We the People (Have Been Alcoholics Since the 1700s)
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We the People (Have Been Alcoholics Since the 1700s)


This post was originally published on April 8, 2015.

In 1790, a man named Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was a proponent of the temperance movement against alcoholic beverages. This was the old-timey version of the “War on Drugs” and it was just as effective, meaning it was not particularly effective at all.

Not Rushing to Conclusions

Rush drew up an historical chart called the “Moral and Physical Thermometer” that described the dangers of alcoholism. Turns out, the dangers are about the same as they are today and alcohol has been a problem for people for a long time.

Well, of course! Old-timey people don’t want to miss out on all the fun. And why should they? Nothing was more boring than life in the 1800’s. The men wore wigs (hot, itchy) and the women wore corsets (tight, super tight!). Who wouldn’t drink? I like the idea of our nation’s founding fathers working on the Declaration of Independence all day, then high-fiving and heading to a tavern for some drinks, darts and hitting on women who are way out of their league. Then waking up with ye olde hangover, walk of shaming themselves back to Constitution Hall and doing it all over again. All the while, hoping to God the Liberty Bell doesn’t ring.

Look, I Get It

There’s no question that as long as there has been alcohol, there has been a problem with alcohol. Have you ever toured a Natural History Museum? They often have ancient relics from past civilizations. Many are weapons, some are grooming tools, and lots are containers for liquids like this one. My bet is that they were not for carrying fancy water.

Ever since people figured out that old fruit ferments to an intoxicating liquid, there was someone daring someone else to drink it all while clapping and chanting, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” No doubt prehistoric man got crazy around the campfire sometimes while drinking Clan of the Cave Beer or sipping Neanderthal-tinis. Even back then, I’m sure someone took it way too far, picked a fight with a T-Rex, tried to ride home on his Brontosaurus, rear-ended a Triceratops, blacked out and then woke up face-down and naked in a neighboring cave, coming to and asking, “Dude, where’s my dinosaur?”

Okay, fine, dinosaurs were extinct 66 million years before humans arrived, but that’s not how it was depicted in cartoons growing up and that’s where I got most of my news during my formative years. It’s hard to shake the image.

Holy Men and Nasty Drinks

Alcohol in history isn’t talked about enough. I know what it looks like now, and I’m interested in how different and how similar it’s always been. For instance, Trappist monks are known for making beer. Yes, they are monks. They are holy men of the cloth. But on some level, aren’t they also just bros brewing suds? Do they ever high-five over a great batch? Do they ever at least want to?

I can’t prove it, but I have a strong theory that a lot of Egyptian Hieroglyphs are recipes for cocktails.

Even in Benjamin Rush’s chart in Smithsonian, it lists drinks I’m familiar with and some I’ve never imagined. There’s beer and cider and stuff called “flip” and “shrub.” Flip supposedly made people sick and is listed as a mix of “rum, beer, molasses and eggs.” Of course that made people sick! It makes me sick just to think about it. It’s never a good idea to mix breakfast with alcohol.

Truth is, I can’t always relate to things that have happened in the past. The fashion is unfamiliar and the language is often formal and stilted. But when they talk about old-timey alcohol use, I can see it. I can understand people in the Days of Yore. I’m certain that wherever and whenever alcohol is used, someone is finding a way to abuse it. There is just no putting the brakes on for some of us. And in that way, I completely relate.

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About Author

Laura House is a sober writer and comedian. She was born in Grand Prairie, Texas, educated at the University of Texas at Austin, and lives and works in Los Angeles. She's written on the sketch show Blue Collar TV, and half-hour sit-coms including The George Lopez Show, Mad Love, Loosely Exactly Nicole, as well as the Emmy-winning shows Samantha Who and Mom. In addition she has developed four original pilots with ABC, FX and Nickelodeon. She currently works as a producer on the BAFTA-winning BBC series, The Secret Life of Boys. She performs at recovery shows all over the country. She recently performed at the NA world convention in Orlando. Her album Mouth Punch is available on all platforms.