Hemp and Our Founding Fathers


One of the greatest controversies related to hemp is the origin of it in U.S. history. Although the facts show that hemp was a cash crop that helped build our nation, there are myths to what particular uses the founding fathers had in mind for the hemp plant. From speculative quotes to actual diary entries, more and more people are curious about the connection hemp and the founding fathers and early settlements share.

Germination of Hemp in Colonial America

As far as any record shows we have pretty much depended on hemp, at least for the way greater portion of our history. With a plant that produces not only fiber for clothing and materials, but seeds for food and such, there has been no reason not to cultivate it.

As far as the history of hemp on this rock we now call America, hemp was planted from day one it seems. Arriving with the Puritans in Colonial America, hemp was planted almost immediately to supply materials such as lines, sails and other things for the Mayflower. At that time all sea vessels carried some stock of hemp seed. Being the fiber of choice it was quickly spread throughout the colonies.

In 1619, Jamestown announced the order for all farmers to grow hemp seed, and as more colonies popped up hemp cultivation laws became more mandatory. Cannabis hemp quickly became legal tender in most of the early settler days of 1631 into the early 1800s. Taxes were paid with hemp for over two hundred years, and between the 17th and 18th centuries it was illegal NOT to grow hemp in some areas. Some colonies even enforced jail sentences for those who did not participate in what was quickly becoming a patriotic act, especially during the revolutionary war.

America’s Founding Fathers Spread the Seed

It is well known that a few of our founding fathers were big proponents of growing hemp everywhere. A few in particular such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin not only spoke great things of the plant, but actually took part in the creation of a hemp industry.

Thomas Jefferson received the United States first patent; A hemp threshing machine. He also smuggled new strains of the cannabis seed from China, to France, Then to America, all awhile serving as ambassador to France. Jefferson also wrote about the advantages of hemp over tobacco, in use, labor and for the sake of the land, probably on hemp paper.

Benjamin Franklin owned one of the first paper mills that processed hemp into parchment, that of which was used in many first drafts that later became the documents that America stands by. The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”, the Federalist (and Anti-Federalist) Papers, the Articles of Confederation, and of course the United States Constitution were all written on hemp paper.

George Washington not only grew hemp for clothes (home spun), he actually has a quote from his diary from August 7, 1765: “— began to separate the male from the female hemp at Do — rather too late.” It is debatable, but today that technique is used solely for drug potency in marijuana. There are a few trace evidences to the idea that our founding fathers smoked hemp for pleasure, but it seems likely.

Were the Presidents Hemp Smokers?

Dr. Burke, who is a president of the American Historical Reference Society, has noted seven of the earliest presidents as hemp smokers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce. According to Dr. Burke, “Early letters from our founding fathers refer to the pleasures of hemp smoking,”

After all Thomas Jefferson smuggled seeds from Asia which is believed to be the origin of cannabis. For thousands of years before Americans were growing hemp, Asians were smoking it. It’s hard to say, but if Jefferson was aware of the hemp culture in Asia, one would think he would have seen the delight in smoking it as well, and thus provoked him to bring the Asian strain of cannibus to America.

It is hard for some people to think of our first presidents and leaders as hemp smokers, especially with today’s view on slow witted people whom smoke marijuana. Yet some people look at the views of those days furiously scratch their head in wonder to why such once necessities to build this nation, are being neglected. The hemp industry today is a vast ocean, and the US will not jump ship and swim freely.