CW blogger, Kevin Levin, recently posted some comments suggesting that Ulysses S. Grant has unfairly and inaccurately been labeled a "drunk." Many of us who study the WBTS have read the same narratives and accounts of Grant's lack of sobriety and fondness of liquor.
Kevin bases his opinion (at least in part) on a new book by Joan Waugh. KL writes: "Anyone familiar with recent Grant studies already knows that the evidence against Grant is weak or inconclusive. According to Waugh and others, Grant drank occasionally, but not 'when it counted' and rarely in excess." [Emphasis mine].
As a former indulger of strong drink myself, I'm not sure what Kevin means by "when it counted." In my former heathen life (over 30 years ago), "when it counted" to me meant whenever I was conscious. But I digress.
Not all historians would agree with Levin - no surprise there. Interestingly enough, Kevin's post title has been used before by historian Edward Longacre. In his article on HNN on 9/10/07, titled: Was Grant A Drunk? - Longacre writes that he believes Grant was a "binge drinker."
Longacre further notes:
"Grant’s drinking habits should be recognized and examined, not ignored or downplayed as they have been by overzealous defenders of his good name during his lifetime and ever since. That Grant drank occasionally while on duty is a matter of record, as is the fact that on more than a few occasions he drank until intoxicated, stuporous, and violently ill." [Emphasis mine]
And . . .
"Grant did not fit the stereotype of the falling-down drunk. He drank at irregular intervals, in varying quantities, and with differing results. At times he imbibed moderately, with little or no noticeable effect, and he was capable of refusing a drink, explaining that alcohol brought him nothing but trouble. Even so, he was, in the clinical sense of the term, an alcoholic. On more than a few occasions he drank long and hard, unable to stop short of unconsciousness or some form of intervention . . . "
Uh, forgive me for being picky, but "unable to stop short of unconsciousness" would fit my definition of "a drunk." But maybe that's just me. I suppose we will have to clarify our definitions of "drunk" in degrees: "falling down drunk" to "puking, unconscious drunk." (I would tend to think that the latter is actually worse than the former. Personally, I would prefer being intoxicated with a stumble here and there to waking up in my own vomit. But, again, that's just me.)
I've never studied Grant to any degree, so I don't consider myself an expert on his drinking habits but, assuming Longacre's description is accurate, his opinion would differ with that of Levin's and, according to KL, that of Waugh's "and others."
For those who are a bit cynical and suspicisous when it comes to "recent" historiography, one might detect a trend. Some of the recent biographies and studies of Lee have suggested he was much less the gentleman than many think. Other historians have recently suggested that murderer John Brown's life should be "celebrated" and that he was "an immensely principled activist, a revolutionary whose dedication—whose sacrifice of his life—to the cause of freeing America’s slaves has much to teach a morally relativistic, ethically relaxed age."
As part of this apparent trend and attempt to "equalize" various historical figures, are we now seeing an effort to sober General Grant? So what do you think? Has Grant been mischaracterized or was he truly a drunk?
Its enough to drive a man to drinkin'.