Mr. President, I rise for a point of personal privilege and a motion:
Today, February 22, marks the 285th anniversary of the birth, in Westmoreland County, of a great son of Virginia, George Washington.
The Senator from Eastern Fairfax and I have arranged for you to receive the 2017 Mount Vernon Calendar, and Mt. Vernon’s quarterly magazine, both of which are on your desks today.
Last year, I talked a bit about Washington the Burgess. This year, I’d like to talk about Washington the politician.
Elections were quite different back then. In Washington’s day, retail politics were frowned upon and candidates were discouraged from mingling with the voters. It was said “If a man solicits you for your vote, avoid him; self-interest and sordid avarice lurk under his forced smiles, hearty shakes by the hand, and deceitful enquiries after your wife and family.” Only free, white, male, landowners of at least 25 acres could vote—the wealthy elite known as the planters.
However, it was common practice for candidates to provide alcohol, otherwise known as “bumbo” to the voters.
In 1755, the then 23-year-old Washington, a first time candidate for the House of Burgesses in Frederick County, suffered a landslide defeat, receiving only 40 of the 581 votes cast. This was due, in large part, to his failure to provide bumbo to the voters.
In 1758, Washington ran again and won. During that election, he supplied 28 gallons of rum, 50 gallons of rum punch, 34 gallons of wine, 46 gallons of beer and 2 gallons of cider--an impressive 160 gallons of liquor to 391 voters. That’s more than a quart and a half per voter. Washington had clearly learned his lesson—because a key to victory was “swilling the planters with bumbo.”
After serving his first term, Washington the Burgess ran again—this time from Fairfax County, which he represented from 1761 to 1775. He served on three committees; Religion; and Propositions and Grievances; and one I serve on today--Privileges and Elections. Washington won the friendship and respect of his colleagues, and built enduring relationships with Virginia leaders who would later become fellow founding fathers.
Washington went on to prove himself—as a force in the Continental Congress, a General and as our first president.
Today, no one has an unkind word to say about the Father of our Country.
But, in his day, President Washington was widely criticized in the press. He was accused of having the style of a monarch. It was said at one point that the presidential mansion in New York City “was surrounded by innumerable multitudes, from day to day buzzing, cursing the president.” The press was a vigilant check on presidential power – just like today!
In 1798, after his retirement, Washington installed a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon and it was very profitable. The distillery produced 12,000 gallons per year. In 1799, Washington wrote to his nephew, “Two hundred gallons of whiskey will be ready this day for your call, and the sooner it is taken the better, as the demand for this article in these parts is brisk.”
The distillery operates once again today and with the governor’s signature, George Washington’s Rye Whiskey is poised to become the official spirit of the Commonwealth.
The story of President Washington is a uniquely American experience. He overcame adversity, he learned lessons, he adapted. We know he rose to become a great General, founding father and our beloved first president.
I move that when we adjourn today, we do so in memory and honor of a great Virginian, President George Washington.