Wonder Who Picked Up This Bar Tab

Ever taken a group of business associates out to dinner and been stuck with a bar tab that far exceeded what accounting will approve?  

You’re not the only one. 

According to Adam K. Raymond in his blog post Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of...Drunkenness? our illustrious founding fathers found themselves in a Philadelphia bar days before the signing of the constitution and consumed between them “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.”

If you're not familiar with wines, Madeira wasn’t originally a fortified wine, but adding a small amount of distilled alcohol helped stabilize it for the long trip across the Atlantic. Therefore the 54 bottles of Madeira being drunk at this pre-Constitutional celebration would probably be closer in alcohol content to a Port wine, another fortified wine from Portugal. 

(I have a special fondness for Portuguese wine having lived in Portugal when I was a teenager. Plus, I’ve discovered that for some odd reason, they don’t bother my allergies as much as red wines from almost any other region. I still haven’t figured out why, but my analysis of the data is not complete.)

Raymond goes on to elaborate on the general intemperance of our founding fathers. While the Fix is a site dedicated to addiction and recovery, and his post may seem a bit critical, most of it is probably a pretty good depiction of alcohol consumption habits of our forefathers. 

Of course, one has to put things into context. Alcoholism wasn’t well-understood at the time, potable water wasn’t always easy to find, and drinks such as cider naturally fermented due to lack of refrigeration.
Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States
Howard Chandler Christy

There is only one little nit picky thing I want to point out. I'm not sure we can really be sure that there were 55 men present at this pre-signing shindig. After all, the Constitution was signed on Sept 17th by 38 of the 41 delegates attending the Convention. The ever-obstinate Rhode Island didn't even attend the convention. So maybe there were fewer men present - which would have indeed made their alcohol consumption prodigious.

On the other hand, these men didn't do everything alone. There would have been secretaries and aides working side by side with them. Presumably, they drank too. So maybe the party wasn't quite the blowout we assume it was.

Update: I've been studying the vow of secrecy the delegates to the Constitutional Convention took. (They were sent to Philly to amend the Articles of Confederation, not to set up an entirely new systems of government.) Although letters leaked out from the Convention to key people not present - Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, etc. - it seems like they would have limited the number of people present at a pre-signing dinner party. In the end, I've concluded that these guys could really put it away!

I'm still looking for answers to this not-all-that-important question. If you have more information, or even an opinion, let me know.


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