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Petition to Congress to Provide Whiskey to the Army (1780)

Source: NARA,
Source: NARA,

This petition from Gossinus Eketens (January 12, 1780) to the Continental Congress was displayed at the National Archives (Washington, DC) recent exhibit, Spirited Republic. As NARA notes:

“The alcohol ration was an integral part of the Continental Army from its inception in 1776. Soldiers were allowed to have one “gill” (approximately two ounces) of whiskey, rum or brandy per day. The alcohol ration was seen as a necessity to army life during the Revolutionary War as is evidenced by this petition by Gossinus Eketens for the Continental Congress to appropriate whiskey for troops fighting on the frontier.

However this view was not shared by all, and by 1818 the Surgeon General Joseph Lovell expressed a desire to rid the army of it’s “bug juice” ration. Moves to stop the spirit ration ended in failure as he encountered severe opposition from the soldiers. Later in the century the problem of alcoholism in the army came to the fore again; in 1852, 1,965 out of 13,338 men were rejected for service because of drunkenness. In 1890 a limited prohibition was placed on soldiers banning alcohol from military bases and posts, and remained in force until it was repealed in 1951.”

George Washington, it is worth adding, agreed with this sentiment. “The benefits arising from the moderate use of strong Liquor have been experienced in all armies, and are not to be disputed,” he wrote.

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