The Drunk Vote

A very short book excerpt

Joe McKendry

Politicians in the early American republic were novices in the democratic arts, but it didn’t take them long to recognize that the shortest route to a man’s vote was through a shot glass. The Founding Fathers were the first to treat their constituents to hard cider or whiskey. The advent of universal white-male suffrage propelled election-related drinking to new heights. “In many counties the candidates would hire all the groceries in the county seats and other considerable villages, where the people could get liquor without cost for several weeks before election,” a former governor of Illinois recalled. “Long before night a large portion of the voters would be drunk and staggering about town, cursing, swearing, halloing, yelling, huzzaing for their favorite candidates.” The importance of alcohol was clear on the day Andrew Jackson was inaugurated in 1829. The rowdiness of his supporters at a reception threatened serious damage to the White House until the punch bowl was carried out to the lawn, drawing the crowd with it.

—From Drunks: An American History, by Christopher M. Finan