Abraham Lincoln? Charles G. Halpine? Anonymous? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a brilliant anecdote about President Lincoln defending General Grant from an accusation of drunkenness. I have read conflicting statements about whether this anecdote is accurate. Perhaps you could examine this tale for the next Presidents’ Day holiday?
Quote Investigator: The story of Abraham Lincoln’s humorous response to criticisms of General Ulysses S. Grant’s imbibing is famous. The earliest instance QI has found appeared in the New York Herald on September 18, 1863: 1
After the failure of his first experimental explorations around Vicksburg, a committee of abolition war managers waited upon the President and demanded the General’s removal, on the false charge that he was a whiskey drinker, and little better than a common drunkard. “Ah!” exclaimed Honest Old Abe, “you surprise me, gentlemen. But can you tell me where he gets his whiskey?” “We cannot, Mr. President. But why do you desire to know?” “Because, if I can only find out, I will send a barrel of this wonderful whiskey to every general in the army.”
On October 30, 1863 a compact version of the story was printed in the New York Times: 2
When some one charged Gen. Grant, in the President’s hearing, with drinking too much liquor, Mr. Lincoln, recalling Gen. Grant’s successes, said that if he could find out what brand of whisky Grant drank, he would send a barrel of it to all the other commanders.
This popular story has been disseminated in numerous books and periodicals from 1863 to the present day. But testimony regarding its originality and veracity is complex and contradictory. Some individuals have claimed that they heard the joke directly from Lincoln, and other individuals have stated that Lincoln denied telling the joke. In addition, critics have questioned the novelty of the jest.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1863 September 18, New York Herald, The President’s Habeas Corpus Proclamation and the Act of Congress on the Subject, Quote Page 6, Column 4 and 5, New York. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1863 October 30, New York Times, Blair’s Bitters, Quote Page 4, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1863 November 2, Daily Constitutional Union (Evening Union), Blair’s Bitters, Quote Page 1, Column 5, Washington D. C. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1863 November 2, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ultra Temperance, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank) ↩