Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Color of Jefferson's World

By: Norlene M. Gowdy

Much has been written about Thomas Jefferson’s mountain-top home of Monticello, the timeless showcase of Jefferson’s architectural brilliance. It is here where we see how he incorporates classical Greek and Roman design with his own innovative features of the alcove bed, triple sash windows, and octagonal shaped rooms. But what about his use of color, one of the most important elements of design? Even a quick study of Jefferson will show that little in his life was left to chance. So, if that is the case, one could argue that the colors he chose were intentional. What can his paint colors tell us about him, if anything?

A Monticello guide told us that Jefferson “loved a good dinner party and the latest fashion” which was colorfully confirmed as we entered the dining room. Not so long ago, the walls of this room were colonial Williamsburg blue, but after 20 years of analysis by Welsh Color and Conservation, Inc. the room has been restored to the color that Jefferson painted it in 1815. Monticello curator, Susan R. Stein described the chrome-yellow paint color “as the color of an egg yolk from a chicken that dined on marigold petals” (Tackett). At the time Jefferson painted this room he was 72 years old. His service as President of the United States had ended six years earlier, and he had just sold his books to Congress. Is it possible that any of these events influence his decision to splurge on a color that “cost $5.00 per pound, twice as expensive as Blue Prussian and 33 times as expensive as white lead” (Monticello)? Or, was it innately just Jefferson, the man who was a dichotomy for all time … classical yet contemporary, methodical yet excessive, private yet bon vivant?

Monticello Dining Room: https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/monticello-dining-room

Jefferson’s dining room choice intentionally moved beyond what has been identified as classic English Georgian, colors of burgundy, sage green, Wedgewood blue and dusky pink – to bold colors that declare contemporary, fashionable, and expensive. Besides showing his preference for French design this choice also indicates that Jefferson was continually drawn to new ideas, developments, and thoughts, as the new yellow hue had been recently invented. His grand-daughter, Ellen Randolph Coolidge described Monticello as a “feast of reason and a flow of soul” (Monticello), and with the dining room being the center of both entertainment and enlightenment, Jefferson would have purposely designed this space for both beauty and the flow of modern ideas. Jefferson’s innovative use of colors continued in the two-tiered, grey-blue and yellow, wainscot of the entrance hall.

Monticello Entrance Hall: https://www.monticello.org/house-gardens/the-house/room-furnishings/entrance-hall/

While the portion above the chair-rail is whitewashed, allowing emphasis to the artifacts, maps, and pictures, the bottom portion was given to joining the wall to the painted green pine floor, a color Jefferson called grass, which had been personally suggested to him by portraitist Charles Wilson Peale. Quite likely, Jefferson appreciated both the aesthetics and the practicality of a painted floor. He continued to push the limits of innovation and style with his colors.

More painted walls can be found in Martha’s sitting room and in Jefferson’s private space. Both rooms are shades of blue.

Jefferson's Bed Chamber: https://www.monticello.org/house-gardens/the-house/room-furnishings/bed-chamber/

The dome room upstairs, which can only be seen in pictures, was restored to its original brilliant yellow hue. Welsh, in his Monticello project paper states that “documentary evidence indicates that Jefferson was intimately involved in the selection of paint finishes, colors and wallpapers.” We can assume then that just as he had picked the yellow color of the dining room, he also picked these colors with a purpose, whether it was for light, tranquility, interest, fashion, or a success statement.

And yet, there are rooms in the mansion which have been left with unpainted white plaster. Welsh informs us that through paint archeology and analyses Jefferson embraced white as his primary color on both the wood trim and the plaster which he contrasted with “stunning colors, such as yellow and green, and imitative, and varnished mahogany … [and] colorful patterned and plain French wallpapers.” The visible use of color and lack of throughout the rooms of Monticello according to Welsh are “distinctly individual” and remain as evidence of the underlying principles of aesthetic Jefferson used in his design.

Monticello Parlor: https://classroom.monticello.org/media-item/monticellos-parlor/

Observation and a simple study of Jefferson’s paint colors allows visitors of Monticello to draw a few conclusions. The chrome-yellow color was by far his most bold choice, and as stated earlier, was incorporated into the design of Monticello late in his life. Possibly he chose the brilliant yellow to signify not only his fondness for “all that is French” (Tackett), but also because he was truly happy to be back home at his beloved Monticello with his family. I propose that his unpainted plaster walls are symbolic of the simple life he sought -- time to read, to write, to reflect, all essential components to his well-being, but sometimes overshadowed by his own unrelenting interest in the world around him which would not allow him to be silent. I suggest that the blue walls in his private quarters exemplify the tranquility he sought out of the public eye, which contrast the main entrance’s dazzling green floors that welcomed people into his world. In conclusion, I would submit that Jefferson used colors in his home, like he used words on the page, to emphasize what was most important to him … home, family, friendships, knowledge, education, country, beauty, or in his own words, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
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Works Cited:
“Monticello’s Dining Room – Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.” Thomas Jefferson – Monticello. www.Monticello.org. Accessed on 12 October 2019.
Tackett, John J. “Historic Paint Color at Monticello.” www.tdclassiscist.blogspot.com. Accessed on 12 October 2019.
Welsh, Frank S. “Restoring the Colors of Thomas Jefferson: Beyond the Colors of Independence.” www.welshcolor.com. Accessed on 19 October 2019.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution

Edmund S. Morgan, Ph.D. (1916-2013), Sterling Professor of American History Emeritus at Yale University, was “an award-winning historian who illuminated the intellectual world of the Puritans, explored the paradox of freedom and slavery in colonial Virginia …found his richest material in the religious thought of Puritan New England and endless fascination in the theological debates and spiritual struggles of men like John Winthrop, Roger Williams and Ezra Stiles. “I think that any group of people who have a system of belief that covers practically everything, and who act upon it, are bound to be interesting to any scholar,” he said in a 1987 interview with The William and Mary Quarterly. His elegantly written, succinct biographies and studies of early New England, respected by specialists but accessible to undergraduates, became required reading for several generations of college students… “As a historian of colonial and revolutionary America, he was one of the giants of his generation, and a writer who could well have commanded a larger nonacademic audience than I suspect he received,” said Pauline Maier, a professor of American history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “He characteristically took on big issues and had a knack for conveying complex, sophisticated truths in a way that made them seem, if not simple, at least easily understandable.”[1]

Morgan’s book, “The Challenge of the American Revolution,” published in the bicentennial year of American Independence (1976), includes an important essay titled “The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution.”[2]  As the cover states, “this volume presents an eminent historian’s progress over thirty years in trying to understand the American Revolution.” This essay in particular conveys what Morgan believes to be the primary ideals that guided the Revolution “in all of its phases.” A selection of quotes from this compelling essay on the Puritan Ethic follow:

“Without pretending to explain the whole exciting variety of the revolution, I would like to suggest that the movement in all its phases, from the resistance to Parliamentary taxation in the 1760’s to the establishment of a national government and national policies in the 1790’s was affected, not to say guided, by a set of values inherited from the age of Puritanism [not to imply that the American Revolutionists were all Puritans].” (89)

“These values or ideas, which I will call collectively the Puritan Ethic, were not unconscious or subconscious, but were deliberately and openly expressed by men of the time. The men who expressed them were not Puritans, and a few of the ideas included in the Puritan Ethic were actually new. Many of them had existed in other intellectual contexts before Puritanism was heard of, and many of them continue to exist today, as they did in the Revolutionary period, without the support of Puritanism. But Puritanism wove them together in a single rational pattern, and Puritans planted the pattern in America.” (89-90)

“The Ethic conveyed the idea of each man’s and woman’s “calling” in life. “The emphasis of [work or labor] was on productivity for the benefit of society. In addition to working diligently at productive tasks, a man was supposed to be thrifty and frugal. It was good to produce but bad to consume any more than necessity required. A man was but a steward of the possessions he accumulated. If he indulged himself in luxurious living, he would have that much less with which to support church and society. If he needlessly consumed his substance, either from carelessness or from sensuality, he failed to honor the God who furnished him with it.” (91)

The Puritans “knew that they must be thankful for prosperity, that like everything good in the world it came from God. But they also knew that God could [allow] it as a temptation, that it could lead to idleness, sloth and extravagance… Adversity, on the other hand, though a sign of God’s temporary displeasure, and therefore a cause for worry, was also God’s means of recalling a people to him.” (92)

“Whether they derived their ideas from history thus interpreted or from Puritan tradition or elsewhere, Americans in the Revolutionary period in every colony and state paid tribute to the Puritan Ethic and its injunctions. Although it was probably strongest among Presbyterians and Congregationalists like Benjamin Rush and Samuel Adams, it is evident among Anglicans like Henry Laurens and Richard Henry Lee and even among deists like Franklin and Jefferson. Jefferson’s letters to his daughters sometimes sound as though they had been written by Cotton Mather [popular American Congregational minister and author 1663-1728]: “It is your future happiness which interests me, and nothing can contribute more to it (moral rectitude always excepted) than the contracting a habit of industry and activity.” (94)

 “…the major developments, the resistance to Great Britain, independence, the divisions among the successful revolutionists, and the formulation of policies for the new nation, were all discussed and understood by men of the time in terms derived from the Puritan Ethic. And the way men understood and defined the issues before them frequently influenced their decisions.” (95)

“And so it proved in the years that followed [the Stamp Act, the Sugar Act, the Townshend Acts and Coercive Acts]: as their Puritan forefathers had met providential disasters with a renewal of virtue that would restore god’s favor, the Revolutionary generation met taxation with self-denial and industry that they hoped would restore their accustomed freedom and enable them to identify with their virtuous ancestors.” (96)

On December 13, 1773, the Newport Mercury (Rhode Island) stated, “The Americans have plentifully enjoyed the delights and comforts, as well as the necessities of life, and it is well known that an increase of wealth and affluence paves the way to an increase of luxury, immorality and profaneness, and here kind providence interposes; as it were, obliges them to forsake the use of their delights, to preserve their liberty.” (97)

“In these appeals for self-denial, the Puritan Ethic acquired a value that had only been loosely associated with it hitherto: it became an essential condition of political liberty. Americans like Englishmen had long associated liberty with property. They now concluded that both rested on virtue.” (97)

The Boston Evening Post, November 16, 1767, asserted that, “by consuming less of what we are not really in want of, and by industriously cultivating and improving the natural advantages of our own country, we might save our substance, even our lands, from becoming the property of others, and we might eventually preserve our virtue and our liberty, to the latest posterity.” (98)

To tax a man without his consent, Samuel Adams wrote in the Boston Gazette (December 19, 1768), was “against the plain and obvious rule of equity, whereby the industrious man is entitled to the fruits of his industry.” (102)

“Students of the American Revolution have often found it difficult to believe that the colonists were willing to fight about an abstract principle and have sometimes dismissed the constitutional arguments of the time as mere rhetoric. But the constitutional principle on which the colonists rested their case was not the product either of abstract political philosophy or the needs of the moment. In the colonists’ view, the principle of no taxation without representation was a means, hallowed in history, of protecting property and of maintaining those virtues, associated with property, without which no people could be free.” (102-03).

 “The calling of a ruler, as the colonists and their Puritan forebearers saw it, was like any other calling: it must serve the common good; it must be useful, productive; and it must be assiduously pursued.” (103)

 “A principal means of corruption had been the multiplication of officeholders who served no useful purpose but fattened on the labors of those who did the country’s work. Even before the dispute over taxation began, few colonists who undertook trips to England failed to make unflattering comparisons between the simplicity, frugality, and industry that prevailed in the colonies and the extravagance, luxury, idleness, drunkenness, poverty, and crime that they saw in the mother country.” (103)

 “By the time the First Continental Congress came together in 1774, large numbers of leading Americans had come to identify Great Britain with vice and America with virtue, yet with the fearful recognition that virtue stands in perennial danger from the onslaughts of vice.” (105-06)

As John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3rd 1776 – the day following the vote of the Continental Congress to adopt Richard Henry Lee’s resolution of Independence – many of the themes of the Puritan Ethic highlighted by Morgan are clearly manifest:

“Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was de­bated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony ‘that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do.’ You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the Causes, which have impelled Us to this mighty Revolution, and the Reasons which will justify it, in the Sight of God and Man. A Plan of Confederation will be taken up in a few days.

“When I look back to the Year 1761, and recollect the Argument concerning Writs of Assistance, in the Superior Court, which I have hitherto considered as the Commencement of the Controversy, between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole Period from that Time to this, and recollect the series of political Events, the Chain of Causes and Effects, I am surprised at the Suddenness, as well as Greatness of this Revolution. Britain has been filled with Folly, and America with Wisdom, at least this is my Judgment.—Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven, that the two Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy Us.—The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming, in every Part, will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extremely addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great.—I am not without Apprehensions from this Quarter. But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe.” (spelling modernized). 

We as Americans would do well to study, ponder and reflect on the principles of faith in God - the Hand of Providence, prayer, work, thrift, frugality, stewardship, self-denial, humility, sacrifice, morality and virtue that guided our Revolutionary forefathers and mothers in establishing this land of liberty.
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[1]  Williams Grimes, New York Times, July 9, 2013.
[2] (Edmund S. Morgan, The Challenge of the American Revolution (W.W. Norton & Co, New York, 1976), pp. 88-138. See also, William and Mary Quarterly, XXIV (Jan., 1967), 3-43). 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Alexander Hamilton & the American Republic

“I consider civil liberty, in a genuine unadulterated sense, as the greatest of terrestrial blessings. I am convinced, that the whole human race is entitled to it; and, that it can be wrested from no part of them, without the blackest and most aggravated guilt.” –Alexander Hamilton, “The Farmer Refuted,” February 23, 1775.

“The Sacred Rights of Mankind are not to be Rummaged for Among Old Parchments or Musty Records. They are Written, as with a Sunbeam, in the Whole Volume of Human Nature, by the Hand of The Divinity Itself, and Can Never Be Erased or Obscured by Mortal Power.” –Alexander Hamilton, “The Farmer Refuted.”

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute is pleased to announce its next teacher education workshop on the topic of “Alexander Hamilton & the American Republic.” The program will include 3 x 1.0 hour class sessions. Along with presentations, the format will include a “roundtable” discussion with participation by all. The outline of the sessions and agenda are as follows:

8:30–9:00 a.m. Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:00–10:00 a.m. First Classroom Session -- “Alexander Hamilton and George Washington — the Revolutionary War and their Political Alliance.” Presentation by Tony Williams (30-40 minutes), followed by Q&A and discussion (20-30 minutes).

10:15–11:15 a.m. Second Classroom Session -- Alexander Hamilton and Washington’s Farewell Address.” Presentation by Dr. Jeffry Morrison, Ph.D. (30-40 minutes), followed by Q&A and discussion (20-30 minutes).

11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Third Classroom Session -- “Alexander Hamilton, the Constitutional Convention and the Federalist Papers. Presentation by J. David Gowdy (20 minutes), followed by Roundtable Discussion (40 minutes).

12:30 - 1:30 p.m. Luncheon

WJMI welcomes Dr. Jeffry H. Morrison, Ph.D., author, Director of Academics at the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation and Professor in Leadership and American Studies at Christopher Newport University, and Tony Williams, author and Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute as presenters and discussion leaders.

The workshop is designed primarily for public and private Virginia secondary school teachers who teach Social Studies, U.S. Government, Virginia Government, or U. S. History. Teachers from other states are also welcome. The workshop, meals and class materials all complimentary (no cost) to teachers.

The event will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, October 25th, 2019 at to be held at Prospect Hill Plantation Inn. The Seminar qualifies for four Virginia recertification points or 4 hours. Seating is limited. Teachers wishing to attend should pre-register. All registrations are requested by October 21st.

Prospect Hill Plantation Inn, Louisa, Virginia