George Washington spent an entire campaign budget on booze.

  • George Washington in 1776
George Washington in 1776
Photo 12 / Alamy Stock Photo

Before he was the first President of the United States, George Washington was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1758 until 1775. He actually lost his first election, however, and “attributed his defeat to his failure to provide enough alcohol for the voters,” according author Daniel Okrent. At the time, it was common for candidates to woo voters by plying them with food and liquor. Washington avoided the same mistake during his second run, spending nearly the entire campaign budget on 28 gallons of rum, 50 gallons of rum punch, 34 gallons of wine, 46 gallons of beer, and two gallons of cider royal served to 391 voters — nearly a half-gallon per voter. (He also spent 3 pounds on dinner for friends, which very likely also included booze.) His campaign even rolled barrels of liquor to polling places on Election Day, a custom in Virginia at the time. The practice of winning over voters with booze was widespread despite being technically illegal, and was known as “swilling the planters with bumbo.”

Washington didn’t need to woo anyone in order to become President; quite the opposite, in fact, as he did no campaigning and had to be convinced to even accept the role, despite being unanimously elected. He also planned to retire after his first term but was persuaded to remain in office, running unopposed in the 1792 election and once again winning unanimously. Politicians today could only dream of such popularity.

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