Rep. John Smilie to Rep. William Lyman, March 1794

I put it to the Gentleman from Carolina that he must imbibe.

My Dear Mr. Lyman,

I am in receipt of your letter from 12 February. Indeed, I am not looking forward to this so-called “State of our Union” address that Mr. President Washington is commanded to give us. Like you, I think the Constitution was pretty much perfect, except for this one little thing. I’m sure future generations will fix this one small issue.

In order to make this interminable speech pass more hastily, I am proposing we join with some of the other members in what I am taking to call “The Imbibing of Beverages of an Alcoholic Nature during the Oration on the State of our Union, for fun and entertainment.” Basically, we should all take a tankard (or several) of our finest whiskies to the capitol. When the President regales us with his surely tired rhetorical flourishes, we quaff. Here are the rules so far.

Quaff once when:

  • The good Mr. President makes any mention of standardization of weights and measures
  • He determines to dictate naval policy towards the lesser islands
  • He speaks ill of our French brethren in their revolution
  • He determines that trade policy must suit loomspinners and shipping merchants of the northern states

Quaff twice when:

  • The honorable Vice-President Mr. Adams falls asleep
  • The good First Lady Mrs. Washington is cited for her charity work
  • The President reminds us of the spirit of Valley Forge
  • The President mentions by name an old lady who lost her farm or an orphaned child who worked his way up to own 50 slaves

Finish your tankard if:

  • The President calls for an increase in the issuance of Letters of Marque
  • He calls Jefferson a dangerous atheist
  • His teeth fall out mid-sentence

What say you, my good man?

Yours respectfully,

Rep. John Smilie of Pennsylvania


This letter found its way into our collection because it marks the invention of that noble pastime: the drinking game. Although the Russians will claim they invented it in the 17th century, this letter proves it was the Americans. The 17th century Russians missed a key element of the game, in that they were just drinking all of the time.

It is not a coincidence that drinking games came about during the Age of Democracy. Everyone getting their fair chance to speak could be excruciatingly boring and our forefathers needed a way to liven things up a bit. Of course, in those days, most of the Congressional representatives made it a point to be drunk during any proceedings, calling anyone who suggested they go home and sober up “a filthy redcoat.”

Today, drinking games are a fundamental part of American culture, taking place during bad movies, bat mitzvahs, weddings, standardized tests, classes taught by teachers with large breasts, laundry day, and of course, other drinking games.


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