2015 Press Releases

National Archives Opens -Spirited Republic- Alcohol Exhibit March 6, 2015
Press Release · Thursday, December 4, 2014

Washington, DC

Groundbreaking exhibit shows government’s conflicting relationship with alcohol



The National Archives announced today that it will open a new exhibition on March 6, 2015, titled “Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Museum. “Spirited Republic” invites visitors to look at the government’s tolerance, oversight, and control of alcohol throughout our history.

Spirited Republic” is free and open to the public, and will be on display in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, through January 10, 2016. The National Archives Museum is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, except Thanksgiving and December 25. "Spirited Republic" is presented in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of HISTORY®, the Lawrence F. O'Brien Family, The Tasting Panel Magazine, and Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America. Additional exhibition funding provided by the Beer Institute, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.


Since the first European settlers, Americans have enjoyed a drink. At times, many of us have enjoyed a lot of drinks. But other Americans, fearing the harm alcohol would do to society and to individuals, have tried to stop our drinking or limit who, when, and where we could consume alcohol.

These two, different views of alcoholic beverages run throughout American history. Sometimes they have existed in relative peace; other times they have been at war. “Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History” uses National Archives documents and artifacts to reveal the evolution of the government's alcohol policy over time, and to illustrate the wide variety of views about alcohol held by Americans. The stories they tell echo today’s debates over regulating drinking and the legalization of other drugs.

Learn about Federal government’s efforts, successes, and failures to change our drinking habits, from whiskey rations to the Continental Army to the Whiskey Rebellion to Prohibition and beyond. And discover the Founding Fathers’ many alcohol connections!

Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History” will share nearly 100 original holdings drawn from the billions of government records at the National Archives.

Highlights include:

  • A 1792 note from President George Washington to his Attorney General giving his opinion that those responsible for the Whiskey Rebellion should be prosecuted vigorously;
  • An 1848 list of punishments on board a U.S. Navy frigate, including flogging for alcohol related misconduct;
  • A large graphic model showing how much Americans drank during US history.
  • Landmark documents will include the 18th Amendment, the Volstead Act, and the 21st Amendment;
  • Four stations will highlight National Archives' audio visual holdings including newsreels from the prohibition and post-prohibition years, public service announcements warning about the dangers of drunk driving, and a film montage of presidential toasts.
  • President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s cocktail shaker; glasses from presidential toasts, a first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”), and a Betty Ford Center serenity prayer coin;
  • An 1843 petition against the “spirit ration” that measures nearly 11 feet by 8 inches;
  • Prohibition-era prescriptions for medicinal alcohol; and
  • Design patents for temperance drinks, a 19th century “gold cure” for alcoholism, original labels for Repeal Beer, Bacardi Rum, Smirnoff Vodka, and Picnic Beer.

Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History” is divided into four sections:

  • “Good Creature of God” covers positive American attitudes about drink; drink and the American Revolution; alcohol and the Early Republic; alcohol taxation, regulation, and commerce; and includes early alcohol-related patent drawings.
  • Demonizing Drink shows the rise of temperance reform and the shift toward prohibition; early treatment for alcoholism; the fight to end the “spirit ration;” and the fight for and against the 18th Amendment.
  • Sober Nation details the efforts to enforce the 18th Amendment shows the many ways people circumvented the Volstead Act; ...and the Prohibition agents; Prohibition enforcement
  • Concerned Acceptance covers the repeal of prohibition; alcohol and World War II; alcohol advertising and trademarks; alcohol as a public health issue; Alcoholics Anonymous; diplomatic toasting, and alcohol in the White House; and examples of documents from organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD).

Drink in “Spirited Republic” to learn the fascinating history behind the government’s involvement with alcohol, and discover answers to the following:

  • Which President advocated proving troops with alcohol, stating “the benefits arising from the moderate use of strong Liquor have been experienced by all armies, and are not to be disputed.”
  • How many bottles of wine and kegs of beer did Meriwether Lewis bring on his for his Expedition to the West in 1803?
  • Which Prohibition Bureau agent, who worked previously for the San Francisco Police morals squad, was known as “lady hooch hunter”?
  • Whose Presidential candidate’s campaign posters urged voters to “Do Your Bit for Repeal . . .”?

# # #

For more information about “Spirited Republic” or to obtain images of items included in the exhibition, call the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.

Connect with the National Archives on:
Twitter: @USNatArchives
Facebook: USNationalArchives
Tumblr: http://usnatarchives.tumblr.com


This page was last reviewed on June 5, 2018.
Contact us with questions or comments.