his excellency george washington -- 4/4/22

Today's selection -- from The Founding Fortunes by Tom Shachtman. George Washington and other officials in the first United States government wondered how fancily or plainly they should comport themselves, and how aloof or accessible they should be:
"The adulation of the crowds in every town along Washington's route from Mount Vernon to New York City in the spring of 1789 made him wonder whether a president ought to appear in public with the trappings of a monarch. [Wealthy merchant William] Bingham, whose elegantly decked-out Second Troop of Philadelphia Light Horse accompanied him across Pennsylvania, thought so. Vice President elect John Ad­ams wrote him: 'Neither Dignity, nor Authority, can be Supported in human Minds collected into nations or any great numbers without a Splendor and Majisty, in Some degree, proportioned to them,' but did admit: 'My long Residence abroad may have impressed me with Views of Things, incompatible with the present Temper ... of our Fellow Citizens.' Hamilton thought Washington should only inter­act with elected officials, important people, and foreign dignitaries. Washington, wary of republican familiarity, soon embraced monar­chical distance. As he explained to a friend:

 Gentlemen, consulting their own convenience rather than mine, were calling from the time I rose from breakfast -- often before -- until I sat down to dinner -- This, as I resolved not to neglect my public duties, reduced me to the choice of ... either to refuse them altogether, or to appropriate a time for the re­ception of them -- The first would, I well knew, be disgusting to many -- The latter, I expected, would undergo animadversion, and blazoning from those who would find fault, with, or with­out cause. To please every body was impossible.

"Washington agreed to a weekly levee as the only time when he would meet ordinary citizens, an arrangement that irked those who believed that a democracy's leaders should be more regularly accessible to the people.

"The First Presidential Mansion." Lithograph.

"Senator William Maday of Pennsylvania, an anti- Federalist who had known Washington since they were colleagues in the French and Indian War, was flabbergasted at the Senate devoting so much time to whether to call the president 'His Mightiness' or 'His Excellency' Madison regaled Jefferson with the tale of Virginia's R.H. Lee, 'tho elected as a republican enemy to an aristocratic constitution,' second­ing Adams's motion for 'His Highness the President of the United States and the Protector of Their Liberties.' Fortunately, Madison added, the House refused to agree to a title that would have 'sub­jected the president to a severe dilemma and given a deep wound to our infant government.'

"Adams, who had opted to preside over the Senate in a powdered wig and ceremonial sword, soon realized that the expenses attendant on his position, from habiliments to entertaining, were catapulting him into debt from which he would 'not easily get out.' Secretary of War Knox fretted because his expenses for a year in New York, which he tabulated at £ 1,314, exceeded his salary of £980. The senators voted themselves six dollars a day for expenses; most of them were wealthy and could afford to dig into their own pockets to maintain themselves in appropriate style, but the small per diem troubled some House members. Speaker Frederick Muhlenberg -- a pastor, not a wealthy man -- told a correspondent it was impossible to exist in New York on that, as 'it is in vain at this place to talk of frugality, Oeconomy, & a Republican Stile of Living'."

 | www.delanceyplace.com


Tom Shachtman


The Founding Fortunes: How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited from America's Revolution


St Martin's Press


Copyright 2019 by Tom Shachtman
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