May 12-13: sowed hemp at muddy hole by swamp.
August 7: began to separate the male from the female hemp—rather too late.
While it is unlikely that George Washington, who penned these diary notes 200 years ago. smoked any of the scraggly rope-dope he was growing on his Mount Vernon plantation, he certainly dreamed of hemp as a cash crop. After all, it had a solid foreign market and was perfect for cottage industry, basket-making and such. He won over Thomas Jefferson, who began importing hemp seeds to Monticello, but failed to win the support of early American farmers, who favored tobacco cultivation. If, by some historical quirk, they had instead followed Washington’s advice, early U.S. history might have been considerably headier.
As it turned out not until the 19th century did Americans—including presidents—really turn on. The patent-medicine boom in the mid 1800s was largely responsible: Virtually everyone sampled various opium-, cannabis- and cocaine-based remedies and elixirs. If the president had the flu, a stomach ache, piles or a hangover, the prescribed remedy was tincture of opium: laudanum. Also prescribed for all manner of “female complaints,” laudanum found its way into first ladies’ medicine chests too. A century before Betty Ford got strung out on Valium and vodka, Mary Todd Lincoln was portrayed by presidential biographer William H. Herdon as a virtual patent-medicine junkie.
On the whole, however, records of bummers on these 19th-century elixirs are far outweighed by the good trips. Ulysses S. Grant, burned out by years of boozing, was miraculously revitalized near the end of his life by daily doses of Mariani tea, one of chemist Angelo Mariani’s delightful cocaine-based products. It so bolstered the aging ex-president that he was able to put in hours of work a day on his memoirs, valued as one of the finest accounts of the Civil War.
During the 1880s, coca wine, another Mariani tonic, enjoyed unsurpassed popularity on the patent-medicine market. The enterprising Mariani eventually rounded up glowing endorsements from the prince of Wales, the czar and czarina of Russia, the kings of Norway and Sweden, and Pope Leo XIII. In the United States, Pres. William McKinley’s secretary noted that a case of Vin Mariani had received an enthusiastic reception from the president.