While President, a more elaborate hospitality was maintained. Both in New York and Philadelphia the best houses procurable were rented as the Presidential home,—for Washington "wholly declined living in any public building,"—and a steward and fourteen lower servants attended to all details, though a watchful supervision was kept by the President over them, and in the midst of his public duties he found time to keep a minute account of the daily use of all supplies, with their cost. His payments to his stewards for mere servants' wages and food (exclusive of wine) were over six hundred dollars a month, and there can be little doubt that Washington, who had no expense paid by the public, more than spent his salary during his term of office.
It was the President's custom to give a public dinner once a week "to as many as my table will hold," and there was also a bi-weekly levee, to which any one might come, as well as evening receptions by Mrs. Washington, which were more distinctly social and far more exclusive. Ashbel Green states that "Washington's dining parties were entertained in a very handsome style. His weekly dining day for company was Thursday, and his dining hour was always four o'clock in the afternoon. His rule was to allow five minutes for the variations of clocks and watches, and then go to the table, be present or absent, whoever might. He kept his own clock in the hall, just within the outward door, and always exactly regulated. When lagging members of Congress came in, as they often did, after the guests had sat down to dinner, the president's only apology was, 'Gentlemen (or sir) we are too punctual for you. I have a cook who never asks whether the company has come, but whether the hour has come.' The company usually assembled in the drawing-room, about fifteen or twenty minutes before dinner, and the president spoke to every guest personally on entering the room."
Maclay attended several of the dinners, and has left descriptions of them. "Dined this day with the President," he writes. "It was a great dinner— all in the tastes of high life. I considered it as a part of my duty as a Senator to submit to it, and am glad it is over. The President is a cold, formal man; but I must declare that he treated me with great attention. I was the first person with whom he drank a glass of wine. I was often spoken to by him." Again he says,—
Bradbury gives the menu of a dinner at which he was, where "there was an elegant variety of roast beef, veal, turkey, ducks, fowls, hams, &c.; puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch. We took our leave at six, more than an hour after the candles were introduced. No lady but Mrs. Washington dined with us. We were waited on by four or five men servants dressed in livery." At the last official dinner the President gave, Bishop White was present, and relates that "to this dinner as many were invited as could be accommodated at the President's table.... Much hilarity prevailed; but on the removal of the cloth it was put an end to by the President—certainly without design. Having filled his glass, he addressed the company, with a smile on his countenance, saying: 'Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last time I shall drink your health, as a public man. I do it with sincerity, and wishing you all possible happiness.' There was an end of all pleasantry."
A glance at Mrs. Washington's receptions has been given, but the levees of the President remain to be described. William Sullivan, who attended many, wrote,—
The ceremony of the dinners and levees and the liveried servants were favorite impeachments of the President among the early Democrats before they had better material, and Washington was charged with trying to constitute a court, and with conducting himself like a king. Even his bow was a source of criticism, and Washington wrote in no little irritation in regard to this, "that I have not been able to make bows to the taste of poor Colonel Bland, (who, by the by, I believe, never saw one of them), is to be regretted, especially too, as (upon those occasions), they were indiscriminately bestowed, and the best I was master of, would it not have been better to throw the veil of charity over them, ascribing their stiffness to the effects of age, or to the unskillfulness of my teacher, than to pride and dignity of office, which God knows has no charms for me? For I can truly say, I had rather be at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the seat of government by the officers of state, and the representatives of every power in Europe."
There can be no doubt that Washington hated ceremony as much as the Democrats, and yielded to it only from his sense of fitness and the opinions of those about him. Jefferson and Madison both relate how such unnecessary form was used at the first levee by the master of ceremonies as to make it ridiculous, and Washington, appreciating this, is quoted as saying to the amateur chamberlain, "Well, you have taken me in once, but, by God, you shall never take me in a second time." His secretary, in writing to secure lodgings in Philadelphia, when the President and family were on their way to Mount Vernon, said, "I must repeat, what I observed in a former letter, that as little ceremony & parade may be made as possible, for the President wishes to command his own time, which these things always forbid in a greater or less degree, and they are to him fatiguing and oftentimes painful. He wishes not to exclude himself from the sight or conversation of his fellow citizens, but their eagerness to show their affection frequently imposes a heavy tax on him."
This was still further shown in his diary of his tours through New England and the Southern States. Nothing would do but for Boston to receive him with troops, etc., and Washington noted, "finding this ceremony not to be avoided, though I had made every effort to do it, I named the hour." In leaving Portsmouth he went "quietly, and without any attendance, having earnestly entreated that all parade and ceremony might be avoided on my return." When travelling through North Carolina, "a small party of horse under one Simpson met us at Greenville, and in spite of every endeavor which could comport with decent civility, to excuse myself from it, they would attend me to Newburn."