About the National Archives

Archivist's remarks at opening of "Spirited Republic" exhibit

Monday, March 9, 2015, at 7 p.m.

Who is the Archivist?

David S. Ferriero

David S. Ferriero The Archivist of the United States is the head of our agency, appointed by the President of the United States.

The AOTUS Blog
What's an Archivist?

Good evening. I'm David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States.

A few years ago, we presented an exhibit called "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" which examined the Federal Government's involvement in the food we eat. The success of that exhibit prompted some of us to ask "why not drinks"? As a fine meal is accompanied by fine drink, we now present the complement to "What's Cooking"—"Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History."

"Spirited Republic" uses National Archives holdings to examine the production, consumption, and regulation of alcohol throughout U.S. history. The featured items illustrate the wide variety of views Americans have held about alcohol and show how government programs and policies have changed over time.

A graphic example of such a shift is presented as soon as you enter the exhibit. As you study the rise and fall of alcohol consumption over the decades, you may be surprised by the amount consumed in the early days of our nation.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, alcohol was part of everyday life—even in the military. In the U.S. Navy, sailors were entitled to a daily spirit ration from 1794 until 1862. For some, though, that was not enough, and one of my favorite items in this exhibit is an 1848 list of sailors flogged for attempting to get a second ration.

Another document that I like to point out is an 1803 petition to Congress for a tax refund. Tennessee planter and whiskey maker Andrew Jackson had paid his whiskey tax in January 1799 but asked for a refund because his stills had burned the following June. Congress rejected his petition, but Jackson went on to be elected President in 1828.

The records in the National Archives tell many stories. We are privileged to be able to share some of those stories with you through our exhibits and publications. The documents and artifacts chosen for "Spirited Republic" show us the many facets of Americans' attitudes toward alcohol and the actions taken by citizens and the government.

Every exhibit we present is the result of thoughtful planning and teamwork. I want to thank the curator of "Spirited Republic," Bruce Bustard; Lisa Royse, our Director of Exhibits; and the entire exhibit team for creating this remarkable exhibit in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery.

I also wish to thank the sponsors of this exhibit: HISTORY, the Lawrence F. O'Brien Family, The Tasting Panel Magazine, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, the Beer Institute, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

We are grateful to the National Archives Foundation for supporting this exhibit and our many other public outreach projects. The Foundation has long supported us in our mission to serve the public and increase awareness of our remarkable holdings. We are truly grateful for the support and enthusiasm of the Foundation's board members and its dedicated staff, which allows us to educate, entertain, and enlighten through our exhibits and public programs.

Please welcome the Chair and President of the Board of the National Archives Foundation, A'Lelia Bundles.