A Small Town 4th.

7 am. The Lion’s Club pancake breakfast kicked off July 4th in the town I lived in during high school. Almost all of our 2,900 residents would be there. Of course they would be – the morning of the 4th was the highlight of our summer. Pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage, orange juice, and the early morning cool of a town hidden in the mountains of southern Idaho. And cold syrup that had no choice but to be cold. It was a great 4th if there wasn’t morning frost on the ground.

10 am. The parade would begin. Along with a few floats, county rodeo royalty, local politicians, a few lost and lonely clowns, churches, and bands and cheerleaders from the three towns that comprised the county would all be represented – marching and yelling and waving and hitting notes that should never be hit.

10:30 am. The parade would be long over but not the fun. We had chicken and greased pig chases, goat riding (if you could corner one and climb aboard), a race between a motorcycle and a snowmobile, the carp catch in a makeshift shallow pond, and the greased pole climb with envelopes of money taped at intervals to the 30-foot top. Don’t underestimate the entertainment that a greased pole can provide. Centered in the middle of the pond, it could take up to 30 minutes, a team forming a human pyramid, piles of rags, and one little shit that was small, strong, wiry, and fearless enough to scale the pyramid and shimmy that last 10 feet alone to the cash bounty.

In the afternoon it was family picnics and then…nothing. The town died about 3 o’clock and wouldn’t come alive again until hunting and football season. Really. No fireworks, no bands in the park. Nothing. It sucked. But the morning was great!

What Was Missing?

Of all the holidays, the 4th of July is in the top 10 for drinking holidays. Red, white, and blue cocktails, jelly shots, whiskey, and beer. Beer!

Independence Day marks the height of the summer beer selling season. In some areas, distributors deliver double the beer of a typical week. Of course, beer because beer is the preferred beverage of choice. At least among those who drink alcohol. And there lies the problem with the 4th of July in that small Idaho town. It was pretty much run by a religion that didn’t allow drinking. No, it wasn’t illegal, just highly discouraged and looked down upon. Sure, there were those who drank, a lot of them as demonstrated by the seven bars found within its boundaries, but they were the minority, they were sinners. All activities overseen by the town didn’t really have any visible drinking which cut down on the enjoyment and length of most events.

Early Americans Drank A Boatload.

Revolutionary War era people drank more than their share of booze. Let’s compare: Today, Americans annually drink about two gallons of alcohol per capita. But in 1790 Americans drank thirty-four gallons of beer and cider, five gallons of spirits, and a gallon of wine a year. No contest.

These colonials would have beer with breakfast, whiskey with lunch, Ale with supper, and a nightcap to cap the day. People of both sexes and all ages typically drank with their meals.

There is a disclaimer that is important to note: alcohol was safer to drink than the water, which was often extremely polluted and made people sick. These were the days before an understanding of bacteria and purification existed. Alcohol was cheap, widely available, and was believed to be safe and part of a proper diet.

It Was All About the Tavern.

Think about it – where did the revolutionaries and founding fathers meet to form their plans of running the British back to Britain? In taverns.

Taverns were the center of civic and social activity in many cities and towns of the time. It’s where everyone went and where everybody knew your name. Business meetings were held in them, some served as post offices, friends and neighbors would meet up, music was played, and revolutionary plans were made within their walls. We need more taverns in our modern world.

Tavern owners held power – in those days they had a higher social status than did the clergy. Taverns were so vital that they were often required to be located near the church or meeting house, and if there weren’t any court or religious houses, the meetings were held in the tavern. Maybe it should be this way today – anyone have any problems with that?

Follow Our Founding Fathers.

Our forefathers didn’t just imbibe. Washington owned a whiskey distillery which became the largest distillery in Virginia. Jefferson imported thousands of bottles of wine and converted 2,000 acres of his land into a vineyard. Hancock smuggled in hundreds of barrels of Portuguese Madiera. Samuel Adams was a partner in his father’s malt house, and Benjamin Franklin coveted Madiera (he composed a list of over 200 synonyms for being drunk).

And the Gentlemen Partied.

When the Constitution was signed, 55 signers gathered and celebrated like rock stars. Found among the archives was the founding republic’s bar tab for that party:
– 54 bottles of Madeira wine.
– 60 bottles of claret. (all bottles were between 25 – 40 oz.)
– 33 bottles of porter.
– 12 bottles of beer.
– 8 bottles of cider.
– 7 large punch bowls (probably spiked).
They also had dinner, musical entertainment, smoked cigars, and were charged for broken wine glasses, decanters, and tumblers.

The damage – more than 45 gallons served to and consumed by 55 gentlemen. In today’s money, the tab was more than $16,000.

Give Us This Day Our Daily…

Beer was a daily drink during our Revolutionary period but not the favorite. Nope. The favorite drink of the day was rum, of which much was consumed.

While the drinking culture was prominent and heavy drinking was even expected, drunkenness was hated, loathed, looked down on. What this tells me is that the people of that time were could hold their liquor.

In Their Honor.
To do it right, to really celebrate the beginnings of our great nation we should, with all the pomp and pride and star-spangled celebrations, throw back a drink or two and toast our founding fathers for their stubbornness, their resilience, their bravery – and bravado – and their wisdom in making alcohol a part of their lives and a part of our history.

God Bless America and our Founders.


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