This country has a long, proud tradition of drunkenness going all the way up to the highest office.
Long before Americans realized you could put a few ounces of beer in a Solo cup, chug those ounces, put the cup on the edge of a table and flip it over… our presidents were getting hammered.
Last night I found myself down the an Internet wormhole of researching the drunkenness of past presidents; luckily enough, I found 11 great drunk former American presidents. And whenever I find 11 of something, I go straight to my website.
So here are the 11 drunkest American presidents, in chronological order. A ton of credit for the anecdotes here goes to a book called The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician’s Point of View by John R. Bumgarner (Amazon link).
1 | John Adams
John Adams could really tear it up. When he got into Harvard at age 15, he was regularly drinking beer for breakfast. During a trip to Philadelphia in 1777, he wrote to his wife…
I would give three guineas for a barrel of your cider. Not one drop of it to be had here for gold, and wine is not to be had under $68 per gallon… Rum is forty shillings a gallon… I would give a guinea for a barrel of your beer. A small beer here is wretchedly bad. In short, I am getting nothing that I can drink, and I believe I shall be sick from this cause alone.
Now, if you’re like me, yes, you thought that, perhaps, the whole giving a guinea for your barrel of cider was him talking dirty to her. But I’m thinking no… John Adams just wanted to get drunk.
In addition to his drunkenness, he started smoking at age EIGHT and kept going until he died. At age 90.
Cause of death: Old age.
2 | Martin van Buren
Martin van Buren used to drink so much that, apparently, he developed an Andre the Giant-esque tolerance.
He could drink for days and not show any signs of being intoxicated, so his friends gave him the nickname “Blue Whiskey Van.” (I’m not sure what the “blue” is a reference to. Is it the same “blue top” that Jamie Foxx references in Blame It On the Al-Al-Al-Al-Al-Alcohol, which is another blue-related alcohol reference I don’t get?)
In the 1840 Presidential Election, William Henry Harrison’s campaign painted Van Buren as an alcoholic, which contributed to Van Buren losing the election.
3 | Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce might have been America’s MOST alcoholic president. He drank hard for his entire adult life and kept going right on through his presidency.
When the Democratic party decided not to re-nominate Pierce after his first term in office, he told reporters, “There’s nothing left but to get drunk.” Holla, Franklin Pierce.
4 | James Buchanan
Buchanan, basically, centered his presidential life around drinking.
He would get angry when the White House would only be stocked with small bottles of champagne. Every Sunday he’d go to a distillery to pick up a 10 GALLON jug of whiskey. He’d drink cognac… and up to two BOTTLES of other alcohol… every night.
And, by all reports, he could really handle his liquor. A reporter wrote “There was no headache, no faltering steps, no flushed cheek. All was as cool, calm and cautious and watchful as in the beginning.”
But… while he was able to be a smooth drunk on the outside, on the inside, the alcohol was beating him up. His immune system was so weakened that he got the gout and got dysentery… twice.
5 | Ulysses S. Grant
Grant has the biggest drinking reputation of any U.S. president. Some reports said that, during Civil War battles, he’d just sit there, drinking, all day long.
When he was on his death bed he passed out and a doctor was able to revive him… and give him a couple of extra minutes of life… by giving him brandy.
6 | Chester A. Arthur
As president, Arthur would drink wine and after-dinner liqueurs pretty much nightly. He gained about 40 pounds in office, a lot of which was from constant drinking (and having friends over to drink).
He would get drunk so often on Saturday nights that he’d need a carriage to take him to church the next morning… even though the church was, literally, less than a block away from the White House.
7 | Grover Cleveland
Cleveland had a huge beer belly… because he used to drink beer daily. [Insert your own joke about how if he’d just drank on non-consecutive days he could’ve lost weight here.]
During one minor election early in his political career (the all-important 1870 race for district attorney in Erie County, New York), he and his opponent agreed to only drink four glasses of beer each day… so they could stay clear headed for their race. After a few days, they decided that was too harsh and they were going to take the cap off.
8 | William Howard Taft
From what I can tell, Taft was like the big fat guy in any group of friends who made things more fun. He wasn’t that huge of a drinker himself but he was definitely the frat guy in the 5XL Hawaiian shirt making sure all of his buddies were getting drunk. He was the Bluto of presidents.
During his first year as president, one of his aides wrote, “The President never takes anything to drink but is most profligate in making others imbibe.”
9 | Franklin D. Roosevelt
There are rumors that FDR was a big drinker. He always just seemed to find his way around alcohol.
One good example: A doctor put FDR on a low-fat diet, to try to help his hypertension and heart problems. But FDR became underweight, so the doctor told him he’d have to put on weight again. FDR’s plan to gain it back? Drinking mass quantities of egg nog.
10 | John F. Kennedy
There’s no actual proof that JFK was a drinker. But I have an Irish friend named Molly who’s one hell of a drinker, and it’s led me to believe that certain stereotypes exist because they’re just true.
11 | George W. Bush
Bush famously was arrested for driving under the influence in the ’70s and, according to the Liberal Media, he spent his entire time at Yale drunk and much of his adult life as an on-and-off alcoholic. Typical Liberal Media.
Honorable mention goes out to Betty Ford — before her alcohol and drug rehab clinic, she was a drunk-ass First Lady. And to Barack Obama, who doesn’t drink yet, but is on such a mainstream publicity tour (ESPN bracketology? Leno?) that I’m guessing he’s two more bank closures away from popping bottles in a T-Pain video.