Thomas Jefferson's Washingtonian 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.
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.
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