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12 Facts About the Election of 1800

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The Broadway musical Hamilton will soon open in Chicago—so now is the perfect time to talk about one of Act II's most pivotal songs: "The Election of 1800." The actual event was even more vitriolic than its onstage dramatization (which is plenty dramatic). Here’s what the Broadway show didn’t tell you about this epic, game-changing race.

1. GEORGE WASHINGTON WAS URGED TO THROW HIS HAT INTO THE RING.

By 1800, a rift had divided the Federalists. Although President John Adams belonged to this party, he didn’t have its unified support. During America’s undeclared Quasi-War with France, Adams irked some of the more hawkish Federalists by sending a peace delegation to Paris in 1799.

Outraged, some partisans went so far as to start looking for an alternative Federalist candidate to replace their current president in 1800. Their first choice? Adams’s predecessor.

At 67, Washington was semi-retired from public life, but he was still one of the most popular figures in America. If the Virginian ran for a third term, he may well have won—perhaps in a landslide. During the summer of 1799, Federalist Jonathan Trumbull wrote the old general and implored him to enter the fray.

Apparently, Washington didn’t like his chances, especially among Democratic-Republican voters. “I am thoroughly convinced I should not draw a single vote from the Anti-federal side,” he told Trumbull. On top of this, the former president was fed up with politics altogether: “Prudence on my part must arrest any attempt of the well meant, but mistaken views of my friends, to introduce me again to the Chair of Government.”

Another plea arrived in Mount Vernon that December. This time, the writer was Gouverneur Morris, a prominent Federalist who’d helped author the U.S. Constitution. In his dispatch, Morris argued that “the leading Federal characters (even in Massachusetts) consider Mr. Adams as unfit for the office he now holds.” But Washington might have never read the message. On December 14—five days after it was dated—he passed away.

2. IN MOST STATES, ELECTORS WERE PICKED BY THE LEGISLATURE.

As everybody knows, 21st-century Americans don’t directly vote for their preferred presidential candidate. When we show up to the polls, we’re really voting to choose our state’s electors. These people, in turn, are the ones who go on to cast their ballots in a follow-up election that officially picks the next Commander-in-Chief. Here's how it works:

If you think this process is complicated now, be glad you weren’t around in 1800. Back then, there were 16 states. In 11 of them, everyday voters didn’t even get to choose their state’s electors. Instead, their state legislatures did that. Naturally, this legal setup had a huge impact on the White House race. By winning a majority (however slim) within one of those 11 legislatures, a given political party could often expect to cast every single electoral vote in that state’s possession.

Consider New York, for instance. In 1800, Democratic-Republicans only slightly outnumbered Federalists in the state legislature—but on a raw popular vote count, the Federalists were actually in the lead. And yet, even with their thin majority, the Democratic-Republicans were able to hand Jefferson all 12 of New York’s electoral votes. (Stay tuned for more about that.)

Over time, the practice of letting state legislatures choose electors died away. By 1833, every state except South Carolina had discarded the approach. In 1868, the state finally decided to let residents pick the electors. Before the century ended, Florida and Colorado would briefly adopt the old system, only to cast it aside just as their fellow states had.

3. JEFFERSON RECRUITED A SMEAR ARTIST.

In 1800, the Democratic-Republicans had a secret weapon, and his name was James T. Callender. An 18th-century muckraker, Callender’s rise to fame began in his native Scotland. In 1792, he published a lengthy essay which scathingly denounced Britain’s political institutions (at one point, he condemned Parliament as “a phalanx of mercenaries”), which led the British government to charge Callender with sedition.

Upon fleeing to Philadelphia in 1793, the Scotsman found a new group to lambaste: the Federalist party. Once Callendar had established himself as a Democratic-Republican journalist, he proceeded to skewer the Washington and Adams administrations in print. Then, in 1797, he dealt Alexander Hamilton a crippling blow. Through a set of pamphlets entitled History of the United States for 1796, Callender revealed that the former Treasury Secretary had an extramarital affair with a married woman named Maria Reynolds. Moreover, he accused Hamilton of improperly using government funds to either keep Maria’s husband quiet, or possibly fatten his own wallet. Hamilton was forced to give a response that was utterly self-destructive. In a published statement, the Federalist admitted—at great length—to the adultery, but vehemently denied any financial wrongdoings. Still, the damage had been done; Hamilton’s reputation would never fully recover.

Knowing what Callender was capable of, Jefferson helped the journalist skewer a new target in 1800. Using subsidies provided by the Sage of Monticello, Callender wrote an anti-Adams treatise called The Prospect Before Us. In this document, the president was depicted as an ill-tempered monarchist hell-bent on starting a war with France. “Take your choice,” it declared, “between Adams, war and beggary and Jefferson, peace and competency.”

An advanced copy of the 187-page takedown was sent to Jefferson, who gleefully told Callender, “Such papers cannot fail to produce the best effect.”

They did not, however, have the “best effect” on Callender’s life. In short order, The Prospect Before Us landed its author in jail. Accused of violating the Sedition Act, Callender was prosecuted and slapped with a nine-month prison sentence on June 4, 1800 [PDF]. By the time he was released in 1801, Jefferson had won the election. Here’s where the plot thickens: Once Callender’s incarceration ended, he demanded that the new president appoint him postmaster of Richmond. Jefferson refused. So in retaliation, Callender publicly claimed that the Commander-in-Chief had fathered several children by one Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave. Is this story true? The jury’s still out.

4. FOR A WHILE, IT LOOKED LIKE PENNSYLVANIA WOULDN’T PARTICIPATE.

Just as it is today, Pennsylvania was considered a swing state in 1800. By then, America’s political landscape had begun to take shape. Up in the north, New England could be relied upon to support the Federalists. Meanwhile, the southern states—with the notable exception of moderate South Carolina—were Democratic-Republican strongholds. The real battleground was the Mid-Atlantic. How New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania would vote in 1800 was anyone’s guess: Early on, some predicted that they’d back Jefferson, while others wrote them off as Adams’ territory. But in a startling twist, Pennsylvania almost abstained from the race entirely.

In 1799, Democratic-Republicans had seized control of the state's House of Representatives—but Federalists still controlled the State Senate (albeit, by a tiny margin). The result was a partisan showdown. Usually, Pennsylvania was one of the states that chose based on popular vote, but the matter of how popular votes would be converted to electoral votes was still to be decided. The Democratic-Republicans wanted all 15 to be chosen on a statewide general ticket (which would probably give all 15 to their candidate), while the Federalists wanted the state divided into 15 districts with each district choosing an individual elector (conveniently, these districts were drawn in such a way as to help out the Federalists as much as possible).

Given the stalemate, many—including Jefferson—feared that Pennsylvania simply wouldn’t vote at all. As historian Edward J. Larson observed in A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, “Nothing in the national Constitution actually required states to cast electoral votes.”

Thankfully, Pennsylvania’s voice was heard after all. At the eleventh hour, the local House and Senate reached an agreement. By virtue of its population, the Keystone State was legally allowed to choose 15 electors. But it was too late to have a general election under either method. So, as a compromise, its legislature selected eight Democratic-Republicans and seven Federalists on December 2, 1800. Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated three months later.

5. A PROTO-TAMMANY HALL HELPED DELIVER NEW YORK TO JEFFERSON.

Were it not for Aaron Burr, Adams might have won the Empire State—and, consequently, a second term. In the spring of 1800, New York was scheduled to hold its legislative elections, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher: Whichever party outperformed the other in these races might clinch a legislative majority. Once this was done, the victorious faction could then dole out as it pleased all twelve of New York’s electoral votes.

For both parties, winning big in the Big Apple would be critical. New York City had long been a Federalist town. To change that, Burr basically perfected the modern, citywide political campaign. Using his intellect and charm, the Revolutionary War veteran and Democratic-Republican won over a group of loyal followers who dubbed themselves “Burrites.” He also worked with a social group called the Tammany Society to hold regular party meetings for Manhattan’s Democratic-Republicans.

If the name “Tammany Society” sounds familiar, it should: The organization would go on to become Tammany Hall, New York City’s infamous political Party machine. Established in 1789, it started out as a friendly club best known for throwing benign get-togethers like picnics. Soon, it attracted scores of immigrants, who used Tammany Society events to make new connections. Politics were seldom discussed.

But as time wore on, the club got partisan. By 1800, it had emerged as a magnet for Jeffersonians in Federalist New York City. Under Burr’s leadership, the Tammany Society sent volunteers out to knock on doors and ask for funds. And that’s not all: As the elections approached, Burr’s hand-picked orators could be found denouncing Adams on street corners throughout Manhattan.

This was exhausting work, and Burr knew it. Volunteers in need of a drink or nap could get both at the Burr residence. According to one observer (a New York merchant), “Col. Burr kept open house for nearly two months … Refreshments were always on the table, and mattresses were set up for temporary repose in the rooms.”

The polls opened on April 29 and closed three days later. Thanks to Burr’s unparalleled organizational skills, his triumphant party swept the New York City assembly seats. All 12 electoral votes would now go to Jefferson. Understandably, Burr couldn’t help but gloat a little—after the dust settled, he told one Federalist, “We have beat you by superior management.” Duly impressed by his efforts in the Big Apple, the Democratic-Republican party selected Burr as its vice presidential candidate.

6. HAMILTON HIT ADAMS WITH A 54-PAGE ATTACK.

Even Hamilton’s most ardent supporters questioned the wisdom of this decision. That the two men despised each other was an open secret within Federalist circles. Although he ostensibly supported Adams, Hamilton made no secret of his preference for Adams’s running mate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Previously, the second U.S. president had accused Hamilton of organizing a “British Faction” within the Federalist party. Behind closed doors, Adams also made disparaging remarks about the former Treasury Secretary’s illegitimate birth, referring to him as a “creole bastard.”

On October 22, 1800, Hamilton unleashed a scathing anti-Adams pamphlet. Fifty-four pages long, the document rivaled Callender’s The Prospect Before Us in its brutality. After acknowledging at the onset that Adams did have “talents of a certain kind,” Hamilton proceeded to compose a laundry list of perceived character flaws, such as the president’s “disgusting egotism” and “distempered jealousy.” Weirdly though, Hamilton ended the whole rant by telling his fellow Federalists to support Adams anyway. Talk about a mixed message.

The pamphlet was intended for circulation only among a very exclusive group of Federalists. But somehow, leaked excerpts appeared in Democratic-Republican newspapers. This forced Hamilton to publish the whole thing, much to the delight of Jeffersonians everywhere. James Madison for one could barely contain his schadenfreude. “It will be a thunderbolt to both [Adams and Hamilton],” declared the Virginian. When the dust settled, Hamilton’s diatribe had spectacularly backfired. On top of hurting the Federalist ticket in 1800, the essay mortally wounded its author’s reputation. As his friend Robert Troup wrote, most party insiders now saw Hamilton as being “radically deficient in discretion” and therefore unfit to lead. Soon enough, he’d recede from the national stage altogether.

7. DURING THE RACE, JOHN ADAMS BECAME THE FIRST PRESIDENT TO LIVE INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE.

Philadelphia began a 10-year stint as America’s capital in 1790. On June 11, 1800, it officially lost this title to a little city on the Potomac. Rustic and remote, Washington didn’t exactly look like its modern self at the time: When Congress and the president arrived in D.C., neither the Capitol Building nor the White House had been finished yet.

John Adams began settling into the latter on November 1. Fifteen days afterwards, he was joined there by First Lady Abigail Adams—who found the place underwhelming. “I [would] much rather live in the house at Philadelphia. Not one room or chamber is finished of the whole. It is habitable by fires in every part, thirteen of which we are obliged to keep daily, or sleep in wet and damp places,” she said.

Regardless, the Adamses realized that their new home was, in Abigail’s words, “Built for history.” After he awoke from his first night’s sleep there, John waxed poetic about the mansion in a letter to his wife. “I pray to heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it,” he wrote. “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”

8. A LONE ELECTORAL VOTE WENT TO JOHN JAY.

The Constitution’s framers didn’t foresee the rise of major political parties. As such, the Electoral College was not designed with national tickets in mind. Under the original rules, every elector was given two votes of equal value. He would then cast these for his two favorite candidates. To become America’s next Commander-in-Chief, a presidential hopeful had to win votes from a majority of the electors. Whoever emerged as the runner-up would land that great silver medal called the vice presidency. And because candidates weren’t running as presidential-vice presidential tickets, it was important to ensure the primary candidate was the winner, and the secondary candidate was the runner up.

If nobody clinched a majority in the Electoral College, or if there was a tie, the House of Representatives got to decide the winner. Simple as that.

A major flaw in the system emerged in 1800. Every elector was now either a Federalist or a Democratic-Republican. Presumably, they’d all vote for their party’s standardized presidential and vice presidential nominees. But voting in synch like this had serious consequences: When the Electoral College cast and tallied its ballots, there wasn’t a clear victor. With 73 votes apiece, Jefferson and Burr tied for first place. Trailing them was Adams, who received 65 votes while his running mate got 64. Why didn’t those two tie as well? Because the Federalists, anticipating this sort of problem, made sure that Pinckney finished slightly behind Adams. Accordingly, one—and only one—Federalist elector cast a vote for John Jay. Best remembered for his eponymous treaty, Jay served as both a Supreme Court justice and as the governor of New York. Also, as fans of Hamilton can tell you, he wrote a few of the very influential Federalist Papers. (Five, to be precise.)

9. IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE THREE-FIFTHS CLAUSE, ADAMS WOULD HAVE WON.

Let’s take a closer look at how Jefferson and Burr fared. You’ll recall that both of these men netted 73 electoral votes. Analyzing their performance reveals an uncomfortable truth.

The Constitution’s notorious three-fifths clause handed a disproportionate amount of power to the slave states—both in the House of Representatives and in the Electoral College. Consider this: In 1800, Massachusetts (which abolished slavery 17 years prior) was home to around 575,000 free citizens. Down south, Virginia boasted a free population of only 535,000 or so. And yet, while the Bay State only had 16 electoral votes, slave-holding Virginia possessed 21.

In total, this unfair clause gave the slave states 14 extra electors. Twelve of them went on to cast their votes for Jefferson and Burr, while the remaining two backed Adams and Pinckney. You do the math: Had the three-fifths clause not existed, Adams would have beaten both of his Democratic-Republican opponents by two votes.

This fact wasn’t lost on American abolitionists. Before Jefferson’s inauguration, one Federalist newspaper—the Mercury and New England Palladiumcharged that he had made his “ride into the temple of Liberty on the shoulders of slaves.”

10. TWO STATE MILITIAS WERE READY TO REBEL IF JEFFERSON LOST.

The electors gathered in their respective state capitals to cast their votes on December 3, 1800, which wouldn't be officially counted until February 11 of the following year. Still, before 1800 came to a close, the press was able to deduce that Burr and Jefferson had tied. As per Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the House of Representatives was tasked with breaking the stalemate—but at the time, the House was controlled by a lame duck Federalist majority. Smelling an opportunity, House Federalists schemed to destroy Jefferson’s presidential hopes by voting for Burr.

But they couldn’t just make him Commander-in-Chief right then and there. By Constitutional law, when the House settles an Electoral College tie, its members don’t vote as individuals. Instead, one vote is given to the delegation from each state within the House. So in other words, all the representatives from, say, New Hampshire cast one solitary vote as a collective bloc.

To win in the House, Jefferson (or Burr) would need nine votes. But on the first ballot, Jefferson received eight and Burr got six. Two states—Vermont and Maryland—were evenly split between Burr and Jefferson supporters. Hence, both of them abstained. Over a tiresome, five-day period, the House voted 35 times and failed to make any headway.

Jefferson supporters were incensed by the gridlock. Pennsylvania Governor Thomas McKean, an ardent Democratic-Republican, declared that if the House didn’t back Jefferson, he’d send his state’s 20,000-man militia to march on Washington. James Monroe, then the governor of Virginia, was prepared to do likewise.

11. ONE CONGRESSMAN TIPPED THE SCALES IN JEFFERSON’S FAVOR.

Never one to sit idly by, Hamilton wrote to his Federalist colleagues on the Hill, warning them that a Burr presidency would prove disastrous. “In a choice of Evils, let them take the least,” Hamilton told one congressman. “Jefferson is in every view less dangerous than Burr.”

Among those whom he contacted was Federalist James A. Bayard, Delaware’s only representative in the House. At first, Bayard disregarded Hamilton’s advice and supported Burr during the first 35 votes. But then, going into the 36th vote, he decided to abstain. Moreover, the Delawarean convinced several other Federalists to follow suit. Thanks to Bayard’s maneuvering, the lack of a Delaware vote meant Jefferson would have won—but Maryland and Vermont also joined the Jefferson column when their Federalists abstained, breaking the tie and giving Jefferson 10 states.

Why did Bayard suddenly cast his lot with Jefferson? A backroom deal may have been involved. Later in life, Bayard claimed that he’d contacted Jefferson three days before the decisive vote and made the would-be president agree to certain Federalist terms. In 1806, Jefferson called this allegation “absolutely false.” Still, it might explain why the Democratic-Republican Commander-in-Chief didn’t shut down Hamilton’s Bank of the U.S.

12. ADAMS DIDN’T ATTEND JEFFERSON’S INAUGURATION (BUT THEY MADE UP LATER).

For many years, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had been close friends. Together, they’d helped create the Declaration of Independence, worked in Europe as fellow diplomats, and had even stolen a piece of Shakespeare’s favorite chair. (Seriously.) But as their political careers diverged, the two became rivals. When Jefferson was inaugurated on March 4, 1801, Adams was nowhere to be found. Eight hours before the big event, he’d left Washington and started making his way back to the family farm in Braintree, Massachusetts. This made Adams the first president who chose to skip his successor’s swearing-in ceremony. (History repeated itself 28 years later, when John Quincy Adams boycotted Andrew Jackson’s inauguration. Like father, like son.)

Adams and Thomas Jefferson didn’t make amends until 1811, when the former casually told some houseguests, “I always loved Jefferson, and I still love him.” Mutual friends forwarded this comment along to Monticello. Jefferson was thrilled. “I only needed this knowledge to revive towards [Adams] all of the affections of the most cordial moments of our lives,” he proclaimed. Over the next 15 years, the two ex-presidents exchanged more than 150 friendly letters. They both died within hours of each other on the same day—July 4, 1826.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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13 Secrets From the Guinness Archives
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Guinness has been a staple in Irish pubs for nearly 260 years. With so much history, it's no surprise that the Guinness Storehouse Archives—which are open to the public—are stuffed with intriguing artifacts that tell some pretty wild stories. Here are a few.

1. THE LEASE TO THE DUBLIN BREWERY WAS INTENDED TO LAST 9000 YEARS.

In 1759, founder Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a four-acre property at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The lease required a down payment of £100, an annual rent of £45, and a term of 9000 years (not a typo). Such lengthy leases were relatively common back then: “At the time in Ireland, there was a lot of instability to do with land tenure,” explains Fergus Brady, Archives Manager at Guinness. Centuries earlier, the British had begun confiscating land from native Irish in an effort to build plantations, and extra-long leases were a means of avoiding this fate. As Brady explains, “You see these really long leases: 99-year or 999-year leases. It seemed to be a legal custom at the time that they used the number nine.”

2. ARTHUR GUINNESS WAS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS PROPERTY WITH A PICKAXE.

In 1775, the Dublin Corporation—that is, the city government—demanded that Arthur Guinness pay for the spring water flowing to his brewery. When Guinness argued that he was already paying for water rights through his 9000-year rental agreement, the Dublin Corporation sent a sheriff and a committee to his brewery to cut off the water supply. Guinness was livid. He seized a pickaxe and unleashed a torrent of obscenities so colorful that the Dublin Corporation’s goons eventually retreated.

3. GUINNESS ONCE DEPLOYED FIELD AGENTS TO CATCH COUNTERFEITERS.

Guinness Apology
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as brand consistency. Guinness did not bottle its own beer; instead, it shipped the suds in wooden casks to publicans who supplied their own bottles and applied their own personalized labels. Occasionally, these publicans sold fake or adulterated Guinness. To prevent such sales, the company sent special agents called “travellers” into the field to collect beer samples, which it tested in a laboratory. “If a publican was found to be serving adulterated or counterfeit Guinness, they had to give a public apology in their local newspaper—and even the national newspapers,” archivist Jessica Handy says.

4. FOR 21 YEARS, THE COMPANY HIRED A GUY TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND DRINK BEER.

In 1899, Guinness hired an American ex-brewer named Arthur T. Shand to be a “Guinness World Traveller.” It was arguably the coolest job in the world. For 21 years, Shand traveled the world taste-testing beer. According to Brady, “His job was to travel the world and taste Guinness, say whether it was good or bad, who our bottlers in the market were, who our major competition was, what kind of people were drinking our product.” Shand traveled to Australia and New Zealand, to Southeast Asia and Egypt. “He was sort of a Guinness sommelier,” Brady says.

5. THE COMPANY'S HARP LOGO CAUSED TROUBLE WITH THE IRISH GOVERNMENT.

The Celtic harp—based on the 14th century “Brian Boru Harp” preserved at Trinity College—became a trademarked Guinness logo in 1876. Forty-five years later, when Ireland gained independence from England, the Irish Free State decided to use the same Celtic harp as its official state emblem. This became awkward. Guinness owned the trademark, and the Irish government was forced to search for a workaround. You can find their solution on an Irish Euro coin. Look at the coin, and you’ll notice that the harp’s straight edge faces the right; meanwhile, the harp on a glass of Guinness shows the straight edge facing left [PDF].

6. GUINNESS REPORTEDLY SAVED LIVES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

The old slogan “Guinness is good for you” sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it was born out of a genuine belief that the beer was, in fact, a restorative tonic. The health claim dates back to 1815, when an ailing cavalry officer wounded at the Battle of Waterloo reportedly credited Guinness for his recovery. For decades, the medical community widely claimed that the dark beer possessed real health benefits—and they weren’t necessarily wrong. “There was little safe drinking water at the time,” Handy says. “But with brewing, consumers knew they were getting a safe beverage.”

7. THE COMPANY CREATED A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR CONVALESCENTS.

A label for Guinness invalid stout
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

From the 1880s to the 1920s, Guinness produced a special “Nourishing Export Stout”—a.k.a. “Invalid Stout”—that contained extra sugars, alcohol, and solids and came in cute one-third pint bottles. “It was very common practice for people to buy a couple bottles and keep them as a tonic, even if it was just a glass or half a glass,” Handy says. In fact, Guinness went as far as asking general practitioners for testimonials attesting to the beer’s medical benefits. According to Brady, “Many of them wrote back and said yes, we prescribe this for various ailments.” One doctor even claimed a pint was “as nourishing as a glass of milk.”

8. DOCTORS REGULARLY PRESCRIBED THE BEER TO NURSING MOTHERS.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, many physicians believed Guinness was an effective galactagogue—that is, a lactation aid. The company sent bottles to hospitals as well as wax cartons of yeast (which supposedly helped skin problems and migraines). Hundreds, possibly thousands, of doctors prescribed the beer for ailments such as influenza, insomnia, and anxiety, David Hughes writes in A Bottle of Guinness Please: The Colourful History of Guinness. According to Brady, the company was sending beer to hospitals as late as the 1970s.

9. THE COMPANY ONCE DROPPED 200,000 MESSAGES-IN-A-BOTTLE INTO THE OCEAN.

A Guinness message in a bottle
The message within every bottle dropped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1959.
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In 1954, Guinness dumped 50,000 messages-in-a-bottle in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 1959, they repeated the stunt again, with 38 ships dropping 150,000 bottles in the Atlantic. The first bottle was discovered in the Azores off Portugal just three months after the initial drop [PDF]. Since then, the bottles have turned up in California, New Zealand, and South Africa. Just last year, a bottle was discovered in Nova Scotia. (If you find one, you just might be offered a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.)

10. THE PERSONNEL FILES IN THE GUINNESS ARCHIVES CONTAIN SOME DOOZIES.

The Guinness corporate archives are open to the public. According to Handy, “Some of the stories you get in there are amazing, because you get accident reports and you get crazy stories of people bouncing on bags of hops outside the brewery." This may sound less surprising considering that, back in the day, Guinness employees were given an allowance of two pints of beer every day [PDF].

11. A GUINNESS SCIENTIST MADE A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MARK IN THE FIELD OF STATISTICS.

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you might be familiar with the Student’s t-test or the t-statistic. (It’s a method of working with a small sample size when the standard deviation is unknown.) The t-test was first described by William S. Gosset, a brewer and statistician at Guinness who was attempting to analyze a small sample of malt extract. Gosset’s discovery not only helped Guinness create a more consistent-tasting beer, it would lay the bedrock for one of the most important concepts in statistics: statistical significance.

12. GUINNESS IS SO BIG IN AFRICA, IT LAUNCHED A SUCCESSFUL FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.

Guinness began exporting beer to Africa in 1827. In the 1960s, it opened a brewery in Nigeria—followed by Cameroon and Ghana. Today, there are reportedly more Guinness drinkers in Nigeria than there are in Ireland. “In Ireland, England, and the United States, everybody thinks that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland,” Brady says. “But in Nigeria, there’s a very very low conception of that.” The beer is such a cultural staple that a fictional character who advertised the product named Michael Power—a James Bond-like, crime-fighting journalist—became the star of a feature film in 2003 called Critical Assignment, which was a box office smash. (Of course, there’s some branding built into the script. As Brady explains, “There are definitely scenes where Michael Power is enjoying a pint of Guinness.”)

13. DISPENSING BEER WITH NITROGEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONSIDERED LAUGHABLE.

In the 1950s, Guinness scientist Michael Ash was tasked with solving the “draft problem.” At the time, dispensing a draft pint of Guinness was ridiculously complicated, and the company was losing market share to draft lagers in Britain that could be easily dispensed with CO2. “The stout was too lively to be dispensed with CO2 only,” Brady says. “Ash worked on the problem for four years, working long hours day or night, and became a bit of a recluse apparently. A lot of doubters at the brewery called the project ‘daft Guinness.’” But then Ash attempted dispensing the beer with plain air. It worked. The secret ingredient, Ash discovered, was nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. Today, a Guinness draft contains 75 percent nitrogen. Not only did the discovery make dispensing the beer easier, it created a creamy mouthfeel that’s been the signature of Irish stouts since.

Full disclosure: Guinness paid for the author to attend an International Stout Day festival in 2017, which provided the opportunity to speak to their archivists.

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