. The issue is about undue influence in the voting process. Now, while the California law may be overstepping its bounds in trying to limit donuts and coffee as rewards for voting, I get what they’re trying to do. Washington didn’t offer alcohol in his first election loss, neither did Madison, and I have to believe they both thought it was probably inappropriate to do so. However, in an attempt to win, with no taboos in the democracy they lived in at the time, it was definitely considered ok. However, in this day and age, some 250 years removed from from these pre-revolutionary elections, I think it is common sense that such voting shenanigans should be avoided.

    My final comment is for Tara. Is bringing up this sort of information considered anti-Washington material, or is it an attempt to educate and show that things in the golden age weren’t as golden. We need to learn from the past or we are doomed to repeat it. Cigarettes, whiskey, or buying votes should be no part of an election, despite past occurrences which may have been considered acceptable. I think you’ll agree with me here.

  9. I don’t think it’s anti-Washington, so long as the facts are represented correctly.

    As far as cigarettes, whiskey, or buying votes, I’m not really sure where I stand on that. With all of the money in politics, which no doubt, the one with the most usually wins, and with all of the gluttonous social programs promised, and the false promises made, I’m not sure that I see offering small tokens as any more corrupt than all the other garbage that goes on in elections. Now, if it’s against the law to offer cigarettes for votes, and one party is doing it while the other isn’t because it’s illegal, then I have a problem with it. I have a real problem when one candidate or party plays by the rules and the other doesn’t. That definitely isn’t fair or right and makes for an uneven playing field.

  10. Honest bribery is an interesting concept.

    Just because something isn’t legal doesn’t make it ethical. Are we to choose right and wrong based only on the legality of it?

    I don’t know your political persuasion, and it really isn’t important to me anyway. But I would like to talk about situational ethics. Many republicans had a big problem with the Monica Lewinsky affair, and Bill Clinton’s lies which covered up the fact. Clearly, Bill was guilty of “ethical sins” regardless of whether one considers the legality of his sins. Republicans repeatedly took issue with Clinton’s ethical lapses, and often called Clinton a liar. Democrats tried to chalk up the affair as unimportant, and don’t care if he lied.

    Now, these same democrats take issue with the Bush administration’s lying about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Republicans would prefer to call this an honest mistake, and don’t believe Bush was lying, but rather mistaken. Certainly it seems that the Bush administration was hyping the evidence of weapons in Iraq, and discouraging evidence that contradicted this view.

    I find Clinton’s affair and lying about it under oath as wrong. I find Bush’s manipulation of WMD wrong as well. Both men are great. Both men have flaws. As president of the US, both men’s triumphs should be lauded, and both men’s weaknesses should be learned from.

    The same reasoning applies to George Washington and Brigham Young. Both men were great leaders. Both men engaged in gray areas that are unacceptable today. Talking about these weaknesses, does not detract from their greatness. My only hope is that we can learn from there foibles, and not shove their weaknesses under the rug like today’s democrats do of Clinton, and today’s republicans do of Bush.

    I hope you can understand my point of view regarding Brigham Young. I do admire him. I also encourage you to think about the flaws of someone you admire, because I think it will better help you understand my position regarding Brigham Young. I do not think poorly of Brigham, but I don’t like his position regarding the priesthood ban, and I do not believe his position was God-inspired, but it was a clumsy attempt to do what he thought was right, just as Washington made a clumsy attempt to get elected in Virginia by offering alcohol. Both men still have done more than enough which deserves our admiration.

  11. Maybe Washington just realized how inherently flawed the idea of voting is. The ends certainly could justify the means in this case.

  12. RWW, can you explain a bit more? I’m not following you.

  13. Washington was away fighting for the English against the French. It was his friends who wanted him to win and ran up the bill, which he was expected to pay upon his return. Now it does say that it was the price paid for the election, but we do not know if this wine and beer was used for vote buying, which I doubt because in the same paragraph it talks about their admiration of his conduct and character. Also, wine was used for medicinal purposed back then.

    According to the book, “The Illustrated Life of Washington” by Hon. J.T. Headley printed, published by G. & F. Bill in 1860, New York.

    “While on his last campaign (colonel [at age of 26] for the English against the French in 1758), he (George Washington) had been elected to the House of Burgesses from Frederic County. There were four other candidates in the field, and his friends wrote him that it was very important he should be on the spot. This his duties prevented; yet, notwithstanding the absence gave his competitors, he beat them all. The ill-will that had been engendered against him in some quarters, on account of the stern sway he had often been compelled to exercise over the militia, and even the inhabitants themselves, could not offset the deep and wide spread admiration of his conduct and character. Colonel Wood stood proxy for him in his victory, and was carried round the town amid the deafening acclamations of the people, as “Huzza for Colonel Washington” rent the air. The latter, however, had a nice little bill to pay, which his friends, according to custom, had run up for him. one hogshead, one barrel of punch, thirty-five gallons of wine, forty-three gallons of strong beer, any quantity of cider, wound up with a dinner to his friends, costing in all thirty-nine pounds and six shillings, or nearly two hundred dollars, was the price paid for the election.

  14. Thanks NB. That’s interesting background, and I really appreciate you bringing this up.

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