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Workman Publishing
Workman Publishing

5 Presidents Who Fought For Their Right To Party

Workman Publishing
Workman Publishing

Adapted from the book PARTY LIKE A PRESIDENT: TRUE TALES OF INEBRIATION, LECHERY, AND MISCHIEF FROM THE OVAL OFFICE by Brian Abrams, illustrated by John Mathias; Workman Publishing (February 2015). If you're in the New York area, come celebrate Brian's new book with us on February 10th! RSVP here.

1. Abe Lincoln’s Frat-Boy Act

In January 1833—decades before The Great Emancipator, burdened by the most devastating crisis in U.S. history, couldn’t stomach three square meals per day—a 24-year-old Abraham Lincoln opened a grocery store in New Salem, Illinois, with his Army buddy William F. Berry.

Aptly named Lincoln and Berry, the emporium sold bacon, guns, and beeswax—essentials for any homemaker—plus rum, whiskey, and brandy. That stockpile of tipple came in handy on the day Lincoln had to settle a financial dispute between an employee and a local gambler. According to biographer Carl Sandburg, Lincoln bet the gambler that he could “lift a barrel of whiskey from the floor and hold it while he took a drink out of the bunghole.” If he failed, he’d give the gambler a fur hat. If he succeeded, the gambler got nothing. Abe then dropped to a tactical squat position, lifted the barrel to his mouth, and basically performed a reverse keg-stand with superhuman strength.

Of course, the stunt came back to haunt Lincoln during his 1858 run for Senate. In a series of debates, incumbent Stephen A. Douglas exposed Abe’s past life as a “flourishing grocery-keeper in the town of [New] Salem” who could down “more liquor than all the boys of the town together.” Setting a precedent for eons to come, Lincoln refuted the claim.

2. FDR’s Recipe for Disaster

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a man of many talents. Making martinis was not one of them. Most weekends, the president retreated to his Hyde Park mansion in New York, where Hollywood luminaries and lefty warriors had to endure Roosevelt’s atrocious bartending skills. Garnished with olives, lemon peels, and drops of absinthe, FDR’s martinis were so notoriously bad that New York Supreme Court Justice Samuel Rosenman regularly dumped them in a nearby flowerpot.

“Many people—and this is recorded—say ‘the president made the worst martinis I’ve ever tasted,’” Roosevelt’s grandson Curtis told the History Channel in 2005. And plenty of people had a chance to try them; during the war, Roosevelt opened his liquor cabinet for guests nearly every night. But his booziest affair probably occurred when he pulled out all the stops and threw a toga party for his 52nd birthday. Responding to conservatives who called him a dictator, Roosevelt wore a laurel crown. Afterward, a speechwriter lightheartedly addressed Roosevelt as “Dear Caesar” in his letters. The president eventually asked him to stop, according to historian Conrad Black, “fearing the press might get hold of such a letter and misconstrue it.”

3. Gerald Ford’s Cheesy Faux Pas

Sure, Gerald Ford was an all-star college football player, but there’s a reason people think he’s a klutz.

He once famously tumbled down the stairs of Air Force One. While golfing in Palm Springs, California, he smacked an electric cart into a shack. During ski trips, TV cameramen would station themselves by the toughest slopes, anticipating a pratfall. So what happened on December 30, 1974, when members of the press corps invited the president to a cocktail party in Vail, Colorado, should have been no surprise. Ford, who was on his Christmas break, walked into the party and “made a beeline for the kitchen,” according to reporter Thomas DeFrank’s memoir Write It When I’m Gone, “asking, 'Who needs a drink?'”

Martini in hand, Ford puffed a pipe and collapsed onto a couch. The president was so off his guard, DeFrank observed, that he set his “loafer dead in the center of a two-pound wheel of Brie on the coffee table ... as he stood up, the cheese stuck to the bottom of his shoe for a heart-stopping instant—before quietly plopping back onto the plate. He never knew.” In the president’s defense, the snack did look like a tiny ottoman.

4. Franklin Pierce’s Casual Friday

Franklin Pierce loved a stiff drink and was known for his marathon carousing sessions. But the one that occurred on Friday, October 23, 1857, takes the cake. Pierce’s friend Clement March recounts in his diary: “[The general] and I dined at the Tremont at one o’clock, a glass of brandy and water before, a pint of champagne at dinner, went to the Fair Grounds and returned to the Tremont at 5, drank brandy and water till 71⁄2, supped at Parker’s on broiled oysters, beefsteak, and Pomy’s Claret, went to the Theatre, and saw Fanny Kemble and her daughter in a private box by mistake, returned to Parker’s and drank some very old brandy in his private room, went back to the Theatre and took possession of our ‘proscenium box,’ then again to Parker’s and had raw oysters and a bottle of Stein Wine, then to the General’s room, drank two pint bottles of champagne, took a stroll about the streets, and made a call in Fruit Street, where we disbursed some thirty dollars, and at 4 o’clock repaired.”

That’s all, no big deal.

5. Andrew Jackson’s Animal House

When Andrew Jackson walked into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration on March 4, 1829, he brought some unwanted company.

His staff had planned a post-inauguration White House reception, but they’d mistakenly opened it to the public, and a thirsty mob quickly besieged the party. According to mortified Congressman James Hamilton Jr., “thousands ... poured in one uninterrupted stream of mud and filth, among the throngs many fit subjects for the penitentiary.” The riffraff darted for the kitchen with a collective eye on the waiters pushing barrels of boozy orange punch. A few barrels tipped over and spilled onto White House carpets and floors. Thousands of dollars worth of crystal and china were flung off serving trays. Fights broke out, and the president was nearly suffocated by a barrage of drunken constituents. That’s when Jackson’s distressed kitchen staff came up with a brilliant idea: Take the hooch outside. According to biographer Robert Remini, “all the windows were thrown open to provide additional exits for those anxious to keep up with the refreshments.” The swarm followed the booze out the window—Mr. President included.

If you're in the New York area, come celebrate Brian's new book with us on February 10th! RSVP here.

http://www.powerhousearena.com/events/11476/

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13 Fascinating Facts About Abigail Adams
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Abigail Adams refused to be a footnote. Born on November 22, 1744, she would go on to become the wife of one President and the mother of another. But it’s Adams’s first-rate political mind that has secured her place in history. The celebrated First Lady was, in several respects, years ahead of her time. 

1. THERE'S A BIT OF CONFUSION ABOUT WHEN SHE WAS BORN.

Biographies often cite November 11, 1744 as the day Abigail Adams (née Smith) was born. This is both true and false. While John Adams was 9, his future spouse was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts to Elizabeth and Reverend William Smith, a Congregationalist minister. Back then, Britain’s American subjects still used the Julian calendar. Originally implemented by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, it remained standardized throughout Europe for more than 15 centuries. Unfortunately, his calendar was about 11 minutes a year out of sync with the earth’s rotation. This might not seem like a big deal, but over time, it became one: By 1582, the calendar was a full 10 days off course. Obviously, some adjustments were needed.   

So, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar—one that was designed to eliminate this growing problem. At his command, ten October days were completely skipped over (October 4 was directly followed by October 15) and measures were taken to make leap years happen less frequently. We still use the Gregorian calendar today.

While Catholic countries converted to it more or less immediately, Britain and her colonies didn’t do so until 1752. At that point, the Julian calendar had become 11 days off schedule. So according to this outdated metric, Abigail Adams was born on November 11, 1744. In contrast, our modern Gregorian calendar tells us that she came into the world on November 22.  

2. SPELLING WASN'T HER STRONG SUIT.

Like most New England girls in the 18th century, Abigail and her sisters were homeschooled (most likely by their mother). At the Smith residence, available reading material ranged from Shakespeare to the Bible to local newspapers. Over time, Abigail would become a voracious bibliophile and a terrific writer. However, because standardized education was unavailable to those of her sex, Abigail’s numerous letters were frequently plagued with such typos as “perticular,” “benifit,” and “litirary.” And while it’s true that standardized spelling was still in its infancy in the Colonies, Abigail was particularly self conscious about it, even ending one of her letters with “You will escuse this very incorrect Letter.”

3. DURING THE REVOLUTION, ADAMS MADE BULLETS FOR THE AMERICAN CAUSE.

On June 17, 1775, Adams and her 7-year-old son, John Quincy, watched as the Battle of Bunker Hill erupted near Charlestown, Massachusetts. The brutal clash and its aftermath claimed over 100 American lives. Among those slain was Joseph Warren, the Adams’ family doctor and general of the Revolution. “Our dear friend,” she wrote her husband, “ … fell gloriously for his country—saying better to die honorably in the field than ignominiously in the gallows.” Enraged, Adams seized her precious pewter spoons and melted them down into musket balls, which she then distributed to rebel forces. She also sheltered numerous patriot troops and Boston refugees at her Braintree home. 

4. JOHN AND ABIGAIL EXCHANGED OVER 1100 LETTERS.


Wikipedia Commons // Public Domain

Their correspondence offers an intimate look at early American life—and a truly remarkable marriage. Before the war, John’s law practice regularly brought him to Boston. As a member of the Continental Congress, he toiled in Philadelphia throughout much of the Revolution. Diplomatic duties would later whisk him off to Europe and, during his presidency, he spent prolonged periods away from his beloved wife.

Through it all, John and Abigail diligently wrote each other. Their discourse includes eyewitness accounts of the vote for independence, Washington’s inauguration, and countless other moments that helped shape their young nation. Some letters even gush with romance. “I look back,” Abigail reminisced in 1782, “to the early days of our acquaintance; and Friendship, as to the days of Love and Innocence; and with an indescribable pleasure I have seen near a score of years roll over our Heads, with an affection heightened and improved by time—nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree effaced from my mind the Image of the dear untitled man to whom I gave my Heart.” 

While these two made up oodles of pet names (he’d sometimes call her “Miss Adorable,” for instance), they’d usually refer to each other as “My Dearest Friend” or “Much Loved Friend.”

5. SHE WAS AN EARLY WOMEN'S RIGHTS ADVOCATE.

Abigail penned what’s arguably her single most famous letter on March 31, 1776. “I long to hear that you have declared an independency,” she informed John. “And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Her husband’s response was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. “As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh,” he replied. The matter was dropped shortly thereafter. Still, Abigail never gave up: She’d later speak out in favor of women’s property rights and education. 

6. ABIGAIL AND THOMAS JEFFERSON HAD A ROCKY PERSONAL HISTORY.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their friendship blossomed in Paris, where the men who would become America’s second and third presidents began working as diplomats during the summer of 1784. Tired of writing her husband from afar, Abigail made the transatlantic voyage. 

At first, Jefferson and Mrs. Adams bonded over their shared love of gardens and songbirds. When John was named Ambassador to the Court of St. James in London, Abigail and her new acquaintance reluctantly parted ways (“I shall regreet [sic] ... the loss of Mr. Jeffersons Society,” she wrote). They became international pen pals, exchanging gossip and even shipping each other the occasional gift. In Jefferson’s mind, she was—as he once confided to James Madison—“one of the most estimable characters on earth.”

Sadly, their relationship grew cold when Jefferson handed Mr. Adams a bitter electoral defeat in 1800. Four years later, when the new President’s daughter, Polly, passed away at age 25, Abigail wrote a delicately-worded letter of condolence. Jefferson was both touched and impressed by the letter. “[S]he carefully avoided a single [expression] of friendship towards myself,” he observed, “and even concluded it with the wishes ‘of her who once took pleasure in subscribing herself your friend.”

Things didn’t thaw out between them until Jefferson and her husband began corresponding on friendly terms again in 1811. Abigail and the Sage of Monticello would subsequently resume their letter-writing.

7. SHE MISSED JOHN'S INAUGURATION.

When President Adams was sworn in on March 4, 1797, John’s mother was dying in Massachusetts. A particularly brutal New England winter kept Abigail away from Philadelphia (which was then the nation’s capital), much to the new Chief Executive’s dismay. “The times are critical and dangerous,” he wrote her, “and I must have you here to assist me.” She joined him in the City of Brotherly Love that spring. 

8. JOHN AND ABIGAIL REALLY HATED ALEXANDER HAMILTON. 


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George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury had a knack for making powerful enemies, including Jefferson, James Monroe, and (of course) Aaron Burr. Then there was John Adams, who once referred to Hamilton as the “bastard brat of a Scotch peddler.” No love was lost between them. In 1800, Hamilton circulated a very critical pamphlet that amounted to a full-on character assassination aimed at our second commander-in-chief. Ultimately, Hamilton’s sharp words helped destroy Adams’ re-election bid.

Abigail shared her husband’s disdain for his political rival. “Beware that spair Cassius,” she warned John in 1797. “O, I have read his heart in his wicked eyes many a time. The very devil is in them. They are lasciviousness itself.”

9. SHE VEHEMENTLY OPPOSED SLAVERY.

“I wish most sincerely that there was not a slave in the province,” she wrote in a 1774 letter to her husband. Though Abigail’s father had been a slaver, she remained firmly against the practice throughout her life. In March 1776, Abigail slammed the sheer hypocrisy of slave-owning American rebels, stating, “I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be eaqually [sic] strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs.”

10. ADAMS ONCE PERSONALLY TAUGHT A YOUNG BLACK MAN THAT SHE BARELY KNEW.

By the standards of her period, she also had a progressive attitude toward integration. Shortly before John took the oath of office, Abigail informed the president-elect about a free black servant boy whom she’d personally given reading and writing lessons. Afterwards, she enrolled him into a local school. Without warning, a neighbor then approached her and bemoaned this new pupil’s presence there.

Irate, Abigail replied that the boy was “as much a Freeman as any of the [other] young Men and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? … I have not thought it any disgrace to my self to take him into my parlor and teach him to both read and write.” 

Just like that, the neighbor backed off and no further objections were raised. 

11. SHE WAS THE FIRST PRESIDENTIAL WIFE TO LIVE IN THE WHITE HOUSE. 

During most of his administration, John Adams—like his predecessor—lived at the Presidential mansion in Philadelphia.  Located at the intersection of 6th and Market Streets, it would serve as the headquarters of the government’s executive branch until May 1800.

Abigail and John moved into the White House on November 1 (between the two dates, the President stayed at a local tavern). At the time, their new mansion was—to the First Lady’s chagrin—still under construction. “Not a chamber is finished of a whole,” she complained. The building suffered from poor insulation. An awkward White House Christmas party did little to lift Abigail’s spirits. As one witness put it, she was “distressed and embarrassed because it was still cold. The guests sat around trying to look comfortable and hide their gooseflesh, but they left early.”

12. A LIGHT INFANTRY COMPANY ONCE NAMED ITSELF AFTER HER. 

In 1798, a Massachusetts volunteer regiment asked for Abigail’s permission to rechristen themselves as “Lady Adams Rangers.” Flattered, she happily consented. 

13. SHE WAS A DOG LOVER.

Through the years, the Adams family included several dogs. Their two best-known pooches, however, were some mutts that they dubbed Juno and Satan. While the devilishly-named canine was regarded as John’s dog, Juno really took a shine to Abigail. After leaving the White House, she could often be seen with the animal padding along at her side. In an 1811 letter to her granddaughter Caroline Smith, Adams declared that “As if you love me proverbially, you must love my dog. You will be pleased to know that Juno yet lives, although like her mistress she is gray with age.”

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Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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