Friday, November 22, 2013

President Adams' Billiard Table

This is a neat little piece on President Adams’ Billiard Table by Edwin Miles. A fun little look into the White House of the past:
White House to embarrass the President. The very term "billiards" evoked an image of a secluded room where players and loungers wasted countless hours, smoking cigars, imbibing spirituous liquors, and wagering upon the fortunes of the game, all the while employing language and swapping stories that would have offended disapproving wives, sweethearts, and mothers.4 Because the game was commonly associated with gambling, it was illegal in many states. And as for a billiard table paid for by the taxpayers of the United States! If true, it would doubly compound the impropriety of the President's installation of such an unsavory object in the executive mansion.
The President's billiard table as a political weapon played only a minor role in the latter stages of the presidential contest of 1828. Its significance lay primarily in setting the overall tone of the Jacksonian campaign against the President. Undoubtedly influenced by the popular response to the hullabaloo about the "gambling furniture" in the "President's Palace," the supporters of Jackson produced even more preposterous charges. Senator Thomas Hart Benton's famed "East Room" letter, describing the alleged "regal magnificence" of that modestly furnished parlor, elaborated on the theme that the President lived in luxurious surroundings.34 Adams was accused not only of being extravagant in his use of public funds to furnish the White House, but also of waxing fat at the expense of the people throughout his public life. Had he not received exorbitant compensation for the various political and diplomatic offices he had held?35 Just as he was denounced for countenancing the vice of gambling by placing a billiard table in the executive mansion, he was accused of even more reprehensible conduct when as Minister to St. Peters-burg he had allegedly delivered up a nursemaid in his house-hold to the lust of the Tsar of Russia."3….
The whole issue of the President's billiard table clearly revealed the superiority of the Jacksonian newspaper system over that of their opponents in the dissemination of political information. For almost a year after the publication of the White House inventory, there was little effort by the administration press to issue an authoritative denial of the charge that the billiard table had been purchased at public expense. While Duff Green's United States Telegraph widely publicized editorials about the President's "gaming table," the Washington newspapers favorable to the administration, the National Journal and the National Intelligencer, chose to ignore the issue.39 Without any central direction to countermand attacks by the Jackson press, the conflicting attempts by administration spokesmen to account for the billiard table in the executive mansion offered more grist for the opposition's propaganda mills.

The article talks about this scene that was well known from The Billiard Table by James Hall:
It was a large apartment, indifferently lighted, and meanly furnished. In the centre stood the billiard table, whose allurements had enticed so many on this evening to forsake the quiet and. virtuous comforts of social life, and to brave the biting blast, and the not less " pitiless peltings" of pa rental or conjugal admonition. Its polished mahogany frame, and neatly brushed cover of green cloth, its silken pockets, and party coloured ivory balls, presenting a striking constrast to the rude negligence of the rest of the furniture ; while a large canopy suspended over the table, and intended to collect and refract the rays of a number of well trimmed lamps, which hung within its circumference, shed an intense brilliance over that little spot, and threw a corresponding gloom upon the surrounding scene. Indeed if that gay altar of dissipation had been withdrawn, the temple of pleasure would have presented rather the desolate appearance of the house of mourning. The stained and dirty floor was strewed with fragments of segars, play-bills, and nut shells ; the walls blackened with smoke, seemed to have witnessed the orgies of many a midnight revel. A few candles, destined to illumine the distant recesses of the room, hung neglected against the walls — bowing their long wicks, and marking their stations.

by streams of tallow, which had been suffered to accumulate through many along winter night. The ceiling was hung with cobwebs, curiously intermingled with dense clouds of tobacco smoke, and tinged by the straggling rays of light, which occasionally shot from the sickly tapers. A set of benches, attached to the walls, and raised sufficiently high to overlook the table, accommodated the loungers, who were not engaged at play, and who sat or reclined — solemnly puffing their segars, idly sipping their brandy and water — or industriously counting the chanees of the game ; but all observing a profound silence, which would have done honour to a turbaned divan, and was well suited to the important subjects of their contempla tion. Little coteries of gayer spirits laughed and chatted aside, or made their criticisms on the play ers in subdued accents; — any remarks on that subject being forbidden to all but the parties engaged ; while the marker announced the state of the game, trimmed the lamps, and supplied refreshments to the guests.

No comments: