senatorial saucer (1872)

Dan Goodman dsgood at IPHOUSE.COM
Mon Nov 10 05:45:07 UTC 2008

Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      senatorial saucer (1872)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>From the Sunday NYT Magazine:
> ---
> Ask  a long-serving member of the United States Senate � like, say,
> Patrick Leahy of Vermont � to reflect on the Senate's role in our
> constitutional government, and he will almost invariably tell you a
> story from our nation's founding that may or may not be apocryphal. It
> concerns an exchange that supposedly took place between Thomas
> Jefferson and George Washington in 1787, the year of the
> constitutional convention in Philadelphia. Jefferson, who had been
> serving as America's ambassador to France during the convention, asked
> Washington over breakfast upon his return why he and the other framers
> created a Senate � in addition to the previously planned House of
> Representatives and presidency � in his absence.
> "Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?" Washington reportedly replied.
> "To cool it," Jefferson answered.
> "Even so," Washington said, "we pour our legislation into the
> senatorial saucer to cool it."
> ---
> I can only find this story from 1872, in an article that helpfully
> provides a provenance:
> ---
> New York Observer and Chronicle, Mar. 14, 1872, p. 88
> Dr. Lieber has a new story of Washington, coming to him from France
> through Laboulaye, that if not true deserves to be. Jefferson one day
> visited Washington, and full as Jefferson was of French views and
> ideas of politics and everything else, he zealously attacked the
> system of two houses of Congress. General Washington replied that
> Jefferson was much better informed than himself upon such topics, but
> that he himself would adhere to the experience of English and American
> history. "You, yourself," said the general, "have proved the
> excellence of two houses, this very moment." "I?" said Jefferson, "how
> is that?" "You have," replied the heroic sage, "poured your hot tea
> from the cup into the saucer to cool it. It is the same thing we
> desire of the two houses."
> ---
> (�douard de Laboulaye was a French jurist who had the original idea of
> presenting the U.S. with the Statue of Liberty. Francis Lieber was a
> US political philosopher who worked closely with Laboulaye.)
> The story also appears in the _Boston Investigator_, May 15, 1872, p.
> 8. And in this book from the same year, the story is told with the
> phrase "senatorial saucer":
> ---
> Moncure D. Conway, _Republican Superstitions_ 1872, p. 48
> There is a tradition that Jefferson coming home from France, called
> Washington to account at the breakfast-table for having agreed to a
> second, and, as Jefferson thought, unnecessary legislative Chamber. '
> Why,' asked Washington, ' did you just now pour that coffee into your
> saucer, before drinking ? ' 'To cool it,' answered Jefferson, ' my
> throat is not made of brass.' ' Even so,' rejoined Washington, 'we
> pour our legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.'

I wonder when and why people stopped pouring coffee or tea into the
saucer to cool it.

Dan Goodman
"I have always depended on the kindness of stranglers."
Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Expire
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