5 Famous Figures Who Were Drunk While Changing History

You didn't know these major historical figures were drinking while altering the course of world events.

A new season of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” returns this week to teach us about some famous (and infamous) people and events through the eyes of drunken storytellers. But even though the storytellers are trashed, the historical figures themselves rarely are. So we thought it’d be fun to highlight a few actual drunks who managed to change the course of human events, because of (or in spite of) their uninhibited imbibing.

1. Paul Revere

Paul Revere Flickr: Andrew Malone

Driving drunk is illegal nowadays, which is obviously a good thing, but a drunken horse ride might’ve made our democracy possible in the late 1700s. It was then that silversmith Paul Revere, emboldened on some local rum, rode his horse through the streets of Lexington, loudly warning Sam Adams and John Hancock (along with everybody else in town, probably) that the British were coming…to tax that rum.

2. Beethoven

Beethoven Getty Images

The German composer Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most influential musical geniuses of all time. But what was most influencing this piano virtuoso? When it came to his famed “Symphony No. 7,” the answer was most likely liquor. In fact, a music reviewer of the time, Friedrich Wieck, noted that the general consensus among the public was that Beethoven most certainly composed “No. 7″‘s outer movement while “trukenen Zustande” (in a drunken state).

3. Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)

General Grant Getty Images

Shiloh was the bloodiest battle of the U.S. Civil War, and General U.S. Grant was almost certainly drunk for it. Actually, he was almost certainly drunk for the entirety of the conflict. You’d think that teetotaler President Abraham Lincoln would care about such a prominent employee of his being a drunk. Instead, the great man was so pleased with Grant’s performance that he noted, “I should like to know what brand of whiskey General Grant drinks, for I should like to send a barrel of it to every general in the Union army.” (It was Old Crow, if you’re curious.)

4. Richard Nixon

50th Anniversary of the Women's National Press Club Dinner Getty Images

Unlike all the aforementioned historical figures, Tricky Dick’s love for the sauce actually prevented some history from being made — during a key moment in the Vietnam War, Nixon had told his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger about how he wanted to “nuke them.” But as the crisis unfolded, Nixon was too drunk to come to the White House phone, and nuclear war was averted. Cheers to that.

5. Hannibal And His Elephants

Portrait Of Hannibal On Horseback Getty Images

The Carthaginian commander is considered one of the great military strategists of all time, partly because during the first major battle of the Second Punic War, he came up with the brilliant idea to get his elephants drunk so they would stampede his Roman adversaries. They did! Carthage won the battle, and we’re guessing Hannibal himself might have celebrated with a little hootch that day. Or a nice Chianti.

Aaron Goldfarb is the author of "How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide" and "Drunk Drinking."
@aarongoldfarb