Ulysses Grant: Alcohol

alcohol use
Alcohol plagued Grant, as chronic disease plagues any human. His disease pattern was consistent: "a solitary binge drinker who would not touch a drop of alcohol, then succumb at three- or four-month intervals, usually on the road" 1a. SEE BELOW

A modern biographer, Ron Chernow, concludes:

Alcohol was not a recreation selfishly indulged, but a forbidden impulse against which he struggled for most of his life. ... While drinking almost never interfered with his official duties, it haunted his career and trailed him everywhere, an infuriating, ever-present ghost he could not shake. It influenced how people perceived him and deserves close attention. As with so many problems in his life, Grant managed to attain mastery over alcohol in the long haul, a feat as impressive as any of his wartime victories. 1a
Chernow admits, however, that this is not the last word: "a thoroughgoing account is needed to settle the matter" 1a.

1852, in Oregon Territory: Chernow "drank less often than other soldiers."

1850s: Henry C. Hodges: "He would perhaps go on two or three sprees a year, but was always open to reason, and when spoken to on the subject, would own up and promise to stop drinking, which he did." 1b

1850s: Robert Macfeely: "Liquor seemed a virulent poison to him, and yet he had a fierce desire for it. One glass would show on him, [his speech slurred,] and two or three would make him stupid." 1b

July 1853: Henry C. Hodges: "Grant got on one of his small sprees, which annoyed McClellan exceedingly, and in my opinion he never quite forgave Grant for it." 1c

Circa 1854, at Ft. Humboldt (an isolated California outpost where Grant had little to do): Lewis Cass Hunt: Grant "used to go on long sprees till his whole nature would rebel and then he would be sick." 1d

First half 1854: Grant: "the vice of intemperance had not a little to do with my decision to resign" from the Army. "When I have nothing to do I get blue and depressed, I have a natural craving for drink, when I was on the coast I got in a depressed condition and got to drinking." Chernow examines this period of Grant's life in detail. 1e

Generalization: In his Memoirs, "never breathed a syllable about his drinking problems." 1e

Generalization: Chernow: "lifelong tendency to engage in sporadic binge drinking" 1b

Generalization: Chernow: "he seldom drank with his family around" 1f

Cited Sources
  1. Chernow, Ron. Grant. New York: Penguin Press, 2017.
    a  p.xxiii  b  p.80  c  p.81  d  p.84  e  p.85  f  p.98

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