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Governor and President Frank Delanor Roosevelt’s cocktail set, on display in the Spirited Republic exhibit, represents friendship. After work each day as a governor and as a president, he invited his staff to “The Children’s Hour,” a nightly post-work cocktail hour. Roosevelt had two rules, he made the drinks (rumored to be strong and not very good) and no business discussions. It was a chance for the work environment to encourage friendship. Sounds great. But Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t necessarily a fan. Her father and brother were alcoholics. A cocktail set represents different things to different people. The upcoming National Archives exhibit Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History does a fine job highlighting what alcohol represents to this country.

FDR cocktail set

This country was founded by men who did not embrace temperance. Revolutionary War soldiers were promised a ration of spruce beer. American’s in the 1830’s consumed three times what we drink today. Throughout prohibition people drank thanks to home brewing and free samples at wineries (sound familiar?). Once prohibition ended local distilleries and breweries thrived (sound familiar?). In the later half of last century, Americans spoke more openly and honestly about addiction and substance abuse. All of this is represented in the Spirited Republic exhibit.

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One of the highlights of the exhibit include labels from the first two years following prohibition. Modern liquors like Southern Comfort and Bacardi are represented as well as small, local products. An interesting label comes from Night Cap, “The Whiskey With The Glow.” The whiskey didn’t glow, but the cap did. Literally. 80 years later, it still glows.

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Another aspect of prohibition that tends to be forgotten are the Federal Prohibition Agents. The certificates of four Prohibition Agents are on display. One is for Daisy Simpson, one of the few female agents.

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The reason to visit the National Archives and this exhibit is a letter from Johnny Cash to Betty Ford. The February 15, 1984 note is both a thank you to the former first lady and a declining of an invitation for a public speaking event about the Betty Ford Clinic. In it, Cash says, “I’m still a milk-fed baby trying to find my way.” Cash, like most Americans, had a love/hate relationship with alcohol and other substances.

Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History at National Archives will be open March 6, 2015 through January 10, 2016. Admission to the National Archives Museum is always free. All images courtesy of the National Archives.

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