… If you can be contented with a bad tavern dinner, I should be happy if you would come and dine with our mess to-morrow, if convenient to you, or the next day, and if you could come half an hour before dinner, I would be alone that we might have some conversation; say at half after two. Or if this should not suit you any other time will be acceptable to me …
To Charles Pinckney, March 6, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders warn friends about bad food!
Pinckney was a republican Senator from South Carolina. Several times he had written to Jefferson, asking to be consulted before any decisions were made concerning his state. A day earlier, March 5, Pinckney wrote to Jefferson withdrawing his request, apologizing that it might have been inappropriate. In this letter, two days into his Presidency, Jefferson was quick to reassure his political ally that he wanted his input and was eager to meet.
The new President invited his friend to dine with him at his boarding house, Conrad & McMunn’s, just a few hundred feet from the President’s House (later known as The White House), where Jefferson would soon move.
Jefferson had a private reception room at Conrad’s for meeting guests, where he and Pinckney would meet and talk privately. All other conversation would be subject to overhearing, as 30 some Congressman also lived at the boarding house. All ate at a common dining table. I can’t determine if Jefferson had a private sleeping room, or if he shared a room or bed with others, a common practice.
This excerpt first caught my eye first because of Jefferson’s reference to “a bad tavern dinner.” I thought it a rare example of his wry humor. As I researched the matter, I wondered if he was offering his friend not humor but a warning…