3 Ways Hemp Shaped America
The ever-growing hemp market may be making headlines today, but back in American Revolutionary Days, hemp was literally everywhere. From the hemp-based ropes and sails on the ships that brought over the first colonists, to the hemp paper the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were drafted on, hemp has always been a part of the American experience.
“Hemp has always been a part of the American experience.”
Here are three key ways hemp helped shape America. Some of them might surprise you!
1. Hemp Helped Us Become Independent
As soon as the Colonists hit American shores, they were required to grow hemp. The main goal: To supply the massive British navy with the ropes, sailcloth and riggings it needed to conquer the world. One estimate suggests that the English fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 required 10,000 acres of cultivated hemp!
But hemp also provided other products that sustained the fledgling colonies: fiber for cloth and paper, oil for fuel, paint and medicines. It even helped improve the soil it was grown in. The crop was so valuable, some farmers were even allowed to pay their taxes in hemp.
Later, as the colonists began to chafe against British rule and boycott British goods, hemp allowed them to substitute their own homegrown products for British ones. Homespun hemp clothing became de rigueur in a “Buy Local” way: In 1774, Virginia freeholders declared that “to be clothed in Manufactures fabricated in the Colony ought to be considered as a Badge of Distinction and Respect, and true Patriotism.”
"Wearing hemp-based clothing became “a Badge of Distinction and Respect, and true Patriotism.”
And of course, as the Revolutionary War brewed, the colonists needed hemp to clothe their own soldiers and rig their own navy’s ships to fight against the Brits. During wartime, there were at least 18 hemp rope-making operations in Virginia alone, and the state produced over 5000 tons of hemp.
2. The Founding Fathers Were Hemp Fans
With hemp being such a vital crop, it’s no surprise that the country’s first 3 Presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams—were also hemp farmers. (Of course, it must be acknowledged that these founding fathers, being slave owners, weren’t actually doing the farming themselves.)
Washington, who predicted hemp would be more valuable than tobacco, mentioned hemp in his diaries more than 90 times. Jefferson, who mostly used his crop to produce clothing and textiles, also sung its praises: “Hemp is abundantly productive and will grow forever on the same spot,” he wrote in a letter to a fellow farmer. The ever-inventive 2nd President even created a “hemp break” device to separate the plant’s stalks to make processing easier, though he didn’t patent it.
“George Washington mentioned hemp in his diaries more than 90 times.”
Ben Franklin also farmed hemp. As the owner of one of the nation’s first paper mills and the publisher of several newspapers and books (most famously, Poor Richard’s Almanack), he likely used lots of hemp in his papermaking and printing operations.
Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and other Revolutionary leaders didn’t know about CBD, one of hemp’s most important compounds (that discovery didn’t happen until around 1940). But we have a feeling they’d be all over it if they knew.
Why? History tells us these founding fathers were well-informed, open-minded and health-conscious. We think they’d appreciate that Caliper CBD Dissolvable Powder is an easy way to add wellness to a busy life. And they’d especially like how it mixes instantly and tastelessly with liquids–including tea, the most revolutionary of beverages!
3. The Revolution was Drafted on Hemp
While he wasn’t a hemp farmer, James Madison, America’s 4th President, was no doubt a major hemp paper user. Best known as the “Father of the U.S. Constitution” and a delegate to the Revolutionary Virginia Convention, the prolific writer and consensus builder was also responsible for drafting the U.S. Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers.
In fact, in Madison’s time, 75-90% of all paper was made with hemp fiber—so he likely used a lot of hemp paper to craft those rough drafts and amendments. Hemp paper was also used to print many seminal revolutionary works, such as Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, which challenged the legitimacy of British rule.
“Hemp paper was used to print many revolutionary works…[though not the Declaration of Independence].”
That said, there’s no truth to the oft-spread rumor that the Declaration of Independence was printed on hemp paper. For that and other important documents the founding fathers used parchment, made from treated, stretched animal skins. While much more expensive to use, parchment was much more durable, and that’s a key reason why the Declaration has been so well preserved these 250+ years.
Is History Repeating Itself?
After that Revolutionary boom, hemp gradually lost its status as a major cash crop as cotton, wood and other fibrous plants replaced it in many applications. Twentieth-century anti-cannabis legislative efforts suppressed the crop’s use even further, including the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which targeted hemp’s intoxicating relative, marijuana. While hemp farming made a brief resurgence in the mid-1940’s to fuel another wartime effort (this time World War II) it remained a relatively small commercial crop until recently.
Lately history seems to be repeating itself as hemp is reemerging as an important agricultural crop in the U.S. One big reason is the discovery of cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid compound that’s abundant in hemp—and its role in the endocannabinoid system, a major regulatory system that governs much of the body’s health and well-being. (Hemp-based CBD, of course, is also used to create our Caliper CBD—a product we think is pretty revolutionary, too.)
We’re now in the middle of another historical hemp boom … just as the founding fathers were.
Once the 2018 Farm Bill made it official that hemp was a completely different product from marijuana and removed it from the Controlled Substances Act, more and more states began producing hemp and hemp-based products. We’re now in the middle of another historical hemp boom. Just as George Washington recommended long ago, many former tobacco farmers are now replacing their crops with hemp.
It’s nice to know that we’ve been here before. Indeed, history tells us that hemp and CBD should have a healthy future ahead!