Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Pell-Mell" Etiquette

Pell-Mell —
Adverb
In a confused, rushed, or disorderly manner.
"the contents of the sacks were thrown pell-mell to the ground"

Synonyms:
helter-skelter, headlong, (at) full tilt, hotfoot, posthaste, hurriedly, hastily, recklessly, precipitately

"The new British diplomatic representative to the United States, Anthony Merry, and his wife were shocked and insulted when the president received them in worn clothing and slippers. In December 1803 at a formal dinner in the White House, no one offered to escort Mrs. Merry to dinner. In the dining room, Merry and his wife had to scramble for places at the table in competition with the other guests. The Marquis d'Yrujo, the Spanish diplomat, had the same experience. He and Merry agreed that this treatment was an insult to them and to their countries. The two diplomats and their wives sought to retaliate." 

The Merry Affair

Jefferson believed that the president's dress and manners should reflect the republican simplicity and informality of the country. Pomp and show reminded him too much of the European courts. In fact, Jefferson worked so hard to avoid ostentation that he began to dress not merely plainly, but sloppily. As for manners, he refused to observe the rules of protocol in seating his dinner guests. First come, first served was the rule in the presidential mansion, the White House. Jefferson explained: In social circles, all are equal, whether in, or out, of office, foreign or domestic; and the same equality exists among ladies and gentlemen … “pell mell” and “next the door” form the basis of etiquette in the societies of this country.
Rudeness is no proper response to another's rudeness! Portrait of Mrs Elizabeth Merry, wife of the new British diplomatic representative to the United States, Anthony Merry"The two diplomats and their wives sought to retaliate. At their parties, for instance, no one escorted the wives of the Cabinet members to the dinner table. This social war greatly enlivened Washington." 
The new British diplomatic representative to the United States, Anthony Merry, and his wife were shocked and insulted when the president received them in worn clothing and slippers. In December 1803 at a formal dinner in the White House, no one offered to escort Mrs. Merry to dinner. In the dining room, Merry and his wife had to scramble for places at the table in competition with the other guests. The Marquis d'Yrujo, the Spanish diplomat, had the same experience. He and Merry agreed that this treatment was an insult to them and to their countries. The two diplomats and their wives sought to retaliate. At their parties, for instance, no one escorted the wives of the Cabinet members to the dinner table. This social war greatly enlivened Washington. The president refused to retreat from his pell mell rule, and Merry and Yrujo became increasingly angry and receptive to the plottings of Jefferson's opponents, the Federalists and Aaron Burr.
From www.knowsouthernhistory.net

Dinner Etiquette

When President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson promoted "pell-mell" etiquette. It was a much more informal style of dinner etiquette than that observed by his predecessors. In 1788 Jefferson consoled a French diplomat disillusioned by his initial experience of the new American republic: "I am sorry that your first impressions have been disturbed by matters of etiquette, where surely they should least have been expected to occur." Such matters, he said, "are the most insusceptible of determination, because they have no foundation in reason," adding that "it would have been better, in a new country, to have excluded etiquette altogether."
Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States (1801-1809) 
In March 1801, when he took up residence in the President's House, he seized his chance to banish etiquette at the highest executive level and to reorganize the social mechanism of the national capital on a rational plan. First to go was the presidential levee, the weekly focal point for society in the capital in the two previous administrations. Jefferson replaced it with a series of small, informal dinners, but retained the established custom of open house on New Year's Day and the Fourth of July.

To ensure that the American public should never mistake its president for a king, he adopted a purposeful informality in his own behavior as chief executive: shaking hands instead of bowing, riding without an attendant servant, issuing his dinner invitations in his own name rather than as president, and dressing informally for official receptions. As one foreign visitor observed, "It was the object of Mr. Jefferson to preserve, in every trifle, that simplicity which he deemed the most appropriate characteristic of a republic. . . . He wisely judged that in this matter, as in most others, example was better than precept, and set about new-ordering the manners of the city."

The new Jeffersonian order became most famous for the policy of "pell-mell," especially as applied to a moment charged with significance for those conscious of their rank - the procession of dinner guests to their appointed places at the table. Defying custom of long standing, especially in diplomatic circles, Jefferson declared, "At public ceremonies, to which the government invites the presence of foreign ministers and their families, a convenient seat or station will be provided for them, with any other strangers invited and the families of the national ministers, each taking place as they arrive, and without any precedence."

The deprivation of his precedence in the pell-mell passage to the dinner table was too much for British minister Anthony Merry. Bolstered by his large and equally offended wife and another sensitive diplomat, Merry withdrew from official Washington society. The ensuing social tempest came close to clouding the course of American foreign and domestic policy, but Jefferson stood firmly behind the principle at the root of pell-mell: "When brought together in society, all are perfectly equal, whether foreign or domestic, titled or untitled, in or out of office."


United States Capitol, Completed Northern Wing (circa 1801)
Many American observers concluded that Jefferson had been too systematic in his application of republican principles to social forms. His two Republican successors pursued the Jeffersonian political course but tempered the leveling social practices of the first Republican administration. The Madisons instituted a weekly "drawing room" and introduced more formality into official dinner parties.
The ancient and universal custom of drinking healths at the dinner table.
There was, however, one practice abolished by Jefferson that was restored by neither Madison nor Monroe - the ancient and universal custom of drinking healths at the dinner table. The tradition of capping a meal with a session of toast-drinking was firmly entrenched in the early American republic. 

Increase Mather and other seventeenth-century Puritans had fulminated against the practice. Post-war patriots had recommended throwing out offensive English customs, including health-drinking, to complete the revolution. Yet the habit of raising a glass to drink the health of fellow guests, absent friends, and political figures and principles seems to have been almost universal at the tables of upper-class Americans.


"In a penetrating study of political life in Washington during the Jeffersonian period, The Washington Community, 1800-1828, James S. Young described the dinners as one of Jefferson's 'power techniques'. The only President to give dinners extensively, he had abolished the aristocratic levees which were a hallmark of the Federalist administrations. Considering political distinctions to be important, Jefferson rarely mixed Federalists with Republicans, nor did he invite Cabinet members along with Congressmen. Just as the guest list was planned, so a great deal of attention was given to physical surroundings. To encourage conviviality and discourage a feeling of inequality, a round table was used; to insure privacy, a dumbwaiter was used in place of servants. A French chef, imported wines and Jefferson's informal wardrobe completed the picture. Politics were subtly removed as a province of conversation, and everyone was invited to participate freely in verbal exchanges.
 
Another recent historian, Claude Bowers, also found the dinners to be useful instruments for 'conciliating political opponents' in Jefferson in Power. But, he noted that when Congress was out of session, Jefferson invited members of the local community to share his hospitality. They were not disappointed, for frugality was never in evidence at the President's House. Etienne Lemaire, Jefferson's head of household, estimated that he spent fifty dollars a day on food and wine." www.monticello.org