Thomas Jefferson and James Madison sat at the table together in late spring, 1790, while James Hemings—Jefferson’s enslaved cook and Sally Hemings’s older brother—prepared the meal “which was to save the Union” (Jefferson, Writings, 1:275). The North and the South had been unable to come to an agreement on the issue of states’ debts, and Jefferson, seeking “to find some temperament for the present fever,” had invited the opposing sides to a “little dinner” at his house (Papers, 17:206, 27:782). As he later recalled in his autobiographical Anas, “I thought it impossible that reasonable men, consulting together coolly, could fail, by some mutual sacrifices of opinion, to form a compromise” (Writings, 1:275). The “compromise” worked out over the meal—that the South would support the federal assumption of states’ debts in exchange for the promise of relocating the nation’s capital from its temporary home in New York City to the shores of the Potomac—would become known as the Dinner-Table Bargain, what historian Jacob Cooke has called “one of the most important bargains in American history” (523). However, scant evidence for the famous dinner, other than Jefferson’s retroactive account, can be found. Madison makes no note of the meal in his journals or letters, and if James Hemings ever recalled aspects of its preparation, for he could write and read well, his account was certainly not preserved. Several twentieth-century analyses of the congressional record have determined that the North had already obtained sufficient votes to support debt assumption by the time that the dinner supposedly took place.1 In light of this research, it is almost certain that the Dinner-Table Bargain, as described in the Anas, did not take place in the way that Jefferson so precisely recalled.
But Jefferson’s retroactive refashioning of the order of events is not surprising in the context of his ideas about eating. Indeed, Jefferson viewed the act of eating as emblematic of his republican ideals.2 Early in his tenure as minister to France, in 1785, Jefferson acknowledged the “pleasures of the table” as a set of experiences, both gustatory and aesthetic, that could “unite good taste with temperance” (Papers, 8:569). In this he anticipated the formulation of the great gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who, writing a half century later in The Physiology of Taste (1835), would distinguish between the “pleasure of eating [as] the actual and direct sensation of satisfying a need,” and the “pleasures of the table [as] a reflected sensation which is born from the various circumstances of place, time, things, and people who make up the surroundings of the meal” (182). Brillat-Savarin, like Jefferson, drew from the philosophy that elevated “reflected sensation” over “direct sensation,” with the former serving as an indicator of the individual ability to pass judgment upon the latter. The ability to pass appropriate judgment was, of course, determined by the sense of taste, and Jefferson consistently identified the table as a key site for its cultivation.
Thus when circumstances—namely, the fracturing of aristocratic rule that would culminate in the French Revolution—required that Jefferson author his own declaration of culinary independence, he sought to infuse the “pleasures of the table” that he had learned to appreciate from the French with additional aspects of a distinctly American sensibility.3 He began to cultivate, in his garden in Paris, a variety of indigenous American ingredients “for the use of my own table” (Papers, 12:135).4 He also developed a serving style “after the American manner,” in which plates were placed directly on the table and guests served themselves, reflecting the virtuous simplicity of the republic’s citizenry (Writings, 1:156). His use of a round or oval table, and his insistence on seating his guests “pell-mell,” were intended both to express the egalitarianism inherent in the nation’s founding and to foster the respectful exchange of ideas that would sustain its future growth.5 The “good taste and abundance” for which Jefferson’s table would soon become renowned—what I term Jefferson’s republican taste—was thus on full display during the “little dinner” that resulted in the famous Compromise (qtd. in Fowler, 19).6 But the more complex bargain brokered at that table, and at every meal that Jefferson served, remained unrecognized: his own attempt to reconcile a sense of taste that expressed the ideals of the republic with a taste for food prepared by the people he enslaved.
In the past decade or so, scholars of eighteenth-century British literature have begun to acknowledge the influence of the gustatory sense of taste on that era’s cultural output.7 Citing the philosophers who helped forge the connection between the gustatory and aesthetic senses of the term, including Lord Shaftesbury and David Hume, among others discussed in the Introduction, Denise Gigante, for example, argues that “taste became the most vivid strand of a complex civilizing process in which individuals were taught to regulate themselves, and their motivating appetites, from within” (Taste, 7). While focusing on the philosophies of Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, a set of theorists who engaged the gustatory sense of taste less directly, Simon Gikandi nevertheless also acknowledges how their ideas about aesthetic taste “were haunted by the materiality of social life, especially the excessive values generated by luxurious living” (17). Scholars of eighteenth-century America often make recourse to similar arguments about the need to regulate excess, and about the role of the body in that process of regulation, when explaining the appeal of the discourse of taste on the nation’s founders, including Jefferson.8 But none have commented on the close correspondence between the cultivation of the aesthetic sense and the cultivation of the American palate.
I propose that, in the late colonial era and into the early republic, America’s cultural and political leaders identified a causal relation between the cultivation of the American palate and the cultivation of a republican citizenry. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among the men most directly involved in articulating a political ideology for the United States, each understood the ability to make tasteful decisions about literature and other forms of culture as reflective of a greater capacity for moral judgment, and consequently for appropriate political behavior. The cultivation of good taste, as Elizabeth Maddock Dillon explains, “ideally produced subjects who enacted their freedom in a moral and lawful manner, thereby creating the ground for a new political community—a community of taste—united by individual consent and judgment rather than by constraint and subordination” (498). More recently, Edward Cahill has exposed the “dialectic of liberty” at the core of this theory, evident in a discourse of aesthetic taste that not only addresses the issues of “individuality, autonomy, and agency but also their necessary limits” (5). Cahill shows how contemporaneous literary and artistic works dramatize the “tensions between liberty and constraint that structure eighteenth-century aesthetic theory’s main concepts and debates” (8).
By introducing the idea of eating into this expanding body of scholarship, I aim to illuminate the sensory and material dimensions of aesthetic taste in the early United States. More specifically, I place this composite conception of taste within the “political horizon of interpretation” that Cindy Weinstein and Christopher Looby, following Fredric Jameson, seek to associate with the aesthetic (29).9 In so doing, I aim to explore the ways that eating provided an example, three times a day, for colonists, and later citizens, to think through their political, moral, and social concerns. In addition, I show how the shared experience of eating “formaliz[ed] a practice of good fellowship,” as David S. Shields has argued about the analogous experiences that took place in literary salons, coffeehouses, and social clubs (Civil Tongues, 196).10 This fellowship expressed the virtuous, republican citizenship that Jefferson and Madison envisaged for the new nation. In short, it is my contention that expressions of gustatory taste—by which I mean acts of eating that indicated an ability to subjugate appetite to reason, and consequently to elevate the cause of the public good over personal interest—were understood as expressions of civic virtue.
Indeed, an attention to eating, and to the related process of cultivating taste, is present throughout the writings of Jefferson and Madison, and is further accentuated in the material traces of their relationships with their enslaved chefs and servants. This chapter will focus on these intertwined pairs of relationships: between Jefferson and James Hemings, who has already been introduced; between Madison and Paul Jennings, the enslaved man who served as Madison’s lifelong valet and, in 1863, recorded his memories in A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison; and between Jefferson and Madison, who were lifelong friends. The two founders have long been considered in concert, for they shared most political views and intellectual influences, as well as a Virginia address. But it is only through a consideration of these four men together—two enslavers and two enslaved—that we come to see how Jefferson and Madison’s heightened attention to the sense of taste affected their vision for an agrarian American republic, and ultimately shaped the government they together helped to create.
More specifically, a new analysis of Jefferson’s most famous (and infamous) statements about slavery demonstrates the centrality of this composite notion of taste in his opinions about national identity and racial difference, while an examination of Madison’s less considered writings on the same subject illustrates how his own emphasis on the cultivation of taste forces him to confront evidence of black as well as white tastefulness. The men’s shared response to this evidence of black taste was to attempt to distance the cultivation of taste from its gustatory origins. But what this distancing ultimately exposes is not a clear hierarchy of racial or sensory difference, as Madison and Jefferson hoped to enforce through their words and actions. Rather, through their insistence on the significance of the sense of taste, the founders reveal a sense of republican citizenship that is constituted as much through the lived experience and culinary expertise of enslaved men and women, such as James Hemings and Paul Jennings, as by any political expression of their own cultivated taste.
Taste, Temperance, and the Issue of Slavery
Thomas Jefferson and James Hemings shared a history, and not simply because of the link to Hemings’s sister Sally. When Jefferson traveled to Paris to assume the position of minister to France, in 1785, he took James Hemings with him, and there apprenticed him to the chef of a prince. Hemings learned to cook in the high French style, and later became the chef de cuisine at Jefferson’s Parisian residence. As noted by Annette Gordon-Reed in her monumental biography of the Hemings family, James Hemings’s role as chef “made him responsible for every success and failure regarding a critical component in that diplomatic household” (Hemings, 227).11 This statement makes clear that Jefferson’s dinner-table diplomacy—and, in all likelihood, the eventual popularization of his particular version of republican taste—would have been impossible without Hemings’s gastronomical skill. In his reliance on Hemings, Jefferson also demonstrates the contradiction at the core of republican identity, one brought about by the persistence of slavery in a country defined by its republican ideals. Jefferson’s elevated attention to issues of taste, placed in the context of his acquiescence to the institution of slavery, accentuates the ways in which his personal actions undermine his vision of a national identity for all residents of the United States.
In September 1793, several years after Jefferson and Hemings had returned from France, Jefferson penned a short paragraph that established the conditions for Hemings’s eventual emancipation. The resultant document was witnessed and signed by Adrien Petite, Jefferson’s white maître d’hôtel, even as Hemings could write in both English and French. In its single sentence, the agreement exposes the conflict between Jefferson’s desire to reward Hemings for his exemplary service in the form of his freedom, and his awareness of the immediate and profound impact that Hemings’s emancipation would have on his table. The agreement, in its entirety, reads:
Having been at great expence [sic] in having James Hemings taught the art of cookery, desiring to befriend him, and to require from him as little in return as possible, I do hereby promise and declare, that if the said James shall go with me to Monticello in the course of the ensuing winter, when I go to reside there myself, and shall there continue until he shall have taught such person as I shall place under him for that purpose to be a good cook, this previous condition being performed, he shall be thereupon made free, and I will thereupon execute all proper instruments to make him free. (Papers, 27:119)
The implications of slavery on the development of Jefferson’s republican taste are here laid bare. According to the terms of the agreement, Hemings must exchange his culinary knowledge for his personal liberty. Jefferson’s agreement—for in truth, Hemings had no choice but to consent—exemplifies what Saidiya Hartman has identified as a form of “barbarism” unique to slavery, one made manifest not only in the “constitution of slave as object but also in the forms of subjectivity and circumscribed humanity imputed to the enslaved” (6). To be sure, Jefferson’s measured tone and offer of friendship illustrate, in stark relief, the incontrovertible authority of Jefferson as enslaver, and the resultant subjection of Hemings as enslaved. In the agreement, Jefferson characterizes himself as a benevolent force of freedom, but his concern with the practical implications of Hemings’s release reveals the ways in which his heightened valuation of the “art of cookery” takes precedence over the foundational rights of the republic. By stipulating that Hemings instruct a replacement cook before he can be freed, Jefferson ensures that Hemings’s absence will be neither felt, nor tasted, at Monticello. At the same time, Jefferson’s insistence that Hemings train another man “to be a good cook” before he can be freed offers incontrovertible evidence of his awareness of Hemings’s skill. The prospect of losing James Hemings as his chef requires Jefferson to articulate, for the first time in writing, the larger social and political impact—not to mention the monetary value—of Hemings’s cultivated culinary expertise.12
Jefferson’s approach to the emancipation of James Hemings, indicative of the gradualist theory of emancipation that he endorsed throughout his life, demonstrates how his consistent attention to the sense of taste interferes with his ability, and his willingness, to address the issue of slavery in the United States. In Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), Jefferson’s longest publication and his only book-length endeavor, he inveighs against the “unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery,” although he does not implicate his own manners—or his tastes—in this assessment (Writings, 1:225). He nevertheless actively impugns the manners and tastes of black people as he asserts that they “participate more of sensation than reflection” (2:194). This language derives from the moral sense philosophers, who theorized judgments of taste as involving an immediate sensory experience followed by an assessment of, or a “reflection” about, that experience. As the emancipation agreement strongly underscores, Hemings, a black person, demonstrated the ability to make appropriate judgments of taste in abundance. But as Jefferson continued to insist upon his exclusionary version of republican taste as a model for the nation’s, he contributed to what Eric Sundquist identifies as the “state of unresolved crisis” of American identity that endures to this day (30). Sundquist locates the origin of this conflict in the incompatibility between the constitutional legitimization of slavery in the United States and the “overarching ideology of liberty” that “authorized its cultural independence, territorial expansion, and rise to world power” (30). Certainly, Jefferson’s incorporation of the “ideology of liberty” into his conception of republican taste at the same time that he employs this sense of taste as a justification for the continued enslavement of James Hemings, and all other black Americans, perpetuates this “crisis” of national identity.
Less immediately evident is how Jefferson’s insistence on the need for a shared national sense of taste underlies his construction of a hierarchy of racial difference. This hierarchy, in turn, subtends his philosophical arguments both for the continued enslavement of black Americans as a group and for the eventual expatriation of formerly enslaved black Americans to the western coast of Africa. It also reveals the complexities of the sense of taste itself. Indeed, Jefferson’s assessment, in the infamous Query XIV of the Notes, that black people are “dull, tasteless, and anomalous” reproduces the phenomenon that David Kazanjian, following Etienne Balibar, identifies as the “rise of numerous, hierarchically codified, particularistic differences” that accompany the movement of any group toward equality (Writings, 1:194; Kazanjian, 2). Kazanjian’s analysis emphasizes Jefferson’s “codification” of race in terms of quantifiable physical qualities and measurable population units—the influence, he contends, of Enlightenment empiricism. But taking into account the additional emphases on sensory experience and subjective judgment, it is my premise that Jefferson also develops his “indelible” racial categories by attending to qualitative assessments of black and white people’s divergent tastes. Rather than ascribe the contradiction between Jefferson’s republican ideology and his opinions about race to his own personal deficiencies, as many have argued, or to a generalized “crisis” of national identity, as Sundquist might claim, this theory of the interdependence of equality and difference provides a model for understanding Jefferson’s ideas about taste, race, and nation as a single, albeit flawed, conceptual system.13
Jefferson’s belief in the strong relationship between race and nation has, in fact, already generated significant critical attention. Peter Onuf, for instance, asserts that Jefferson perceived enslaved African Americans as “constitut[ing] a distinct nation,” and for this reason, viewed the range of “crimes” committed against them—captivity, relocation, and bondage—“in national terms” (3). This conceptual link between race and nation helps to explain why, in the same Query in which he comments about the absence of taste in black people, Jefferson also criticizes one formerly enslaved man, Ignatius Sancho, for his extravagant writing style. Although Sancho’s essays had been uniformly praised in Europe, Jefferson disparages his work for “escap[ing] incessantly from every restraint of reason and taste” (Writings, 1:196). Jefferson indicts Sancho’s excess of taste much as he had previously reproached the inferior taste of black Americans as a group. Jefferson resists acknowledging any similarity in taste between black and white Americans, just as he refused to acknowledge the good taste of James Hemings, for this admission would challenge Jefferson’s conception of national taste, and consequently his conception of the nation itself.
Jefferson’s most famous published statement against slavery, included in Query XVIII, clarifies how he makes use of the notion of taste to define and defend his vision of a national identity for the United States. Evoking the tone and the moral force of a Puritan jeremiad, Jefferson expresses his fears about the future of a nation still dependent on slavery: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest” (Writings, 1:227). As noted by many critics, Jefferson derives the basis of his philosophical argument from the Lockean formulation of slavery as a state of war. In these often-quoted lines, Jefferson conjures a “contest” of divine magnitude. His distress at the notion that God cannot “take side” with white America underlies his conviction about the fundamental differences between white and black people. He readily adapts his ideas about an association between race and nation to conform to Locke’s critique of slavery. But by invoking both “numbers” and “nature,” Jefferson again demonstrates how his belief in the inevitability of emancipation emerges from his view of black and white people as discrete populations and as qualitatively separate subjects. Jefferson is unable to envision a United States in which black and white people might live together as equals because of his perception of their distinct national affiliations, and because of his intractable ideas about their irreconcilable tastes.14
Jefferson’s scrupulous attention to matters of taste is therefore among the major factors that lead him to condone the continued existence of slavery. Consider his conclusion to the passage quoted above: “But it is impossible to be temperate and to pursue this subject through the various considerations of policy, of morals, of history natural and civil. We must be contented to hope they will force their way into every one’s mind” (Writings, 1:227). Jefferson’s supposition that it is “impossible to be temperate” with respect to the subject of slavery, combined with the fact that the passage appears in the Query on manners, confirms his conviction about the crucial influence of taste in determining matters both “of morals” and “of policy.” Jefferson’s career as a politician, not to mention his own acts of enslavement, would have attuned him to the difficulty of resolving such an issue, one that encompassed economic and cultural as well as moral concerns. But it is also possible to read this statement as an affirmation of the temperate republican discourse that he sought to elevate to an art at his table. His language suggests that a discussion about slavery’s abolition would necessarily entail a lack of temperance, and this intemperance would prove damaging to the nation’s emergent sense of self. Because the United States’ political institutions had not yet stabilized, and its (white) national identity had not yet sufficiently coalesced, Jefferson was unwilling to endorse any action that would detract from his project of producing tasteful, temperate citizens.
Throughout the Notes, Jefferson reinforces his argument for the importance of a shared sense of taste in shaping a national identity. He frequently employs the trope of temperance, that signal attribute of republican taste, in order to explain how political principles are affected by the exercise of subjective judgment. For example, in regard to the potential danger that immigrants might pose to the young nation, Jefferson states: “They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to the other. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty” (Writings, 1:120). Jefferson draws upon the philosophical discourse of taste, as a sense that is influenced both by individual experience and by culturally sanctioned rules, in order to convey his perception of the threat posed by foreigners seeking entrance to the United States. He also draws from the language of temperance, introduced into North America with the arrival of first Puritan settlers, and which would permeate Anglo-American discourse into the nineteenth century and beyond.15 Connecting this Puritan concept with the more embodied idea of “eating and drinking too freely,” as Benjamin Franklin would define it with respect to his own intemperate body, as discussed in chapter 2, Jefferson discloses his awareness of the dangers of excessive indulgence that can come with the cultivation of taste (Franklin, Memoirs, 3:327).16 Here, Jefferson employs the verb “imbibe” in order to convey the delicate balance between temperance and pleasure that is required for the cultivation of appropriately republican taste. In addition, his use of the phrase “temperate liberty” provides an uncannily accurate description of his pragmatic political philosophy. As the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson believed that all men were “endowed by their Creator” with the unalienable right to liberty, but evidently only if that liberty could be tastefully acquired (Writings, 1:29).
For Jefferson, the role of taste is essential both in determining qualitative aspects of U.S. identity and in supporting the nation’s claim to cultural superiority. It is no surprise, then, that Jefferson identifies temperance as the virtue that will eventually guide the nation toward the abolition of slavery. Jefferson anticipated that the next generation of citizens, raised on American soil, nourished by native crops, and—significantly—impelled to action by the influence of American taste, would eventually address the issue of slavery. In a 1785 letter to a British correspondent, he explains: “These [young men and women] have sucked in the principles of liberty as it were with their mother’s milk; and it is to them I look with anxiety to turn the fate of this question” of slavery (Papers, 8:356). Once again, liberty is something that is ingested. His metaphor suggests that the “principles of liberty” nourish the mind, just as a “mother’s milk” fortifies the body.17 He evokes the sense of taste in order to convey his confidence in the moral force of American culture and employs the idea of eating in order to reinforce his belief in the importance of each citizen’s total incorporation of republican values. Here, Jefferson suggests that liberty can indeed be tasted; and that, in turn, a taste for liberty, acquired and cultivated in youth, will provide the impetus to confront and resolve the issue of slavery in the United States.
And yet, the trope also points back to the instinctual aspects of taste—what Jefferson himself would later describe in a letter to a friend, the philosopher Thomas Law, as an “innate sense” that is registered “through the eye in visible forms, as landscape, animal figure, dress, drapery, architecture, the composition of colors, &c., or to the imagination directly, as imagery, style, or measure in prose or poetry” (Letters, 1336). According to this statement—for it represents the clearest formulation of aesthetic taste Jefferson ever recorded—the “faculty” of what he called interchangeably “criticism or taste” is characterized by “visible” or mental forms, and registered by the sensorium “directly” before being processed by the mind. Here, again, is a conception of taste that looks ahead to Brillat-Savarin—in this case to the “analysis of the sensation of tasting” included in The Physiology of Taste (40). Brillat-Savarin’s conception of taste encompasses three forms of sensation: “direct” and “complete” sensation, both closely tied to the physical experience of eating; and a “reflective” sensation, “the opinion which one’s spirit forms from the impressions which have been transmitted to it by the mouth” (40). While Jefferson, in his letter to Law, derives his formulation of taste not in relation to eating, but in relation—and, at times, in opposition—to the moral sense, it shares certain key features with Brillat-Savarin’s; both believe that the sense of taste originates in the sensory impressions of the body, about which assessments (Brillat-Savarin’s “opinions”) can then be cultivated and refined.18
With this formulation of taste, Jefferson finds himself in a bind: he can continue to insist upon the influence of society and culture in refining the reflective aspects of the sense of taste, which would allow him to continue to exclude black Americans from his project of cultivating taste in U.S. citizens. But that insistence would also require that he excise from the sense of taste its most potent force: its origin in instinctual appetite. While shaped by a national culture, Jefferson’s republican taste still carries with it the power and pleasure of innate desire. As evident in Jefferson’s vision for an end to slavery, motivated by principles “sucked in” from infancy, and therefore incapable of being overturned, the sense of taste is predicated on both immediate sensory experience and acculturated response. Even if Jefferson was unwilling to explicitly acknowledge that black Americans could cultivate a sense of taste, his heightened valuation of the sense of taste—evident in his statements on slavery and its abolition, as well as at his dining table—demonstrates his awareness of the multipart process by which taste can be cultivated and refined by any and all people.
Agricultural Citizenship and the Cultivation of Taste
The process of cultivating taste, to which Jefferson was so deeply attuned, extends from his interest in cultivation more generally conceived. Well before Jefferson traveled to France and was exposed to the pleasures of the table, he invested significant time—and symbolic weight—in what he called the “art of agriculture.” Indeed, Jefferson viewed agricultural cultivation, like tasteful consumption, as an acquired skill. The acquisition of this skill, he believed, would directly result in the refinement of those who participated in it. To wit: in 1784, Jefferson wrote to James Madison, who was by then a dear friend, inviting him to purchase a “little farm of 140 ac[res]” adjoining his own, where together they might establish “a society to our taste” (Papers, 6:550, 10:612). Framing his vision in terms of a conception of taste again steeped in Scottish Enlightenment theory, and characteristically infused with his own ideas about temperance and virtue, Jefferson explains, “The one here [i.e., Jefferson himself] supposed, we can regulate to our minds, and we may extend our regulations to the sumptuary department, so as to set a good example to a country which needs it, and to preserve our own happiness clear of embarrassment” (10:612). Although scholars strongly believe that Jefferson refers here to the “embarrassment” of slavery, it is Madison who, in mulling over the proposition, makes the reference explicit.19 As he wrote to a friend two years later, still undecided as to whether to agree to Jefferson’s plan, “My wish is if possible to provide a decent & independent subsistence . . . [and] to depend as little as possible on the labour of slaves” (Papers, Congressional Series [CS], 8:328). For Madison, the stakes of this “farm of experiment” were clear: if he and Jefferson were to model the “decent & independent” existence they envisioned for the United States, they could not set their “good example” while relying on a staff that was enslaved (Jefferson, Papers, 6:550).
Although Madison never matched Jefferson in the fervor of his remarks—recall Jefferson’s famous proclamation, in the Notes that “those who labour in earth are the chosen people of God”—he shared Jefferson’s conviction that a life of farming was most conducive to the cultivation of republican taste (Writings, 1:229). As early as 1792, in an essay for the National Gazette, Madison proclaimed farming to be “pre-eminently suited to the comfort and happiness of the individual Health,” as well as to “Virtue, the health of the soul” (Papers, CS, 14:245). For Madison, as for Jefferson, the economic independence and self-sufficiency accorded by subsistence farming enhanced citizens’ personal and physical well-being, as well as their benevolent participation in society: “The class of citizens who provide at once their own food and their own raiment may be viewed as the most truly independent and happy. They are more: they are the best basis of public liberty, and the strongest bulwark of public safety. It follows, that the greater the proportion of this class to the whole society, the more free, the more independent, and the more happy must be the society itself” (14:246). Echoing Jefferson’s belief that he “kn[ew] of no condition happier than that of a Virginia farmer” whose “estate supplies a good table, [and] clothes himself and his family” (Papers, 11:682), the view expressed here—that the “class of citizens” who rely on no one but themselves for food and clothing are the “most truly independent and happy”—accentuates Madison’s understanding of the link between the financial freedom facilitated by small-scale farming and the independence of thought required for republican citizenship. What is not acknowledged, of course, is that this idealized vision of farming was dependent upon the labor of people who were enslaved.
By the time of this essay’s printing, Madison had already implicitly rejected Jefferson’s proposal for a farming community of taste. In August 1784, Madison had accepted his father’s gift of 560 acres from the family’s Montpelier plantation, and along with it, a sizable staff of enslaved people. Twelve years later, in 1796, he divested himself of all other land holdings, including an arable tract of land in upstate New York, retaining ownership only of his plantation at Montpelier. Several historians have observed that this moment marked an ideological as well as a financial turning point. “Notwithstanding his best efforts,” Drew McCoy asserts, Madison “thus found himself no less dependent on Montpelier and on slave labor” (233). Irving Brant’s assessment is more severe: “For better or worse, [Madison] was yoked to the Virginia plantation for the rest of his life” (342). In the context of his beliefs about the virtues of farming, however, Madison’s sale of his land in the free North marked a more specific shift. From this point on, Madison spoke less of “labour in the earth” as the ideal endeavor through which to sustain virtuous citizenship. Instead, he focused his attention more fully on the techniques and methods of agricultural cultivation as models—and metaphors—for the cultivation of taste. This conceptual shift from the labor of farming to the art of cultivation afforded southern plantation owners, including Madison himself, a means of continuing to extol the virtues instilled by agrarian life while avoiding a personal confrontation with the implications of slavery.
Madison’s famed address to the Agricultural Society of Albemarle, the Virginia county in which he lived, delivered on May 12, 1818, emphasizes the virtues that can be derived from advanced techniques of cultivation. He first positions the “faculty of cultivating the earth . . . by which food is increased beyond the spontaneous supplies of nature” as the purview of “man alone,” and asserts that “this peculiar faculty gives to man a pre-eminence over irrational animals” (Papers, Retirement Series [RS], 1:260). Using terms associated with the discourse of taste, he frames the art of agriculture as a reflection of man’s capacity to subject “instinct” to reason, as well as an example of what separates the “enlightened and refined nations on some parts of the earth, and the rude and wretched tribes on the other.” He posits a direct connection between advancements in agriculture and “improvements” in “civilized life.” When he declares that “civilization is never seen without agriculture: nor has agriculture ever prevailed, where the civilized arts did not make their appearance,” he implies that the cultivation of the land also contributes to the cultivation of those who participate in it.20
Madison’s involvement in Jefferson’s project to build a university for the state of Virginia, in 1818, the same year as the Albemarle address, offered him an additional opportunity to explore the interrelation of agricultural cultivation and the cultivation of taste. Jefferson frequently stated that his aim in designing the buildings for the University of Virginia was to provide “models of taste & good architecture” for the students (qtd. in Wagoner, 98). While in the Notes, Jefferson had defended U.S. artists against the claim that the nation had “not yet produced one good poet,” he later concedes that Europe is “where genius is most cultivated, [and] where are the most excellent models for art” (Writings, 1:95). In a 1785 letter to Charles Bellini, a Florentine viticulturist who moved to Virginia in order to provide assistance in establishing a vineyard, Jefferson returns to extolling the state of the arts in Europe: “Were I to proceed to tell you how much I enjoy their architecture, sculpture, painting, music, I should want words. It is in these arts they shine” (Papers, 8:568). At home, Jefferson described being surrounded by “rude, mis-shapen piles, which, but that they have roofs, would be taken for brick-kilns” (Writings, 1:212). In proposing his Palladian design for the University of Virginia, Jefferson clearly intended to “cultivate” taste, and perhaps even genius, on campus.21
It should be noted that Charles Bellini failed in his experiments with grape growing. Thanks to a character reference from Jefferson, however, he was soon hired as professor of modern languages at the College of William and Mary. This easy transition, from agriculture to education, reflects Jefferson’s presumption of the close relation between the two fields. The “Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia,” signed in 1818 by both Jefferson and Madison, illustrates their mutual belief in the formative role of agriculture as an acquired skill, one that shapes citizens’ taste. The report clarifies the mission of the school as one that will “harmonize and promote the interests of agriculture” on the grounds that knowledge of this “art” would help “form [students] to habits of reflection and correct action, rendering them examples of virtue to others, and of happiness within themselves” (Papers, RS, 1:327, 1:239). Again employing the language of Scottish moral sense philosophy—forming “habits of reflection” for themselves and providing “examples of virtue” to others—Madison and Jefferson reconfigure their discourse of agricultural citizenship so that it might apply to the plantation structure of the farms in the South. Most notably, they no longer express a belief in the necessity of participating in the actual tilling of the soil, or the harvesting of vegetables and grains, in order to reap the personal and public benefits of farming. (One might recall Jefferson’s original vision of neighboring “little farm[s]” that they would work themselves.) Instead, they propose that a more refined engagement in the craft of cultivation is sufficient and even superior as a means of preparing students to become exemplars of taste.22
The language of the University of Virginia report confirms Madison and Jefferson’s shared understanding of the importance of cultivation, as it applies to agriculture, to the process that will produce virtuous citizens. In the following lines, they rely on the metaphor of cultivation in their argument endorsing the benefits of education for all: “As well might it be urged that the wild and uncultivated tree, hitherto yielding sour and bitter fruit only, can never be made to yield better; yet we know that the grafting art implants a new tree on the savage stock, producing what is most estimable both in kind and degree. Education, in like manner, engrafts a new man on the native stock, and improves what in his nature was vicious and perverse into qualities of virtue and social worth” (Papers, RS, 1:330). Emphasizing the close connection between agriculture and the “civilized arts,” they focus on a specific form of cultivation—the “grafting art”—as the dominant trope of this comparison. They also propose that the effects of grafting can be experienced by even the most “savage stock” (although, to be clear, their version of savagery here extends only to the “uncultivated” white men whom they would deign to admit into the university).23 Several lines later, when Madison and Jefferson assert that advancements in agriculture have “rendered the [natural] elements themselves subservient to the purposes of man, have harnessed them to the yoke of his labors, and effected the great blessings of moderating his own,” they further differentiate the cultural work of farming from the actual labor required to produce it. In so doing, they demonstrate how this rarefied form of cultivation, and by implication the sense of taste, functions not only as a controlling metaphor but also as a controlling regime; it allows U.S. citizens to cultivate their land, their minds, and their morals without having to account for the fact that those who produced their nation-sustaining food were, for the most part, still enslaved.
In 1822, acting in his capacity as president of the American Board of Agriculture, Madison wrote to a number of regional agricultural societies expressing his concern with the present “crisis in the agriculture of Virginia” (Letters, 285). Referring at once to the impoverishment of the soil, a result of more than a century of plantation farming, and to the recalcitrance of the farmers themselves, who refused to revise their methods of cultivation in accordance with modern techniques, Madison explains that this “crisis” could, in large part, be attributed to farmers “enslaved” to “ancient modes” of farming (285). Asserting that “in no instance . . . is habit more unyielding, or irrational practice more prevalent, than among those who cultivate the earth,” Madison targets plantation farmers not for their enslavement of other people, but for their enslavement to old habits. He invokes the metaphor of slavery, which in an audience of plantation owners would be acutely felt, in order to illustrate the crucial importance of subjecting “unyielding” habit to rational thought. However, by urging plantation owners to examine the effects of enslavement while permitting them to avoid confronting the institution of slavery itself, Madison extends his own “crisis” into the U.S. psyche. Whereas the nation’s originary “crisis,” as theorized by Sundquist, derives from its constitutional legitimization of slavery, Madison’s is more specific: a model of cultivated agricultural citizenship that advances republican virtue at the same time that it enforces—in lived experience as in symbolic language—this most glaring conceptual contradiction. Madison reveals, moreover, how his views about the virtues of cultivation, which would seem inherently and irreparably flawed, in fact incorporate into the body and mind the fundamental tension of the sense of taste.
This is the same tension that Jefferson confronted in his racial hierarchies, which Washington confronted at his table, and that we will see confronted, and at times challenged, throughout this book: the tension inherent in a sense of taste that relies on both immediate sensory experience and acquired cultural norms. For later aesthetic philosophers, those who allied themselves with the ideas of Immanuel Kant, this “both/and” formulation of the sense of taste threatened to destabilize their rigorous theories about aesthetic response. But for political figures such as Jefferson and Madison, it allowed them to retain a belief in the civilizing force of the sense of taste while minimizing the value of the embodied sensory experiences in which, as a result of their enslaved plantation staffs, they less often directly engaged.
Moderating the Political Body
By most accounts, James Madison inhabited the “eighteenth-century ideal of a republican statesman” (McCoy, 34).24 According to one contemporaneous account, Madison displayed “a moderation, temperance, and virtue in every thing” (qtd. in McCoy, 34).25 The personal narrative of Paul Jennings, Madison’s valet, who was born into slavery at Montpelier, and in 1863, recorded his memories in A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison, would seem to confirm the fourth president’s moderate mien. “I never saw him in a passion, and never knew him to strike a slave,” Jennings recalled, before continuing: “He was temperate in his habits. I don’t think he drank a quart of brandy in his whole life. He ate light breakfasts and no suppers, but rather a hearty dinner, with which he took invariably but one glass of wine. When he had hard drinkers at his table, who had put away his choice Madeira pretty freely, in response to their numerous toasts, he would just touch the glass to his lips, or dilute it with water, as they pushed about the decanters. For the last fifteen years of his life he drank no wine at all” (15–16). Among Jennings’s daily responsibilities was to set the table for dinner, and as Madison became increasingly infirm, Jennings was also required to cut the food on Madison’s plate into pieces small enough for him to eat.26 Perhaps because of his intimacy with Madison’s eating habits, or because of his own exposure to the discourse of taste, Jennings draws a direct link between the president’s regulation of his physical “passion” and the temperance of his choices with respect to food.27 In opposition to the dominant perception of Madison as a tasteful U.S. citizen, his dependence on Jennings, a man he enslaved, confirms the fundamental flaws in his personal expression, as well as in his political application, of his republican taste.
As early as 1772, Madison noted in his commonplace book that “our Taste depends on the organization of our bodies & the dispositions or situations of our Minds” (Papers, CS, 1:21). This statement, copied from an English translation of the Abbé Du Bos’s Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Music (1719), describes Madison’s understanding of the sense of taste as comprised of physical and intellectual components, in keeping with Jefferson’s and the Scottish Enlightenment view. A subsequent note—“when our Taste happens to change, it is not owing to Argument or to Persuasion, but to some Physical Alteration in our Bodies, or to some prevailing & aspiring Passion of the mind”—indicates his view of the body as the central site of aesthetic control. This formulation of taste, how it is developed, and how it is refined, points to why Madison could not conceive of a nation that included black citizens.
Madison’s support for a moderating political body, and his belief in the “salutary” influence of personal taste, together contribute to his resistance to admit black Americans into the nation he helped to create.28 His justification for the expatriation of all black people to the African coast, like Jefferson’s, rests on a dual assessment of the “insuperable” nature of white prejudice and the “Physical & lasting peculiarities” of black Americans as a group (Papers, RS, 1:469). In her analysis of this statement, Gordon-Reed underscores the point that Madison does not identify “black skin” as the source of the “peculiarities,” but rather, refers to “the peculiarities of the black people, as if more than skin color was at issue” (“Resonance,” 188–89). However, she is unable to ascertain “what those other lasting peculiarities were.” But in an 1819 letter to antislavery advocate Robert J. Evans, which was subsequently published in the Daily National Intelligencer, Madison writes that black people are “always . . . uncontroulled [sic] by some of the most cogent motives to moral and respectable conduct.” This reprehensible assertion aligns with Jefferson’s in the Notes, and suggests that Madison, like Jefferson, believed that one “peculiarity” of black people had to do with a “moral and respectable” core that, unlike that of their tasteful white compatriots, was somehow “uncontrolled” by an external guide.
Even when presented with irrefutable evidence of the tastefulness of black Americans, such as the “most gentleman-like manner” with which Paul Jennings was reported to have escorted a neighbor around Montpelier, Madison remained unwilling to admit that race did not play a factor in the cultivation of taste (Dolley Madison, Papers, 223). Here, his treatment of Jennings’s predecessor William Gardner provides a revealing example. Gardner had served Madison in Washington in the early 1780s, and was thus exposed to the political debates that culminated in the Federalist Papers. As a result of this experience, Madison decided that Gardner’s “mind [was] too thoroughly tainted to be a fit companion for his fellow slaves in Virg[ini]a,” and consequently had Gardner sold (Papers, CS, 7:304).29 Madison justified his decision to his father, explaining that he could not “think of punishing” Gardner by sending him back to Montpelier “merely for coveting that liberty for which we have paid the price of so much blood, and have proclaimed so often to be the right, & worthy the pursuit, of every human being.” But the action that Madison took—selling Gardner rather than releasing him from bondage—illustrates his own unshakable belief that even a black man with an incontrovertible taste for liberty was considered unfit for self-governance.
The entrenchment of Madison’s racialized conception of taste is further corroborated with the report provided by Christopher McPherson, a free black man once invited to dine at Madison’s table. “I sat at Table Even[in]g & morn[in]g with Mr. M his Lady & Company & enjoyed a full share of the Convers[ation],” McPherson recalls (qtd. in Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, 14–15). While it is impossible to know “whether such encounters influenced Madison’s opinion of the abilities of people of African descent, or if he read them only as exceptions to the rule,” as Elizabeth Dowling Taylor observes (15), McPherson’s assessment of Madison’s view is easily discerned in a subsequent letter, a note of thanks to Madison for lending him a horse. “This with the Family going off tomorrow on the Same Horses—and other Considerations—Stamps upon my mind an appropriate Sense of your goodness, that is not easily expressed,” McPherson writes. “I shall however watch for an opportunity to Convince you how Sensible I am of it” (Papers, CS, 17:380). McPherson explicitly conveys an “appropriate” recognition of the Madisons’ generosity, and continues to hope for an “opportunity” to demonstrate his sensibility. That he employs both the word “Sense” and the word “Sensible” in his letter is significant; as a free black man who could read and write, and as someone with significant experience interacting with prejudiced white people, McPherson would most likely have been familiar with the assumption, as articulated most ignominiously in Jefferson’s Notes, that black people fail to exhibit that “tender mixture of sentiment and sensation” that characterizes the tasteful behavior of white folk (Writings, 2:194).30 Here, McPherson takes an active step, one which he knew would be required, to disabuse Madison of his notion of black Americans’ unreflective tastes.
It was the unreflective and insensible tastes of white Americans, however, that prevented the movement for general emancipation from gaining force. Madison, like Jefferson, placed his faith in the gradual emergence within the U.S. public of a “sensibility to human rights, and a sympathy with human sufferings, excited and cherished by the discussions preceding [Independence], and the spirit of the institutions growing out of that event”; as a result, he and others failed to advocate for the immediate abolition of slavery (Papers, RS, 1:428). And yet, his own actions accentuate the flaws in an approach to emancipation that depends on individual “sensibility.” Madison, himself, refused to consider emancipating the people he enslaved. After his death, his wife, Dolley, continued to host extravagant parties “every Wednesday evening, at which,” according to Paul Jennings, “wine, punch, coffee, ice-cream, &c, were liberally served” (16). In need of funds to support this demonstration of “taste of so high a tone,” Dolley began the process of selling the people that the family had enslaved, one person by one (Papers, 265).
Although Madison had promised Paul Jennings his freedom, as he reported to a journalist in 1848, Jennings was required to travel with Dolley back to Washington, which separated him from his wife and children. There, nearly eleven years later, Jennings finally obtained his freedom through a purchase arrangement with Daniel Webster, the Massachusetts senator—himself a great gastronome—who valued Jennings for, among other qualities, his cultivated sense of taste. More specifically, Elizabeth Dowling Taylor reports that “one of the great draws at Webster’s home was the culinary fare prepared by his African-American cook, Monica McCarty,” and that Webster placed a high valuation on food that was tastefully prepared and presented to his guests (144). For this reason, he was likely already attuned to Jennings’s masterful service as he had experienced it at the Madisons’ table. What is certain is that, upon arranging to pay for Jennings’s freedom, Webster appointed Jennings his butler and dining-room servant. Taylor provides a range of evidence to support the assertion that the “meals that McCarty cooked and Jennings served were appreciated,” and cites one diner’s report that, at the Webster home, “the table is capital” and “everything is given at the top of the heart” (164). In this way, Jennings’s exemplary taste both confirms and contests Madison’s intertwined assertions about the concept. Jennings’s good taste confirms the general view that taste indeed matters; his good taste was the trait that first prompted Webster to take note of him in the Madison household, and that prompted Webster to extend his offer of assistance. But Jennings’s good taste also strongly contests Madison’s belief in it as a quality that only white people could possess; Jennings, a black man, employed his own exemplary sense of taste in order to enable himself to become free.
It thus seems fitting that Madison’s death, as observed by Jennings, took place at the table—the actual as well as metaphorical site for the contradictory senses of republican taste. “I was present when he died,” Jennings recalled: “That morning Sukey brought him his breakfast, as usual. He could not swallow. His niece, Mrs. Willis, said, ‘What is the matter, Uncle Jeames?’ [sic] ‘Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear.’ His head instantly dropped, and he ceased breathing as quietly as the snuff of a candle goes out. He was about eighty-four years old, and was followed to the grave by an immense procession of white and colored people. The pall-bearers were Governor Barbour, Philip P. Barbour, Charles P. Howard, and Reuben Conway; the two last were neighboring farmers” (18–19). It is impossible to know what Madison meant by the “change of mind” that he experienced in his final moments. But it is easier to interpret the “immense procession of white and colored people” who “followed [him] to the grave.” Indeed, Madison’s personal actions, in death and in life, affected U.S. residents of all races. His contributions to the Federalist Papers consolidated support for the Constitution, helping to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” for his fellow (white) American citizens. Indeed, the principles of temperance and moderation that comprise his vision of popular government continue to influence the creation and modification of representative democracies today. At the same time, by extending the notion of personal taste from the cultural realm to the political, Madison ensured that black Americans would be precluded from participating in his project of regulating the national body. That his final pallbearers were “neighboring farmers” signifies, moreover, how Madison’s conception of agricultural citizenship, with its emphasis on the art of cultivation rather than the labor of farming itself, allowed him to justify the continuation of slavery in the free United States. The virtuous farmers who once supported Madison’s vision of an independent and self-sustaining republic ultimately supported Madison’s body itself.
The Archive and the Repertoire of Republican Taste
Paul Jennings went on to lead a long life, settling in Washington and finding employment first as a butler and dining-room servant in Daniel Webster’s home, and later as a clerk in the federal pension office. When he died in 1874, he left a daughter, two sons, and numerous grandchildren. He also left the daguerreotype, pictured on the previous page, which, according to Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, he had taken as one of his first acts as a free man.31 The daguerreotype contributes to our testament, in the present, of Jennings’s contributions in the past. Taken along with his Reminiscences, which entered the archival record almost by chance—it was a colleague at the pension office who, upon hearing of Jennings’s past life in such close proximity to a U.S. president, asked if he might commit his memories to paper—his archival record enables us, as scholars today, to develop a sense of how republican taste was exchanged and transacted in the early United States. Indeed, this notion of republican taste would soon be met by a range of additional aesthetic theories and forms of personal and political agency, evident throughout the Atlantic world.
There exists no analogous archival record for James Hemings, however. The sole surviving document authored in his own hand is an inventory of the kitchen utensils at Monticello, which dates to 1796, the year of his legal emancipation. The document was likely compiled as Hemings was preparing to complete the transfer of his culinary responsibilities to his younger brother Peter, the person whom Jefferson designated to serve as James’s replacement as per the terms of the emancipation agreement that Jefferson had authored several years before.32 And while Hemings could have himself authored a more personal account of this most profound of life transitions, it would not come to pass. In 1801, five years after he penned his kitchen inventory, he took his own life. The final archival reference to Jefferson’s skillful chef is a letter composed by an innkeeper friend, several months after Hemings’s death, confirming the “melancholy circumstance” of his suicide (Papers, 34:569–70).
If James Hemings, in the summer of 1801, found himself enmeshed in this most profound of personal crises, the rest of the country, at that same time, saw itself absorbed by international affairs: in July of that year, Toussaint Louverture signed and then summarily sent to France a constitution for the colony of Saint Domingue. The Constitution of 1801, as the document is now known, abolished slavery in that colony, declaring that “there was to exist no other distinction [among men] than that of virtues and talents, and no other superiority than that which the law gives in the exercise of a public function” (qtd. in James, 263). Prompted by Susan Buck-Morss’s influential essay “Hegel and Haiti” (2000), scholars now point to that moment, and to the events that ensued, as evidence for an argument about the emergence of modernity—the era in which the ideological tensions between personal and political liberty at last began to be addressed.
More recently, however, scholars including Sibylle Fischer and Monique Allewaert have offered perspectives that complicate that tidy summary, seeking to excavate both aesthetic modes (Fischer) and unexplored spaces (Allewaert) that “offer ways to build stories about places and actors that archives documenting the citizen-subjects of print cannot” (Allewaert, 50). For even as the Constitution of 1801 may be recognized today as the event that allowed the nation of Haiti, the first black republic, to enter the archival register, it was not true that it performed that inscriptive function at the time. Jefferson, for one, reversed course from his initial (if tepid) support for the revolutionary movement. As president, he chose not to respond to a letter from Toussaint’s successor Jean-Jacques Dessalines asking for a closer alliance on the basis of their nations’ shared ideological underpinnings. Working closely with Madison, then secretary of state, Jefferson instead asked Congress to ban trade with the nation, and severed all diplomatic ties.33
But if the aim of the Jefferson administration was to “reduce Toussaint to starvation,” depriving him, along with the people of Haiti, of actual as well as ideological food, others recognized that Toussaint’s taste for liberty, temporarily sated by slavery’s abolition in that place, could no longer be suppressed.34 As rumors spread that Toussaint was planning to incite additional uprisings across the Caribbean, Jefferson wrote to the governor of Cuba explicitly attributing Toussaint’s motivation to a failure to regulate his personal taste: “Appetite comes with eating, my friend, and Toussaint, who before did not desire more than the Ysland of Santo Domingo for his rule, is now planning to successively incorporate the neighboring Ysland of Jamaica . . . then Cuba, then Puerto-Rico, and finally the whole Globe” (qtd. in Fischer, 6). Toussaint’s desire for liberty—the same desire that Jefferson and Madison had, not thirty years earlier, extolled as a marker of their sense of taste—is here reframed by an unnamed white interlocutor as an instance of unrestrained “appetite.” By this account, the impulses of Toussaint’s (black) body cannot be cultivated into a version of taste that conforms to the Scottish Enlightenment view. Instead, his taste for liberty becomes evidence of how bodily appetite interferes with, rather than contributes to, the cultivation and expression of republican taste.
In her work on the history of aesthetics, less known to scholars of the Atlantic world, Buck-Morss identifies, in the idea of a “sense” of taste, an “uncivilized and uncivilizable trace, a core of resistance to cultural domestication” that distinguishes it from later conceptions of the aesthetic (6). This aspect of taste—the “uncivilizable trace” that resists acculturation—is what the letter writer above identifies in Toussaint’s unrestrained appetite. It is also, more accurately, what is on view in Jefferson’s desire for culinary pleasure that keeps James Hemings in bondage, and in Madison’s show of wealth that precludes Paul Jennings’s release. Indeed, this “uncivilizable trace” is what best explains the paradox at the heart of republican taste: that the body and its “uncivilized” desires are as central to the production of republican taste as are any of its “domesticated” or cultivated manifestations. And yet, the bodies that possess the knowledge and perform the labor to produce this cultivated taste are not the same as those who claim to benefit from its moral force. In this way, the most transformative aspects of the sense of taste are, in those who claim to demonstrate good taste of the highest degree, shorn from their conditions of possibility. In ways that have not yet been fully acknowledged, these conditions of possibility instead remain in and are retained by the bodies of the enslaved men and women, such as Hemings and Jennings, who produce the taste on which the “free” republic depends.
As Buck-Morss’s formulation also allows us to see, this same aspect of the sense of taste—its embodied and “uncivilizable trace”—ensures that a “core of resistance” remains. This is the aspect of taste that is consistently on display in James Hemings’s culinary knowledge, and in Paul Jennings’s tableside expertise. Their conscripted efforts in the conception, preparation, and presentation of meals help to constitute an expanded archive, one that documents a fuller range of the cultivation and expression of taste. This archive consists of a set of embodied cultural practices that, following Diana Taylor, resist the tendency of print archives to “separate[e] the source of ‘knowledge’ from the knower” (19). From this archive of eating—what Taylor would term a “repertoire”—we can glimpse how the sense of taste in the early republic was shaped as much by figures such as Hemings and Jennings as by the founders’ abstracted ideals.
In this account of James Hemings and Paul Jennings, the men who prepared the food of presidents and served it at the highest seats of national power, I have attempted to identify places in the archive where we might reconnect knowledge with “the knower.” I have also attempted to draw attention to the embodied cultural practices—the work of farming, cooking, and serving—that exist outside of our existing archive and that are merely gestured toward in the print record of the nation’s founding. These embodied cultural practices also enable us, as scholars, to move beyond our concern with social and political contradiction in order to forge a new sense of the ways in which republican identity—the version enacted in the young United States and the version that would soon be made manifest in Haiti—is constituted by the interplay both between texts and bodies, and between subjective experience and acculturated response. Attending to the repertoire of republican taste, in which eating and aesthetics are inextricably intertwined, allows us to make better sense of our national cultural record by revealing the multiple meanings, or senses, of taste.