George Washington’s election to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758
As noted earlier, George Washington won the office of the presidency unopposed, with unanimous support in the Electoral College, a feat he accomplished twice. But it wasn’t so easy in the early days of his political career, before he led a revolution and achieved a reputation of integrity which remains unrivaled. Washington’s first political forays were in local politics, always rough and tumble, and in those days a candidate for elected office was expected to provide liquid refreshment to voters if he wanted the support of their votes.
In his first attempt at election to the Virginia Burgesses, Washington was appalled at the practice of providing drink to voters, and he made his opinion known. As a 24-year-old candidate, he protested, refused to serve alcohol at the polls, and lost by a whopping 271 to 40. As he would in other defeats then still in his future, he learned from the experience.
In 1758, with his reputation enhanced due to his military experiences, Washington ran again for the Burgesses. This time his campaign expenses included the purchase of over 144 gallons (some sources say 160) of beverages which included hard cider, rum, beer, and a popular fortified wine called Madeira. In this campaign Washington won office with 331 votes, averaging a bit less than a half-gallon of drink per vote.
At that, he was concerned that he wasn’t spending enough to lubricate the sensibilities of potential supporters. He wrote of his concern to his close friend holding the position now known as campaign manager wondering if he had spent enough, as he waited for the results to be tallied. Alcohol and its influence on voters were used to buy support at the polls for decades, and laws still exist restricting the sale of alcoholic beverages while polls are open in many states.
They began in 1811, when Maryland passed a law which prohibited candidates from buying drinks for voters on Election Day. Candidates have ever since sought means to circumvent the law, and every other subsequent law (such as donation limits), to ensure the sanctity of the vote is inviolate.