The Merry Affair: The Intersection of Etiquette, Politics, and Diplomacy in the Early RepublicSuccessfully defended dissertation. Attended by Profs. Charles Barzun and Christa Dierksheide.

Maloney, Morgan, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Barzun, Charles, Law, University of Virginia
Dierksheide, Christa, History, University of Virginia

On the evening of December 2, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson threw a dinner party at the White House. In violation of diplomatic etiquette, when dinner was called Jefferson offered his hand to Dolley Madison, the wife of the Secretary of State, rather than Elizabeth Merry, the wife of the newly appointed British minister. The incident sparked a social war. Reading from an American perspective, most historians have primarily read this as just that, a domestic social war. While it was one, it was more than that – it was a diplomatic incident. In the following weeks and months, the scandal engulfed Washington and became a topic of trans-Atlantic discussion. In response to the ensuing controversy, Jefferson hurriedly wrote out Canons of Etiquette, describing a new and radical form of American etiquette which he dubbed “pêle mêle.” As he described, he hoped his new etiquette would “give force to the principle of equality, or pêle mêle, & prevent the growth of precedence out of courtesy.” Jefferson’s creation of a uniquely American and democratic form of etiquette marked an important step forward in the United States’ quest for sovereignty and equality with the nations of Europe.

MA (Master of Arts)
Merry Affair, Early Republic, Diplomacy, Thomas Jefferson, Law of Nations, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Etiquette
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