Don’t be a hypocrite
George Washington and the founders of the nation lived in a hard drinking age and many of them were hard drinkers themselves. Washington was fond of beer and ale, and operated a brewery at Mount Vernon. Eventually he built a distillery there, after shifting his crops from tobacco to maize, corn and wheat. Peach brandy and ciders were also produced at the plantation and fine wines and port were purchased through merchants in Alexandria, Philadelphia, and other locations. Although Washington was no drunkard he would be considered by today’s standards a heavy drinker.
When he returned to Mount Vernon after the Constitutional Convention one of the pressing matters of business was to hire a new gardener to oversee both the fruit orchards and the vegetable and herb gardens which supplied the plantation. Of the candidates Washington interviewed one stood out, but his reputation for heavy drinking was widespread. His references indicated that although he was ordinarily reliable, he had a tendency for occasional binges which detracted from his work. Rule of Civility number 48 seemed to apply. It read, “Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts.”
This rule establishes that before one criticizes another for anything, one should be certain that the subject of the criticism is not part of one’s own behavior or character. It also states that actions speak louder than words. Washington may also have considered Rule 50, “Be not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any,” meaning don’t be too quick to accept what you hear as the truth. Besides, he needed a gardener. Washington pondered the situation and made a decision, calling the gardener back to Mount Vernon and drawing up a contract.
Washington agreed to hire the gardener for a period of one year, if the gardener refrained from drinking except for “…if allowed four dollars at Christmas, with which to be drunk four days and four nights; two dollars at Easter, to effect the same purpose; two dollars at Whitsuntide, to be drunk for two days, a dram in the morning, and a drink of grog at dinner and at noon.” Grog was the common name for rum cut with water. If being given a drink every morning, noon, and night was a sacrifice the gardener was a heavy drinker indeed.
It’s also an indication of what Washington considered drinking in moderation and is likely close to what his own habits were, although he preferred beer with his meals over grog, especially in the warm months. Interestingly, although more than twenty of the Rules of Civility address table manners and conversation at meals, only three of them address the issue of drinking in any manner, other than Rule 99, which reads, “Drink not too leisurely nor too hastily. Before and after drinking, wipe your lips; Breathe not then or ever with too great a noise, for it is uncivil.”