Hemp Advice From Benjamin Franklin's Paper 

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Jan. 4 2013 8:00 AM

Advice on Hemp From Benjamin Franklin's Paper 

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

The stoners in Dazed and Confused had one thing right: Colonial Americans, including Virginians Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, did raise hemp (though for practical, not party-at-the-moon-tower, purposes).

This 1729 page from Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette, held at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, shows that hemp production was a topic of concern among northern farmers as well.

Advertisement

Since copyright laws were notoriously weak in the 18th century, the Gazette, like other publications of its time, often reprinted passages from encyclopedias and literature when news was scarce. This front page features an excerpt from the Universal Dictionary (published by Englishman Ephraim Chambers) on the subject of hemp—included, according to an editorial note, “at the Desire of some of our Country Subscribers.”

Chambers lauded the plant as “of great Use in the Arts and Manufactories,” and he outlined its qualities, giving the reader a quick history of its production and role in agriculture during the classical era.

He suggested a couple of medical applications for the crop: “the Seed is said to have the Faculty of abating Venereal Desires; and its Decoction in Milk, is recommended against the Jaundice.” The “Juice” of the plant could help “Deafness.”

Despite these positive applications, Chambers added, the “Powder or Flower, mix'd with any ordinary Liquor, is said to turn those who drink thereof, stupid.”

There's no mention of smoking anywhere in the entry.

Pennsylvania Gazette front page

GLC 03438.42. Pennsylvania Gazette, Issue 42, page 1. (Courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 5:39 PM Whole Foods Desperately Wants Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.