“too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics”

Thomas Jefferson and ANNE WILLING BINGHAM continued their correspondence, he in Paris where he was the American minister and she in Philadelphia where she was a leader of society. In his letter of May 1788 to Anne he makes mention of the developing tensions that ultimately led to the French Revolution—”Paris is now become a furnace of Politics.” The letter is also most interesting as it contains his views on the proper place of women, which were typical of the times.

Paris May 11, 1788DEAR MADAM,
— A gentleman going to Philadelphia furnishes me the occasion of sending you some numbers of the Cabinet des Modes & some new theatrical pieces. These last have had great success on the stage, where they have excited perpetual applause. We have now need of something to make us laugh, for the topics of the times are sad and eventful. The gay and thoughtless Paris is now become a furnace of Politics. All the world is now politically mad. Men, women, children talk nothing else, & you know that naturally they talk much, loud & warm. Society is spoilt by it, at least for those who, like myself, are but lookers on. — You too have had your political fever. But our good ladies, I trust, have been too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics. They are contented to soothe & calm the minds of their husbands returning ruffled from political debate. They have the good sense to value domestic happiness above all other, and the art to cultivate it beyond all others. There is no part of the earth where so much of this is enjoyed as in America. You agree with me in this; but you think that the pleasures of Paris more than supply its wants; in other words that a Parisian is happier than an American. You will change your opinion, my dear Madam, and come over to mine in the end. Recollect the women of this capital, some on foot, some on horses, & some in carriages hunting pleasure in the streets, in routs & assemblies, and forgetting that they have left it behind them in their nurseries; compare them with our own countrywomen occupied in the tender and tranquil amusements of domestic life, and confess that it is a comparison of Amazons and Angels. . . .

Madame de Rochambeau is well: so is Madame de la Fayette. I recollect no other Nouvelles de societe interesting to you. And as for political news of battles & sieges, Turks & Russians, I will not detail them to you, because you would be less handsome after reading them. I have only to add then, what I take a pleasure in repeating, tho’ it will be the thousandth time that I have the honour to be with sentiments of very sincere respect & attachment, dear Madam,
your most obedient & most humble servant.

Jefferson’s letter can be read online HERE.


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