A few weeks ago my esteemed colleague Wayne Curtis floated a modest proposal, suggesting that He-Who-Shall-Remain-Shameless could attempt to sway a stubborn and refractory electorate his way through the traditional American method of buying every last legal-drinking member of it a drink.
Of course, given his Potemkin finances this is as accessible an option for HWSRS as cornering the women’s vote: if we can trust Mr. Curtis’s tipsy arithmetic, even if the candidate were to lowball us (as is his wont) by making that election-day tot a glass of his own brand of wine, it would still set him back over half a billion dollars. That’s asking a lot from a man who nickel and dimes his carpet installers.
Still, if ever there was a year that we needed an election-day tot, this is that year. So we’ll just have to do it ourselves. And since we’re self-funding it, we get to choose what we want to drink. But with freedom comes responsibility: electing our leaders is a ritual, and rituals aspire to be conducted properly. It might fit in with our society as it stands today to toast the exercise of our franchise with the usual vodka-soda, or shots of Fireball chased with cans of Grain Belt Lager or Genny Cream Ale, or whatever the hell it is we drink when we drink, but I can’t help but think that that would be cheapening the occasion.
Fortunately, there is deep-rooted precedent here, as deep as America itself. If we look to the example of the Founding Fathers here—not just what they said, but what they actually did—they have much to teach us on the subject.
When George Washington ran for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 and secured his election by (illegally) laying out drinks for the voters, as Mr. Curtis describes, his subordinate Lt. Charles Smith kept an accounting of precisely what he laid out. The 36 pounds 10 shillings he spent on drinks (this in a time when a person could live comfortably on 30 pounds a year) was invested in a comprehensive, tripartite voter-irrigation program.
The first leg was 47 gallons of beer and cider (the latter fortified with rum or brandy). This was cheap, costing only two pounds and change, but essential. The second leg, wine, was not cheap, and he bought almost 35 gallons of it, for an outlay of more than 17 pounds, or almost half the total. The final leg was spirits, which cost more than 16 pounds. Of that, a mere ten shillings—half a pound—went to half-pints of straight brandy or rum. The rest went to Rum Punch, by the bowl, the barrel and even the hogshead (an even bigger barrel): at least 150 gallons of the stuff (here Lt. Smith’s record-keeping gets a little loose).
This catholic variety of approaches wasn’t just Washington’s: it was how Americans drank, and indeed in it is the very essence of America. There’s wine for the fancy people, beer for the humble, straight spirits for the rough and ready and, above all, Punch for everyone, flowing freely for all, like liberty and justice.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that, when Washington and his fellow revolutionaries sat down a generation later to organize a government, they did it on the same sort of tripartite system, with the same sort of checks and balances between the parts.
Now, Washington and his voters were all British citizens at the time, but Americans continued to drink like that for another couple of generations, before the Revolution and after. The ritual of the big bowl of Punch, trotted out on any important civic occasion, lasted well into the nineteenth century, only to fade away with immigration, industrialization and the temperance movement. It’s a real loss. In fact, there’s no better way to celebrate your vote, and soothe your nerves as the election results come limping in, than enjoying some House of Burgesses Punch.
House of Burgesses Punch
8 oz dark, strong Jamaican rum, such as Smith & Cross16 oz mellow Trinidadian rum, such as Angostura 19196 oz Lemon juice, strained6 oz SugarThe peel of 4 lemons, cut into long spirals with a vegetable peeler4 cups Cold water1 whole Nutmeg
The day before the election, put a couple of pint deli containers full of water in the freezer. Seal the sugar and the lemon peel up in a Mason jar and give it a good shake. On Election Day, add the lemon juice to the jar, reseal and shake to dissolve the sugar.
Pour the shrub (the lemon juice/peel/sugar mix) into a gallon punchbowl and refrigerate for an hour.
Add the rum and the water and stir.
Unmold one of the pint blocks of ice and float it in the bowl (when it has melted add the second one).
Grate nutmeg over the top. Ladle out in 3-oz servings. Makes 30 servings.