Jefferson in Washington: Domesticating Manners in the Republican Court
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Jefferson in Washington
Domesticating Manners in the Republican Court
Keywords

Thomas Jefferson, Martha Washington, Republican Court, George Washington, Annis Boudinot Stockton, Eliza Willing Powel, Anne Willing Bingham, Salons, William Plumer, Dolley Madison, James Madison

Sir,

THAT women greatly influence the habits and manners of men the history of most civilized nations, as well as our own experience, will sufficiently prove; nay that they often give impressions which continue during life, the observations of every unprejudiced observer will equally substantiate—It will not be denied that an intercourse with our sex polishes the manners, and gives a delicacy to the minds of men; if such is their influence, I am not wrong in supposing that they are capable, and very often give a cast to our political complexion—The superior light in which you have been accustomed to view yourselves, may make this opinion of difficult admission; but on reflection it will be found, that the secret power which we have over you, enables us to fashion you lords of the creation as we please—It is scarcely necessary to resort to times past to prove my position; the history of France will furnish ample testimony in my favour, not only that women have fashioned, but that they have actually governed men. Perhaps the cause of the present revolution of France may be traced to that government; the earl of Chesterfield supposed that women gave men a currency, the history of some of the ancient republics informs us that women formed some of their most renowned patriots—It is a trite saying that a man must ask his wife if he shall be rich; I will extend this idea a little further and say, that a man must ask our sex if he shall be free. The great influence which fashion has, and there are fashionable opinions as well as fashions in dress, may be justly termed tyranny, and that we direct fashion is incontrovertible. If then a fashion is introduced which may serve to lessen the independence of the human mind, by teaching it a humility repugnant to republican principles, am I not just in the inference that we form your political characters; that we can hold out liberty, or slavery to you? So jealous is the government of China, that the customs, manners and fashions of the present day have been from time immemorial, and are preserved with [End Page 237] an almost religious veneration, lest a change in them might produce a revolution in their political belief; ought we not to have the same jealousy with regard to our government, and if possible stifle any practices which favour of distinction and inequality, lest we lay a foundation for change in our political order? The above remarks suggested themselves to my mind on reading some reflections in your paper under the different signatures of Mirabeau and Condorcet. The remarks of those writers are but too just, but they have not struck the evil at its root. I conceive that they should have resorted to us as leading instruments of such anti-republican distinctions; witness THE DRAWING ROOM!!

No character or place ought to be so sacred in a republican government as to be above criticism. Inviolability and infallibility are royal qualities, which slaves only can comprehend. It is the unalienable prerogative of freemen to scrutinize the conduct of their rulers, and if derogatory to just and equal principles, it ought to meet their severest reprehension. To elevate any character, however meritorious, beyond the level of scrutiny, is to establish a precedent big with the most destructive consequences. It is to lay out the turnpike of slavery. It might be considered as an invasion of female rights, for you, gentlemen, to comment upon the conduct of women, but for one of the same sex to do it, will, perhaps, abate a little of the censure; mine has been the task, and I trust that my fair countrywomen will not persist in giving currency to opinions, destructive of equality, the vital principle of republicanism. Let us fashion men to virtue, but not to the servility and adulation of royalty; let us reverence merit in...


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