Thursday, December 22, 2005

Did Lincoln Have Mental Problems? Why Did Wilson Fail Us?

Did Lincoln Have Mental Problems? Why Did Wilson Fail Us?Adversities Suffered by U. S. Presidents. This is a column by Allen Cornwell which looks at some of the personal failings of American Presidents.

One of the biggest was alcoholism. Here is the part of the article which focuses on that:

A number of Presidents suffered from alcoholism, including Grant, Buchanan and Franklin Pierce (and probably others). Many Presidents enjoyed drinking and also the business side of spirit-making. George Washington was considered the largest whiskey distiller in the country at that time. He was also known to be a red wine lover, and his monthly wine bill at Mount Vernon was sometimes included more than 100 bottles a month; he entertained, of course –sometimes. Washington was known to personally put away a number of glasses at dinner, and then retire to his study with friends or alone --- and have more. It is also known that Tom Jefferson acted as Washington’s wine advisor since he considered himself an expert in the field and had even started his own winery.

Grant seemed to have a chronic problem that started early on in his military career and continued in the White House and afterward. Although his administration was corrupt, most historians agree that Grant was an honest man, and also a compassionate one, yet one must wonder if he was out of touch or just drunk. Recent historians suggest that Grant really did not have a drinking problem, but instead suffered from stress-induced migraine headaches giving the impression of a “hangover”. While this is a respectable opinion it is difficult to accept this since there are numerous eyewitness accounts of the General being intoxicated.

Franklin Pierce’s story is a sad one. He was known to be inexperienced, but ambitious, and at that time, was the youngest man to be elected President. A train accident in Washington just a month prior to his inauguration changed his administration and life dramatically. The Pierce’s eleven year-old son was crushed to death while in the company of his parents. Mrs. Pierce became a recluse for the remainder of her life, and this horrible incident totally diluted Pierce’s focus and increased his drinking problems. Pierce, like Buchanan, was a President faced with a changing world trying to deal with the issue of slavery, an issue that neither president was strong enough to confront. Pierce’s one-term administration was less than notable, and he became more increasingly out of touch with the country. He is the only sitting President, who desired a second term but was not nominated by his party.

James Buchanan stood at the threshold of the events leading up to the Civil War. There is much speculation regarding Buchanan’s drinking during those years. Some historians note that he was in control of his senses, while others doubt that he could have been. It is not clear how Buchanan’s drinking influenced his decision-making, but he was known to have been kicked out of college because of it. It is interesting to note that during his Presidency on Sunday mornings, he rode his horse over to the Jacob Bailey distillery in Washington to pick up a new 10-gallon cask of whiskey. The President loved entertaining, and he especially enjoyed the great laughs that came when he poured his friends a glass of libation with a label that said “Ole JB’s Whiskey”. Buchanan was an experienced politician and enjoyed taking positions on both sides of a sensitive issue. This approach worked well until it came to slavery, when both parties turned on him. It is interesting to speculate if Buchanan had been strong enough and certainly sober enough to lead, and had taken a position that was heartfelt and not politically motivated, how that would have affected history? One has to wonder about both Pierce and Buchanan and their places in history. Collectively these Presidents served the last eight years prior to the pot boiling over and the start of the American Civil War. What could they have constructively added to defuse the war, if anything? Why were these men so weak, and why did they falter at such a turning point in our history? Was it depression, drinking, or simply a real lack of vision as to what lay ahead?

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