03/11/2013 05:44 pm ET Updated May 11, 2013

Can You Believe UN Reps Drink a Lot During Budget Sessions?!

News item on New York magazine's website: "The United Nations has a drinking problem, thinks Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador for management and reform at the U.N., who on Monday got a promotion from Captain Buzzkill to admiral by publicly scolding his colleagues for boozing during budget sessions."

We all know that if you drink a lot you become an alcoholic and can't function. This is -- if not God's will and written in the stars, the next best thing -- biologically and genetically determined, irrefutable, and irreversible.

Oh, sometimes tales come down to us from history that seem to defy this indubitable truth. But we can explain them away -- if we try. There was Alexander the Great -- a massive binge drinker -- who conquered the known world. (Cultural note: Alexander was a Macedonian, a culture known for intemperate drinking, unlike the neighboring Greeks, known since antiquity for moderate imbibing.)

Then there was that habitual tippler, Winston Churchill, now regarded by some to have been an alcoholic by contemporary clinical standards, who saved the known world from another would-be conqueror (who was, by the way, a teetotaler). But, well, he was Churchill.

Not so fortunate was Texas Senator John Tower, whose name arose again around the contentious confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Tower was rejected as George (the first) Bush's Secretary of Defense, not because of any positions he took on issues, but because he drank so damn much! True, he had many fellow carousers in the Senate over his career (Tower entered that august body in 1961), but that was then, and now is now. Tower's humiliating temperance pledge to abstain from drinking and to resign if he broke his promise was not enough to save his nomination.

Which brings us back to the Constitutional Convention and drinking in Colonial America, where average per capita consumption was 3-4 times its current level.[1] Alcohol was served and drunk in many state legislatures (like Virginia's -- George Washington was a typical heavy drinker).[2] At the Convention itself, many (most?) participants began the day with a grog (a rum and water or "weak" beer with spices). And, truth be told, they drank throughout the proceedings.

This type of drinking is noted in the musical 1787: We the People, although it is attributed there to a single miscreant. To acknowledge that such behavior was typical is, simply, not possible, and references to the founders' drinking have been literally whitewashed from history. For example, Alonzo Chappel's famous painting of Washington taking farewell from his officers, which took place at a tavern, showed a bottle of alcohol clearly visible on a table. The bottle was painted out of the picture during Temperance and has been "disappeared" ever since.

Oh, here is a list of the booze consumed when 55 delegates to the Convention partied at a tavern two days before they signed off on the Constitution. According to the bill preserved from the evening, they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, eight of whiskey, 22 of porter, eight of hard cider, 12 of beer and seven bowls of alcoholic punch.

That's more than two bottles of fruit of the vine, plus a few shots and a lot of punch and beer, consumed by every delegate. Clearly, that's humanly impossible. All of these men would have been incapable of functioning at their historic Constitutional duties. (Perhaps it is due to this it-can't-be-true-even-if-it-was attitude that such Constitution lovers as Glenn Beck don't drink.)

And, of course, as written in the stars, in God's judgment book, and in our neurosystems, all of these distinguished patriots would have been addicted alcoholics if they drank anything like that.


[1] W. J. Rorabaugh, The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

[2] Lender, Mark. Drinking in America: A History. New York: Free Press, 1982.

For more by Stanton Peele, click here.

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