Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bargaining around the Dinner Table

Contributed by Richard J.S. Gutman, Director and Curator of the Culinary Arts Museum

On January 20, 2013, the date of President Obama's actual swearing-in for his second term, CBS Sunday Morning predictably included a number of presidential stories on the program.

In one segment, Jon Meacham, author of the new book Thomas Jefferson. The Art of Power, remarked that "the lesson for President Obama from Thomas Jefferson is to use the dinner table, to bring people come to the president's house...Literally, that's what Jefferson did every night Congress was in session, have dinner with members of Congress."

The course of history was changed at a Jefferson dinner party on June 20, 1790, before he became president. Jefferson, then Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and future president James Madison were at this legendary gathering where the "Dinner Table Bargain" was struck. The agenda included determining a permanent location for the capital city of the fledgling republic (New York City was then the capital of the United States) and important fiscal matters regarding assumption of all state debts by the federal government.

It is generally regarded that politics in Jefferson's time was as polarized as it is today, and when Jefferson became president, he utilized his fondness for entertaining as a political tool to bring people together for small dinner parties.

President Obama may well follow Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Meacham's advice, but the political climate today is such that when the President invited guests to the White House for a special screening of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, with the members of the cast and crew, not a single Republican chose to attend this acclaimed homage to the first Republican president.

In the Culinary Arts Museum collection there is an invitation to dinner at Jefferson's White House, but it was used by the president as a piece of "scratch paper." He noted the schedule of Virginia mail delivery on the reverse of this card. The unused front of the invitation is illustrated on our website: On View, Dinner at the White House. Accompanying the artifact is a note: "Found at Monticello. 27 June 1827"

No comments:

Post a Comment