Did George Washington raise hemp? Did he smoke it? Was he gay?
The easy answers are definitely, probably, and maybe.
The questions arise with pre-publication of the shocking satire Passions of the Patriots by Thomas Paine, which opens with Le General in the hemp-filled embrace of his beloved Marquis de Lafayette.
As Washington's February 22nd birthday approaches, his personal habits say much about today's America.
Like virtually every Revolutionary farmer, the Father of Our Country grew prodigious quantities of hemp. It was (is) a profitable cash crop, easy to grow, with scant demands for cultivation, watering or fertilizing. As a hardy perennial, it needs no year-after-year replanting, nor pesticides or herbicides.
Early American farmers used cannabis for cloth, rope, sails, paper and much more. At various times its cultivation has been mandatory. Kansas was virtually carpeted with it during World War Two. In today's conversion to a Solartopian economy, the cellulose of its stems and leaves, and the oil from its seeds, could be essential for green ethanol and bio-diesel fuels.
Washington and his fellow planter/presidents Tom Jefferson and James Madison would be astonished to hear that hemp is illegal. These early chief executives would certainly have told President Obama that a re-legalized cannabis crop would mean billions of dollars in desperately needed farm revenue throughout the United States.
As for smoking, I know of no significant communication among the Founders extolling their "great weed."
But in one of his meticulous agricultural journals, dated 1765, Washington regrets being late to separate his male hemp plants from his females. For a master farmer like George, there would be little reason to do this except to make the females ripe for smoking.
The medicinal uses of cannabis were known to the ancient Chinese. Thousands of years later, it's inconceivable American growers would not indulge in its recreational powers.
As for Washington's sexual preferences, his marriage to Martha was sometimes suspect. Historians joke that he did not marry her for her money, but rather for her stocks, bonds, land and slaves. In a letter to a friend, he complained that there was "not much fire between the sheets."
Ben Franklin, the ultimate liberal, loved so many women he joked that the great miracle in his life was that he contracted no related diseases. Tom Jefferson impregnated his slave mistress Sally Hemings as many as seven times. From Andrew Jackson to Bill Clinton, American presidents have been infamous for their sexual dalliances.
George Washington did not lack for female companionship. But his deepest affections may have been for his fellow warriors. His beloved brothers in arms included Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton. Both were married with children, but both excited his strongest comradely devotion.
That the general had no biological children of his own may have been due to a fever early in his life that could have rendered him sterile. Or maybe not. It's hard to imagine a gay George Washington in the 1790s. But in the 1990s, things might have been different.
The modern anti-choice assault, including California's Proposition 8, flies in the face of all Washington and the Founders dreamed of for this nation.
Today's puritannical "sunshine patriots" seem hell-bent on running our personal lives. But America has never been about that.
Let them contemplate an image of our first president, fresh from the battlefields and the hemp fields, desperate to marry his fellow winter soldier.
Harvey Wasserman's History of the United States is available on his website, as is Passions of the Patriots, by Thomas Paine.
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