What Would Abe Lincoln Drink?

What Would Abe Lincoln Drink?

This being the month that we celebrate former President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in the “Land of Lincoln,” it only seems right that we turn the clock back nearly two hundred years to better understand what Lincoln thought of the early cries for Prohibition.  Lincoln being the speaker that he was actually gave a speech, now known as Lincoln’s Temperance Address, in Springfield, Illinois on February 22, 1842.

So let’s do a little time travel and imagine ourselves standing before the State Capitol, looking up at the tall man speaking.  Imagine that we are yet undecided on the Temperance movement and we are looking to Abe to convince us one way or the other.  You would hear Abe speak of the cause that is “growing by the thousands,” as well as those that have been the “victims of intemperance.”  He preached about a former victim of intemperance, now sober and able to feed and clothe his children in nearly the same breathe that he called for the end of blaming drinkers and bar owners for all of the “thieves and robbers and murderers that infected the earth.”  To blame the drinkers and bar owners, Abe said was, “impolitic and unjust.”

So the former-drinkers that rehabilitate themselves can save their families, but let’s stop blaming all of the world’s problems on drinkers and bar owners.  Got it?  Many people probably left that speech feeling that Abe had rallied for their particular cause.

That Abe’s beautiful prose hid both his personal feelings and political sentiments about Prohibition was not an accident.  The Temperance Movement was a huge voting bloc in the country at that time and again in 1860 as he ran for the presidency.  The country in 1842 was already dividing, irreparably most thought at the time, over other, larger issues.  And now this?

So what did Abe really think about alcohol?  If ever a President deserved a drink it would have been him.  In truth, he was as much for moderation, it seems, as his 1842 speech would have led you to believe.  Lincoln was literally born into the alcohol trade, near Knob Creek, Kentucky where his father (and most everyone else) worked in a distillery when farming was out of season.  During his first series of debates with Stephen Douglas, Douglas tried to tie Abe’s job owning a grocery store to the liquor trade because the store sold liquor.  Lincoln’s defense was that you could buy packaged liquor at the store, but not drink it at the store.  Which is only because Lincoln and his partner in the grocery business had completed, but not yet filed the necessary paperwork for a liquor license.  Perhaps, the best example of Abe riding the fence on this issue.

That Lincoln drank is not up for debate.  He did.  Although he was allegedly the perfect picture of moderation, taking only a sip or two of champagne at state dinners to avoid being called a “stick in the mud.”

Moderation?  Not so much drinking that it ruins your family and starves your children, but not Prohibition which would drive out bar owners and a few sips of champagne, turning us all into sticks in the mud?  What a radical political concept!

Written by Amy Williams

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