How many times in the past few weeks have you heard or thought about how brilliant our Founding Fathers were? It’s hard to believe the foresight and wisdom they possessed and the brilliance it took to imagine what the future could look like.
Here’s a little known fact – in addition to being fans of a functioning democracy, the Founding Fathers were huge supporters of hemp. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were all hemp cultivators who supported industrial production and some of our forefathers even enjoyed the physical benefits of cannabis.
In honor of these wonderful men (and one pretty special woman), let’s take a trip through the history of hemp through the eyes of our Founding Fathers.
Our very first President is known to have said of hemp, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere.” In a letter to one of his plantation field managers at Mount Vernon, George Washington wrote, “Mr. Pearce, on my farming plantation(s), I wish for you to make the most of hemp and plant it everywhere on my farmlands that haven’t been previously reserved for other things.”
Although George Washington’s initial interest in hemp was as a “cash” crop, he eventually decided not to cultivate it as a cash crop and grew it to meet the needs of his own huge plantation. Hemp was used at Mount Vernon for rope, thread for sewing sacks, canvas, and for repairing the nets used at the fisheries. Washington’s diaries and farm reports indicate that hemp grew at all five of his Mount Vernon farms.
Although it’s been widely reported, there is no truth to the statement that George Washington grew marijuana. His hemp crop was definitely the industrial strain used for the production of rope, thread, canvas, and other industrial applications.
In addition to being an inventor, Benjamin Franklin was a printer and owned one of the first paper mills that processed hemp into parchment. As a result, many first drafts that later became the building blocks of America were printed on hemp paper. It’s been reported that drafts of The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”, the Federalist (and Anti-Federalist) Papers, the Articles of Confederation, and of course the United States Constitution were all written on hemp paper.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the original draft of the U.S. Constitution on hemp paper. Jefferson was very vocal in his appreciation of the plant. “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country,” he wrote. A dedicated proponent of the versatile plant, it could be said that Jefferson was also a “drug trafficker” (a little harsh and misrepresentative, in my opinion) having once smuggled hemp seeds from China into France while serving as a foreign ambassador. Jefferson also invented a tool for crushing the hemp plants’ stems during fiber processing.
John Adams, the 2nd president of the United States, believed that hemp was vital to the creation of resources, tools, and the health of the people of the newly founded nation.
Dr. Frank Burke, president of the American Historical Reference Society and a consultant for the Smithsonian Institute, counted seven early presidents as cannabis smokers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce. “Early letters from our founding fathers refer to the pleasures of hemp smoking,” said Burke.
Pierce, Taylor and Jackson, all military men, apparently smoked it with their troops. Surprisingly, cannabis was twice as popular among American soldiers in the Mexican War as in Vietnam. Pierce wrote to his family that it was “about the only good thing” about that war.
And finally……Betsy Ross?
It’s been said by many that the very first U.S. flag sewn by Betsy Ross was made with hemp. Although there isn’t any hard evidence to support this contention, historians support this theory based on historical word of mouth.
Whatever the actual particular facts, it’s a certainty that, in addition to their brilliance and patriotism, many of our first American politicians supported the use of hemp. Let’s hope the trend continues with our new administration! Happy Inauguration Day!