Containing Remarks and Observations
I observe, from some scraps in the public papers that the holding a levee by the president of the United States, has given offence to men of severe and extreme republican ideas: for, as at the reformation from the Roman Catholic superstition, the Puritans, and other thorough paced reformists, were offended with the church of England, for retaining some particulars of the ancient ceremonies: such as the ring in marriage; the cross in baptism; the surplice; kneeling at a sacrament; bowing at the name of Jesus, &c. so here: the more rigid revolutionists from monarchy object to any vestige of its customs, and would lay aside totally all resemblance of it.
On the other hand, it is suggested by those who would justify or apologize for the holding a levee, that it is in itself no substance or essential of monarchy; it is, at the most, but a shadow of it, and can do little harm; that the institution was suggested by John Adams, who, having just returned from his embassy in England, had no doubt good reason to suppose that it would be pleasing to the English people, who were accustomed to such things; and to the king especially, who, as far as we understand from Peter Pindar, is but a thick-headed prince: it would be pleasing for him to reflect that though he had lost direct authority and jurisdiction in these states, yet we were still disposed to touch, as it were, the hem of his garment, and adopt some of the trappings of royalty. In this case he could with more propriety take notice of his brother George, having a levee like another prince, than if he remained but a bare republican, like a plucked fowl, without any plumage to decorate his dignity. It is also said, that it was on this principle that Citizen Adams proposed introducing titles of nobility, such as Duke and Dutchess, Marquis and Marchioness, Count and Countess, Baronet and Baroness, &c. For, that complying in these small matters with the style of the English ranks, and the genius of their government, it would produce and preserve a greater amity between the nations, and with the court especially, and enable us to obtain greater advantages in our treaties of commerce. Whatever may have been the principle, I do not think the proposition bad. It could not be blameable; for Saint Paul himself, in matters of religion, a thing much more delicate in its nature, did not hesitate to shave the heads of four young men to please the Jews; and what was worse, circumcised the poor boy Timothy. What then, if to humour a weak king and a prejudiced people, we had received the appellations of nobility? Besides, the matter might have been so managed, as not to injure the stamina of our constitution; that is, not to confer the titles; but let the people take them. Carlisle, for instance, the constable in Philadelphia, might have called himself Lord Carlisle, and so on.
The advocates for a levee say, that it is useful in order to avoid the interruptions of persons calling on the President at his private hours, who have no other business than merely to be introduced and to see him; that setting a couple of hours aside, one day in the week, for the purpose of satisfying the curiosity of the people is a good economy; and is like throwing a barrel to a whale, in order to preserve the ship. For that, if this was not indulged, little else could be done through the week, than attending to the formality of receiving visitants. To this it is answered, that it must be impertinent in any one to call upon the President who has no business with him, and if he has business, a levee is not the place to settle it; that the Roman Pretors, and Grecian Archons, made out to discharge their offices, without this expedient; that it is not consistent with the honour of wise and modest republicans, to have it supposed, that from idle and light-headed curiosity, they would be troublesome to their chief magistrate; if any were so, calling once, they could be dismissed in such a manner as to cure them of it; and the thing being once known to be improper, the idea would pervade the mass of the citizens, and the most uninstructed would be taught not to transgress by so obvious an intrusion.
Besides; the curiosity of seeing a man eminent in office, exists chiefly with weak minds; for the more solid know, that it is not the figure of a great man that has made him such; but a series of prudent and successful conduct. They are sensible that when they see the most distinguished in arts, in letters, or in arms, they will see a person that looks just like another man. Is it worth while then, say the antilevites, to consult the curiosity of gaping haubucks, by obliging the chief magistrate of a government, to show himself to them once a week, when he has so much real business on his hands?
For my part, lying at the back of a mountain here; the cool west wind blowing on me; I find myself little heated with the difference of opinions on this question. All I shall say is, that the ceremony of a levee would not be agreeable to my mind; and if I should be chosen President at any time, with which my friends flatter me, I believe I shall not continue it, unless, indeed, I should be allowed to discharge it by proxy. For I could not myself submit to stand two hours, once a week, in a circle, like a bear at a stake, to be saluted by all comers and goers, and be obliged to say some words, of course, to get clear of them. It is possible, this declaration may affect my election; but such is my habit of candour, that, being on the subject, I could not help making it. And I flatter myself, the most strenuous levites, may be reconciled to it, when I propose in its place to have myself taken off the more abundantly in portraits, and to have innumerable medals struck, representing my physiognomy and features; and to assist this, I shall not be backward to have descriptions given of my person, manners, and apparel, to satisfy the curiosity of strangers. This I hope will suffice.