Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Marc W. Kruman


Washington City's political society was born in late November 1800, when the early republic moved its seat of government from Philadelphia to the banks of the Potomac. Washington's political elite, many of them accustomed to the urban pleasures of the nation's largest city, found themselves forming a proper society among boardinghouses, muddy roads, and half-built public buildings. A simple social hierarchy developed based on political position. Despite Jefferson's protests that the Court of the United States had died with the Federalist era, a republican court formed around him. His issuance of a set of social tenets, written after the Merry affair, proved his assumption of social, as well as political, authority over the city. Jefferson's social successor, Dolley Madison, kept the court alive with her amicable personality, her famous Wednesday night drawing room, and her respect for traditional etiquette and protocol. She set a standard, though, impossible to follow, even if the next presidential couple had wished to do so, which James and Elizabeth Monroe did not. The Monroes' reserved manner forced social Washington to rethink its relationship with those in the executive mansion, and a larger, more complex governmental community made change possible. By the 1820s, Washington society no longer considered the White House its social nucleus, nor the president and his lady its source of social authority. When President Andrew Jackson attempted to force official society to accept the less than reputable wife of his secretary of war, he learned that the ladies of that society did not follow presidential edicts when it came to who they would admit, or not admit, into their social circle. This dissertation explores the thirty-year journey of Washingtonian society from a republican court to an autonomous institution determined to stand its ground against Andrew Jackson. Furthermore, it dispels the theory that Washington's social power ended in the aftermath of the Eaton affair. The Peggy Eaton affair was an aberration and social Washington continued after the Eaton affair as it had since the Monroes, insistent on a set of manners and protocol that it would dictate for itself.