Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln's Secretary

By William O. Stoddard; Michael Burlingame | Go to book overview
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My Dear General--To continue my line of narration I should now say something of etiquette and local customs at the seat of government. These are such as have grown up in the course of years under the pressure of the surrounding circumstances, and have been more than a little influenced by the constant presence of the representatives of European powers, bringing with them their old-world notions and habits. There has been slowly developed a set of customs and observances, all of which have their peculiar use and application, some of which appear odd to people fresh from New England villages or the simplicity of the backwoods, but which, as compared with their counterparts at European capitals, are to the last degree republican and unpretending. It is a custom, almost as strong as law, that a new President shall read his inaugural address from the east front of the Capitol, and that his predecessor shall immediately thereupon leave Washington, and abstain from visiting that city for at least four years. The social observances of the White House are more or less at the mercy of the occupants for the time being, but it would be thought a matter for grave comment if something like the following routine were not observed: On New Year's day, after the assembling of Congress, the Executive Mansion is thrown open for a general popular reception, but the Supreme Court, and the representatives of foreign powers, are expected to pay their respects first, and all things are kept clear for them. The latter come in full court dress, or in uniform, and make quite a brilliant display. Officers of the army and navy who come are expected to wear full dress uniforms. The Cabinet generally make their appearance with the Supreme Court and diplomats, but it is no violation of etiquette for them to be absent.

On these and all other public receptions the President takes a position near the entrance of the "Blue Room," and all comers are presented by the Marshal of the District, or a Secretary or Deputy Marshal, except when the

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