The Gambling Revolutionists

September 16th, 2017
Back The Gambling Revolutionists

History is a marvelous teacher. Whenever I hear a preacher denouncing gambling as moral debauchery or a sin, or I see a politician on television trying to keep people from playing poker or gambling on the Internet, I have to laugh and say, 'What hypocrisy!'

Go back in history, folks. You will discover that America's Founding Fathers, almost to a man, were gamblers who would bet on almost anything.

George Washington made his first wager at age 16. He won a bet against his sister-in-law. Following that in 1748, Washington beat his brother at Loo, a card game imported from England.

While Washington admired cards as a game of chance, he loved horses, horse racing, and cockfights. When he was organizing his revolutionary army, he spotted a fine gray Arabian stallion owned by a cavalry officer.

Ranger, the horse, had been owned by the Sultan of Morocco who had given it to a British captain as a gift. The officer had left it on American soil for breeding purposes. Washington bought the horse and crossed it with an Arabian mare, Othello, to sire Magnolio, a thoroughbred that raced and lost at a race track in Alexandria, A. The winning horse was owned by Washington's friend and sometimes rival Thomas Jefferson.

After the race, the Father of our country cut his losses by selling Magnolio to his friend Henry 'ight Horse' Harry for several thousand acres of prime land in Kentucky.

The Founding Fathers and their wealthy friends enjoyed staging races and other gambling events so they could show off their wealth and their ladies. The women would wear the latest fashions from London and Paris, while the men would drink, smoke cigars, and wager on the outcomes.

Most of the horses were ridden by their servants or slaves. A visitor from England noted that Virginians were addicted to 'gambling, horse racing, cockfighting, cards and other forms of dissipation.'

During the middle 1700s, men would bet on anything from jumping frogs to fighting cocks and even bears that battled men. Life was not easy during those early years in the new land called America. Gambling imitated real life and it was followed to the hilt.

One of the most popular gambling games was cockfighting. The owners would raise and train magnificent fighting roosters that they could take to an arena. Surrounded by fashionably dressed men and women, cockfighting became a sport of male virility, where the bets ran high and the liquor flowed freely.


Cockfighting became so popular that the president of William and Mary College found it necessary to ban students from participating in the sport. This occurred in 1772 when Washington was 20.

After Washington was placed in charge of the revolutionary army, he issued an order banning his soldiers and officers from playing cards or other games of chance, fearing it would disrupt morale. His order had little effect on the men who loved to gamble when they were not exchanging fire with the British Redcoats.

During Valley Forge, a soldier noted in his diary that the men gambled for acorns in order to fill their empty stomachs.

Wily Ben Franklin was placed in charge of financing the war and he paid for the Continental Army's cannons by holding a lottery. And when Washington was preparing his army to cross the Delaware River, he wrote 'Victory or Death' on a slip of paper, according to Philip G. Smucker, a journalist and university professor who researched and wrote a book titled, 'Riding With George.'

After the war ended and America became an independent nation, Washington continued his gambling activities, though on a smaller scale. He tried to dissuade a nephew from gambling in 1783 when he wrote to him that a successful gambler often pushes his good luck until it is reversed.

Washington was not a big bettor, but he loved the action -- a love that continues to dominate the people of the nation he helped found over 250 years ago.

“While Washington admired cards as a game of chance, he loved horses, horse racing, and cockfights.”

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