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28 1 TASTE AND VIRTUE Domestic Citizenship and the New Republic By having an opinion and determination, I would not be understood to mean an obstinate perseverance in trifles, . . . but only an adherence to those rules and maxims which have stood the test of ages, and will forever establish the female character, a virtuous character—altho’ they conform to the ruling taste of the age in cookery, dress, language, manners, &c. Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1796 AMELIA SIMMONS opens her 1796 cookbook,American Cookery,the first both written and published on American soil, by clearly asserting, “This treatise is calculated for the improvement of the rising generation of Females in America.”1 In this phrase alone, she boldly argues that a cooking text can improve the character of a population,particularly the first generation of American women. Amid much public debate regarding the goals of American democracy, the reach of the federal government, and the education of its citizens, Simmons argues that virtuous character displayed through appropriate tastes can achieve a balance between the “old people [who] cannot accommodate themselves to the various changes” that are occurring in American society and “the young and the gay [who] bend and conform readily to the taste of the times.”2 In so doing, Simmons engages a rhetoric of taste already present in print discourse. Building on Hutcheson’s assertion of a sixth “moral sense” and Hume’s delineation of the passions, taste in the late eighteenth century is positioned to construct a national character by uniting citizens through a shared sense of value in egalitarianism, virtue, and the public good. Taste discourse served to naturalize republican principles to construct a cohesive national body. American cookbook production began to increase through expansion and improvements in print technology in the decades surrounding the American Revolution. Several British cookbooks remained popular in the United States TASTE AND VIRTUE 29 during the first decades of the nineteenth century, such as Elizabeth Raffald’s Experienced Housekeeper (1769) and Maria Rundell’s New System of Domestic Cookery (1807). However, they now competed with American-authored texts that not only used more familiar ingredients and techniques but also appealed to American readers, who linked their domestic roles directly to their new national identity. Most important, however, American texts provided the basic domestic education that many British texts took for granted. American texts answered the call for a revised women’s domestic education by describing women’s daily activities in terms of Enlightenment principles of reason, virtue, and self-control. By demonstrating and promoting proper tastes, they suggested women could become active citizens of a new republic. This socialization process made American wives and mothers central to the national project through a set of qualities and characteristics later named “republican motherhood.”3 This ideology emerged shortly after the revolution and continued to evolve and grow in popularity well into the nineteenth century . As the “precursor to domesticity,” it is often defined as the relegation of women’s authority to the “private”sphere.4 Based on “the Enlightenment tenet that youth was particularly susceptible to both good and bad influences,” republican mothers were charged with educating young Americans, particularly young boys, who would grow into political leaders. The role of the republican mother built on a common understanding that one’s passions and preferences must be regulated for the good of the republic.Through the cultivation of good taste, women wielded “a determining power over the fate of the Republic.”5 Although the early years of the republic limited their educational opportunities and print contributions, domestic writers turned to cookbooks to harness the power of taste discourse and demonstrate the authority and necessity of womanly virtue in an emerging democracy. Simmons’s definition of taste demonstrates the pervasiveness of Hume’s argument that,for a good critic of taste to function,a cultural standard must exist. Simmons carefully notes that she selected each recipe based on two criteria: it must “conform to the ruling taste of the age” only after it has been determined to adhere to “those rules and maxims which have stood the test of ages.”6 In “Of the Standard of Taste,” Hume likewise states that one ascertains a delicacy of taste by appealing “to those models and principles,which have been established by the uniform consent and experience of nations and ages.”7 Women can be sure, Simmons suggests, that these recipes will contribute to their emerging republican identities and that cooking and eating are acts of public...


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