Archive for the ‘Maclay, William’ Category

Levees: “frivolities, fopperies, and expense” ??

The first capital of the United states under the Constitution was New York City. After his inauguration, the President and MARTHA WASHINGTON moved into a mansion on Cherry Street. George Washington, concerned to project a dignified public image of the presidency and the new government, held a formal reception for men only on Tuesday afternoons. Lady Washington, as she was called by many, adopted the practice of holding her own reception, called a levee, every Friday evening. It was a more informal affair. ABIGAIL ADAMS described one that she attended in a letter of August 9, 1789, to her sister Mary Cranch.

[Mrs. Washington] has fix’d on every fryday 8 oclock. I attended upon the last. . . . I found it quite a crowded Room. the form of Reception is this, the servants announce—& col [David] Humphries or mr [Tobias] Lear—receives every Lady at the door, & Hands her up to mrs washington to whom she makes a most Respectfull curtzey and then is seated without noticeing any of the rest of the company. the Pressident then comes up and speaks to the Lady, which he does with a grace dignity & ease, that leaves Royal George far behind him. the company are entertaind with Ice creems & Lemonade, and retire at their pleasure performing the same ceremony when they quit the Room.

William Maclay (see previous post), a senator from Pennsylvania, kept a journal or diary of what transpired during each meeting of that legislative body. A committed Anti-Federalist, Maclay’s feelings are clearly apparent in his writings. He was appalled that certain practices more associated with European monarchies were being adopted by the new republic. One of these was the levee. Here is what William Maclay had to say on the subject in his entry for June 5, 1789, a Friday.

About two o’clock the words “levee” and “adjourn” were repeated from sundry quarters of the House. Adjourn to Monday? The Vice-President caught hold of the last. “Is it the pleasure of the House that the adjournment be to Monday?” A single “No” would not be heard among the prevailing ayes. Here are the most important bills before us, and yet we shall throw all by for empty ceremony, for attending the levee is little more. Nothing is regarded or valued at such meetings but the qualifications that flow from the tailor, barber, or dancing-master. To be clean shaved, shirted, and powdered, to make your bows with grace, and to be master of small chat on the weather, play, or newspaper anecdote of the day, are the highest qualifications necessary. Levees may be extremely useful in old countries where men of great fortune are collected, as it may keep the idle from being much worse employed. But here I think they are hurtful. They interfere with the business of the public, and, instead of employing only the idle, have a tendency to make men idle who should be better employed. Indeed, from these small beginnings I fear we shall follow on nor cease till we have reached the summit of court etiquette, and all the frivolities, fopperies, and expense practiced in European governments. I grieve to think that many individuals among us are aiming at these objects with unceasing diligence.

The excerpt from Abigial’s letter can be found HERE.The passage by Maclay is in his journal entry for Friday June 5th. Read more about the Washingtons’ levees HERE.

posted February 11th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Maclay, William,New York,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“Mrs. Washington ate a whole heap of it.”

I thought I would continue in a lighter vein with some insights into the lives of George and Martha Washington. William Maclay represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate from 1789 to 1791. The diary he kept during that time is one of the few records of what went on in that body—sessions would not become public until 1795. He was a staunch critic of the Federalist party as is clear from his journal entries. He also commented on his other activities, reporting that on June 11, 1789 he had dinner with Robert Morris and his family—Morris was the other senator from Pennsylvania. He recounted an amusing anecdote related by MARY WHITE MORRIS about an experience she had while dining with the Washingtons.

Dined this day with Mr. Morris. Mr. Fitzsimons and Mr. Clymer, all the company, except Mrs. Morris and three children. Mrs. Morris talked a great deal after dinner. She did it gracefully enough, this being a gayer place, and she being here considered as at least the second female character at court. As to taste, etiquette, etc., she is certainly first. I thought she discovered a predilection for New York, but perhaps she was only doing it justice, while my extreme aversion, like a jealous sentinel, is for giving no quarter. I, however, happened to mention that they were ill supplied with the article of cream. Mrs. Morris had much to say on this subject; declared they had done all they could, and even sent to the country all about, but that they could not be supplied. She told many anecdotes on this subject; particularly how two days ago she dined at the President’s. A large, fine-looking trifle was brought to table, and appeared exceedingly well indeed. She was helped by the President, but on taking some of it she had to pass her handkerchief to her mouth and rid herself of the morsel; on which she whispered the President. The cream of which it is made had been unusually stale and rancid; on which the General changed his plate immediately. “But,” she added with a titter, “Mrs. Washington ate a whole heap of it.”

Maclay’s Journal can be found HERE, pages 73-74. The portrait of Mary White Morris was painted by John Trumbull in 1790 and is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

posted February 8th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Food,Maclay, William,Morris, Mary White,Morris, Robert,New York,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

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