Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thomas Jefferson's Democratic Dining Style

One of Thomas Jefferson’s first official acts as president was to abolish the formal levee, which had been the center of Washington social life during the previous two administrations, and replace it with a series of small, informal dinners.

He also abolished preferential treatment at dinners in favor of random seating arrangements (called the “pell-mell system”) which offended many visiting dignitaries who expected to be seated by rank. Other changes were small but significant. So that “all might be equal,” Jefferson replaced a long recantagular table with a large circular table in the State Dining Room. He also passed the so-called "Health Law" which banned formal toasting and limited political conversation (and thus partisan bickering) at the dinner table.

Even dinner invitations became less formal. Instead of invitations which read: THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES INVITES_________, Jefferson hand wrote: T.W. Jefferson requests the favor of ___________’s company to dinner the day after tomorrow at half past three o’clock.