Which U.S. president was addicted to cocaine?
Presidents of the United States aren’t strangers to the liquor cabinet (especially FDR’s bad boozin’ self—sometimes makes you wonder if his wheelchair was really due to polio). But, POTUS fondness for whiskey and beer aside, there was one commander-in-chief who, likely with an assist from none other than Mark Twain, took his partying to another level entirely.
After decades of confusing snuff and cigars for breakfast, 18th president Ulysses S. Grant picked up a painful case of throat cancer in his twilight years. The former Union Army general spent his dying days finishing his memoir, a two-volume military autobiography (now on Kindle!) published by Mark Twain’s Charles L. Webster & Co. imprint in 1885, while constantly peppering his larynx with cocaine. The retiree was in miserable condition, and his narcotic of choice kept him committed to eight-hour writing days.
However at age 63, the two-term President wasn’t poking snot with a rolled up $50 bill. He ingested his blow via a “French wine tonic” called Vin Mariani. The coca leaf-spiked concoction fueled ol’ Lyss to finish what became an instant bestseller that was hailed by critics. Each day Grant went through multiple bottles, each containing six milligrams of cocaine per fluid ounce. He pretty much slept the rest of the time.
The New York Times reported multiple accounts of Grant’s doctor as his main supplier. On Easter Sunday 1885, the President’s throat “was gargled and dressed in cocaine.” On April 11, the Gray Lady noted the patient “has been ‘better’ at various times only in the sense that his decline has been stayed because of drugs.”
Given the amount that the man was ingesting, his physician likely wasn’t the only one providing the juice. Twain, whose publishing house was still in its first year, later admitted to aspirations of becoming a drug dealer. In his autobiography The Turning Point of My Life (1910), he shared “a longing to ascend the Amazon. Also with a longing to open up a trade in coca with all the world.”
Grant died on July 23, 1885. Julia Boggs Dent Grant, his 59 year-old widow, raked in $450,000 in royalties from the cocaine-fueled Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, which, according to the Internet’s reliable Inflation Calculator, translates to approximately $11 million today. Thanks, yayo!