Wine in American History: Our Founding Fathers

founding fathers

The founding fathers were ardent believers not only in Democracy, liberty and independence, but also in the notion that wine is pretty amazing. On top of being statesmen and revolutionaries, men like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and George Washington also knew how to drink — and drink they did. In the 13 years between our declaration of independence in 1776 and the election of our first president in 1789, these men were tasked with creating a new nation from scratch. There were fierce debates, false starts, and terrible failures before a Constitution was finally ratified and a president elected. Aiding the framers through the birth of modern democracy was an astronomical amount of alcohol.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Your average colonist guzzled about seven gallons of alcohol per year. That’s a lot. In comparison, a contemporary American downs just over two gallons each year. While each one of our founding fathers certainly had their own ‘go to’ libation, there were a few in particular who had a true love and affinity for wine. 

George Washington

When it came to wine, George Washington preferred Madeira, often drinking three to five glasses a night after dinner. Madeira, is a fortified Portuguese wine, and was popular during the Colonial era due to the fact that it could hold up through long ocean voyages. Records show Washington used to order pipes of it (126 gallons of wine is in a pipe). To give you some perspective there are about 5 bottles of wine in one gallon, meaning that one pipe was equal to well over 600 bottles of wine!
Washington  spent a full 7% of his income while in office on booze. His infamous farewell party tab totaled over $15,000 present-day dollars. He had to change out his teeth often because they would become stained with brandy and wine.  

Thomas Jefferson


Thomas Jefferson is perhaps one of histories most well known oenophiles. While posted in France on diplomatic duties in the 1780s he drank a lot of wine, and ordered even more to be sent back to the US (roughly 400 bottles per year – some shipped by barrel), many from Bordeaux. He upped the ante to 600 bottles per year while living in the White House. Given that level of consumption it’s no surprise he left the White House having racked up a wine bill of around $10,000 dollars (non-inflation adjusted).
Jefferson was also one of the first advocate’s for American wine production. He even attempted his own venture into viticulture at his plantation in Monticello (which ultimately ended in spectalur failure). Today the American wine industry is one of the world’s largest and without Jefferson’s relentless early encouragement who’s to say if we’d have accomplished all that we have. 

Benjamin Franklin

Much has now been written of that great wine lover Thomas Jefferson, and of how he taught George Washington about French wine. But less is written of the man who taught Jefferson about French wine: Ben Franklin. In 1784, when Jefferson went to Paris as American Commissioner, Franklin had already been there for eight years as American Minister and knew French wines well. As early as 1778, his Paris cellar list showed more than 1,000 bottles. 
It is plain to see Franklin’s love of wine through the many quotes attributed to him.
“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”
“When Wine enters, out goes the Truth.”
“The discovery of wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation.  The universe is too full of stars.”
“Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

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