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 Posted: Fri Aug 21st, 2009 07:04 am
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fedreb
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I have recently read Edward G Longacre's biography of Grant which talks a lot of the authors conviction that Grant was an alcoholic and cites many incidents during the war when he was reported to be under the influence. Myself I am not sure whether he was alcoholic or if he just enjoyed a good drink now and then as many of us indeed do. I have not read much about Grants Presidency ( any good book suggestions? ) and my question is this, are there many, or any, references to Grant being drunk in charge of the country? Surely if he was an alcoholic his cravings must have shown through sometime during his 8 year tenure, it is not something easily hidden.



 Posted: Mon Aug 24th, 2009 06:47 am
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cklarson
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I have waited for others to reply, but lacking others, I will.

Here is a link to a googlebooks excerpt from Edward Bonekemper's biography of Grant which I think is quite judicious:

http://books.google.com/books?id=JyNrLK3OSA4C&pg=PA259&lpg=PA

He says that Grant may have had problems with liquor and seems to have drunk quite a bit as a young officer (out West), but he knows of no time he was accused of being drunk during battle. He believes rumors were circulated by those with various axes to grind. It was said that Grant's drinking, mainly when times were quiet, was a major reason Julia was in camp so often. She kept a rein on him.

As for his presidency, I've not read of accusations then.

But let's all keep in mind that all these men were men of their times. Prior to the Civil War Americans drank, per capita, 3 times what we do today, due to all the distilleries of rum and whiskey (it was cheaper to haul whiskey by the barrel than its equivalent amount in corn). The same goes for the charges of corruption during Grant's presidency: the whole era was exceedingly corrupt.

I also find that people who don't drink a lot tend to confuse hard drinkers with alcoholics. My own distinction is that alcoholics are dysfunctional in their daily lives, while hard drinkers are not. For instance in her postwar life, US scout Pauline Cushman was accused of being an alcoholic, but she ran well managed hotels. Similarly, to my mind Grant could not have written the very clear, precise orders he did if his brain had been awash in alcohol. He also wrote his memoirs, considered the best of the war, while he was doped up on cocaine when dying of cancer. He had a very clear mind which could not have been the case had he been a real alcoholic. As one fan wrote, his genius was his "sincere, applied thought."

And, of course, there is Lincoln's (who was a teetotaler) best line: Find out what brand he drinks and send a case to all the other generals.

CKL



 Posted: Mon Aug 24th, 2009 01:19 pm
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fedreb
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Thanks for that CKL.
There are many stories about Grants drinking habits but a lot of them are many times removed from original sources and I tend to treat them with some scepticism. I don't doubt that the man liked a drink and that his detractors used that against him but I just couldn't see how he could have risen to the Presidency, twice, had he been truly alcoholic.



 Posted: Tue Aug 25th, 2009 05:29 am
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cklarson
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You'll read in his memoirs that Grant had good political judgment. E.g.,  his decision to take Vicksburg from the Miss R. after his supply base at Holly Springs was taken was partly made on political grounds--that the Northern people needed to see action and results.

I also believe his keen mind was part of the reason he was not successful in business. He had a penetrating mind, not and expansive, imaginative one needed in business.

CKL



 Posted: Tue Aug 25th, 2009 11:14 am
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Mr Hess53
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cklarson wrote:

And, of course, there is Lincoln's (who was a teetotaler) best line: Find out what brand he drinks and send a case to all the other generals.

CKL



hate to say it, but Lincoln never said that line about Grant

plus Abe was known to have a glass of wine at State dinners every now and then



 Posted: Tue Aug 25th, 2009 02:22 pm
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ole
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hate to say it, but Lincoln never said that line about Grant

He probably didn't.  But it does fit nicely into who Lincoln was. If it isn't true, it ought to be. Although it isn't documented that he did, it is quite impossible to prove that he didn't ... proving the negative and all that.

Grant's enemies, and he had more than a few, were most likely using the drinking to diminish his obviously positive qualities. These accusations come down to us, today, to detract from the man who was arguably, and also probably, the single-most important factor in the reason the Confederacy lost its bid for independence.

If he did drink to excess, it didn't seem to keep him from being a winner.

Ole

Last edited on Tue Aug 25th, 2009 02:23 pm by ole



 Posted: Tue Aug 25th, 2009 03:27 pm
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javal1
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"Grant's enemies, and he had more than a few, were most likely using the drinking to diminish his obviously positive qualities. "

Halleck and Buell come immediately to mind.



 Posted: Mon Apr 25th, 2011 08:37 pm
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Hellcat
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This article might be of interest. http://www.historynet.com/who-kept-u-s-grant-sober.htm

Now I have seen someone argue that though Grant was is known for being an alcoholic today he may not have been considered one at the time. They point out that Grant's drinking was about average to just above average for the times and that if Grant was a drunk then most of the other generals would have to also be viewed as drunks too.



 Posted: Wed Apr 27th, 2011 02:03 pm
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HankC
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In the day, liquor was considered healthful, whereas water was frequently questionable.

Germ theory was yet unknown, and people thought nothing of using a creek downhill from a cow pasture.

Before refrigeration, apple juice quickly became apple jack. Those little yeasties killed off their bad cousins and turned water into something somewhat palatable, though not of modern quality...



 Posted: Sun May 22nd, 2011 02:41 am
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9Bama
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ole wrote: hate to say it, but Lincoln never said that line about Grant

He probably didn't.  But it does fit nicely into who Lincoln was. If it isn't true, it ought to be. Although it isn't documented that he did, it is quite impossible to prove that he didn't ... proving the negative and all that.

Grant's enemies, and he had more than a few, were most likely using the drinking to diminish his obviously positive qualities. These accusations come down to us, today, to detract from the man who was arguably, and also probably, the single-most important factor in the reason the Confederacy lost its bid for independence.

If he did drink to excess, it didn't seem to keep him from being a winner.

Ole



"He probably didn't.  But it does fit nicely into who Lincoln was. If it isn't true, it ought to be. "


And this is where the myths come from... if he said it, fine...if he didn't then lets not attribute it to him...there are enough myths about St Abraham.... and it is things like this that make me call him St. Abraham..he has been deified!

Last edited on Sun May 22nd, 2011 02:42 am by 9Bama



 Posted: Sat Mar 16th, 2013 01:34 pm
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Barlow
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From my readings, I have never found a scintilla of evidence that Lincoln drank liquor, wine at dinner or otherwise.  Temperance people would frequently visit the White House, of which Lincoln was a member.  The only liquor that touched his lips was the touch of brandy put on his lips in an attempt to revive him after being shot.   Lincoln did not wear temperance on his sleeve, just never found liquor to be anything he desired or drank.  Could the poster above who believed Lincoln drank wine at state dinners supply a source?

On Grant, here is a good book:   Grant's Final Victory.  It is about the last year of his life and his attempt to write his memoirs to obtain money for his soon to be widow wife.  Enjoyable read. 

Grant had many southern friends, Buckner, Longstreet, Johnston, among others.  Was not that great a president, by his own admission, but salvaged the mess left behind by Johnson.  There are over 1000 books on Grant alone...alot to choose from.  Nothing new on the horizon, but as 2015 and Appomattox anniversary arrives, we may get a new book.



 Posted: Sat Mar 16th, 2013 06:50 pm
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Hellcat
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Was Lincoln actually a member of the temperance movement. According to Douglas Lee Gibboney's Scandals of the Civil War, pages 2&3:

Despite growing up on the frontier, where alcohol could be a balm to harsh reality, Abraham Lincoln was not a drinker. Unlike some abstainers, he was tolerant of people who did partake, which was a practical necessity given the liquid nature of frontier politicking. Like Sam Houston, Lincoln also spoke before temperance groups in a bid to gain their votes. Supporting the reelection of Illinois Congressman Richard Yates, who had a reputation as a drinker, Lincoln said he "would much prefer a temperate man to an intemperate one; still I do not make my vote depend upon whether a candidate does or does not taste liquor." In 1861, a few years after Lincoln's endorsement, Yates appeared drunk when he was inaugurated as governor of Illinois.

Early in his career, Lincoln and a partner, William Berry, struggled to make a living as storekeepers in the tiny village of New Salem Illinois. Hoping to save the failing business, a license to sell liquor by the drink was obtained; Berry may have done this without Lincoln's knowledge. Years later this led to a charge from political opponent Stephen Douglas that Lincoln had been a tavern keeper. Licoln scored his own points in this regard when he paid a social call on Douglas and "the little giant" offered him a libation. Lincoln refused and Douglas asked if Lincoln was a member of a temperance society. Lincoln responded that he was not a temperance member but that he was temperate in that he did not drink liquor. The conversation was soon repeated to prohibitionist groups by Lincolns political allies.


Now this doesn't mean Lincoln was never a member of the temperance party but it more appears at the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates period that he was saying he wasn't a member. It does go on to give an anecdote from the war years of a group of temporance advocates arriving at the White House and claiming that the North was loosing battles because the army (Army of the Potomac most likely given the difference between the Eastern and Western Theaters in terms of Northern victories and losses) was drinking too much whiskey. According to the anecdote Lincoln responded that that was unfair as the Sour drank "more and worse" whiskey.

For his sources for the above he used David Herbert Donald's Lincoln for the material I quoted from the book and Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln:The War Years Vol 2 for the anecdote.

As for Lincoln drinking wine, Gibboney says at the top of page 4 of his book:

Family friend White House staffer Noah Brooks recalled that wine was served at dinner only when special guests were present. To be sociable, the president would touch his wine glass to his lips and occasionally even take a few swallows.

Now that is a part of a paragraph disgussing Mary Todd Lincoln as First Lady in connection to alcohol. That paragraph Gibboney took from Jean H. Baker's Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography and the aforementioned Sandburg work.

Now as for the famed Lincoln quote about what brand Grant drank so he could give it to all his generals, I have no clue if it's for real or not. I do remember several of my text books in grade school and 8th grade mentioning it. That doesn't mean they were right as some stories become so ingrained that they become a part of history whether or not they were actually said or actually occured. And whether or not they were said when their said to have been said. It does seem to fit Lincoln's humor though.



 Posted: Sat Mar 16th, 2013 07:39 pm
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Hellcat
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Just found this article from January 2005 http://www.historynet.com/truth-behind-us-grants-yazoo-river-bender.htm

As it seems we have been discussing the drunkeness of Grant, and Lincoln's temperance, it seems it's a fitting article for the thread. The author, Brian J. Murphy, suggests early on that Grant may not have been the drunkard folks tend to believe him to be:

Lonely Captain Grant began to drink, and reportedly to excess. On April 11, 1854, the day he was promoted to the permanent rank of captain in the Regular Army, Grant resigned his commission, allegedly hounded to do so by his commander, Colonel Robert C. Buchanan, and headed back to his family in Missouri.

The legend of Grant the drunkard lived on in the Army, which numbered less than 5,000 men at the start of the Civil War. In such a small and close-knit military family, gossip spread quickly and widely. The stories of Grant's irresponsible West Coast binges were repeated over and over, and no doubt embellished as they were told and retold.

By all accounts Grant was a lousy drinker with what we would call today a 'low boiling point.' One drink — even so much as a beer — was sufficient to slur his speech noticeably. Two or three drinks were entirely too many, and three would thoroughly incapacitate him. Consider, also, that Grant was short in stature — 5 feet 7 7/8 inches — and his weight fluctuated between 135 and 145 pounds. That is not a lot of body in which to distribute a glass of whiskey.

That low boiling point did not make Grant a drunkard nor an alcoholic with a physical dependence on alcohol. Grant was likely just an inept drinker when compared to other Army men such as the two-fisted imbiber Joe Hooker.


Now I have no clue how Mr. Murphy came across this info about Grant's supposed inability to consume much alcohol. I know Ole mentioned it was Grant's enemies who used his drinking against him and if what Mr. Murphy said is true then it was also his enemies who may have overstated how much he may have actually drnk. I do know I once saw an article discussing the idea that Grant wasn't a heavy drinker when one considers the consumption of the time versus what we measure heavy drinking by today. Wanna see if I can't find that article because I believe the author there said Grant would be more what we might consider a moderate drinker Here Murphy seems to be saying Grant had a low threshold and it took less to get him drunk than it did men like Hooker.

Edit: Ok, I just found the article I was thinking of http://www.historynet.com/ulysses-s-grants-lifelong-struggle-with-alcohol.htm. Contrary to what I said before it doesn't indicate Grant was what we might call a moderate drinker today. But at the same time it doesn't support what Murphy said about his having a low threshold for drink that caused him to become so incapacitated after just three drinks.

Last edited on Sat Mar 16th, 2013 07:55 pm by Hellcat



 Posted: Sun Mar 17th, 2013 05:40 pm
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JG6789
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Hellcat wrote: Now I have no clue how Mr. Murphy came across this info about Grant's supposed inability to consume much alcohol.
 

There are quotes from friends and acquaintances that say as much.  The most thorough treatment, I think, is “The Trial of U.S. Grant: the Pacific Coast Years, 1852-1854”, Charles G. Ellington, 1987.  Ellington comes to substantially the same conclusion.  That is: Grant was not a drunk and his resignation was almost certainly not over drinking; the myth was a product of the army rumor mill of the day.   



 Posted: Mon Apr 8th, 2013 02:58 am
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PW Hess
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Plus alcoholics don't win wars.

Attachment: GrantColdHarbor.jpg (Downloaded 16 times)



 Posted: Mon Apr 8th, 2013 01:09 pm
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Hellcat
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Can that be proven?



 Posted: Mon Apr 8th, 2013 01:52 pm
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PW Hess
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maybe someone can, but i can't



 Posted: Mon Apr 8th, 2013 02:13 pm
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Hellcat
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Personally I doubt it. I mean is there going to be something from Plutarch, Herodotus, Appian, or someone like that that says something like "Crassus was a well know lover of strong wines and was often unable to stand during a battle as he had already emptied six goat bladders before the start of the battle." I mean we probably have folks who would be able to answer my question for the last four hundred years, but I'm not so sure about the generals of the ancient world if anyone can say whether or not there was never an alcoholic who didn't win their war.



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