A tale of Adams, Jefferson, Madison, the City Tavern, and the Fourth of July.

The City Tavern may have witnessed a dinner for President Thomas Jefferson’s cabinet members held in a Georgetown tavern on July 4, 1808. The location of this event was either at the current site of the City Tavern building or at a nearby tavern. Seventeen formal toasts were given, including to “The United States of America—Distinguished by nature’s choicest gifts, liberty and independence, peace and plenty—to preserve these blessings what privations will we not sustain, what dangers not encounter!”

A tradition of patriotic toasts on the Fourth of July may have begun at least ten years earlier, when James Madison penned eighteen “Toasts prepared for the 4th of July 1798,” including one for the presidential rivals, then-Vice President Jefferson and President Adams (who ran against each other in 1796 and 1800): “May the former never feel the passions of John Adams nor the latter be forsaken by the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson.” 

The dinner for Jefferson’s cabinet on July 4, 1808, was presided over by the president of the Bank of Columbia, which occupied the building next door to the City Tavern. According to the newspaper report of this event, the cabinet officials in attendance included the Secretary of State. President Jefferson’s Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809 was James Madison. It thus appears that Madison, our nation’s fourth president, like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, also at one time passed through the doors of the City Tavern in Georgetown. At the time of the Fourth of July dinner in 1808, Madison had already been nominated as the presidential candidate of the Democratic-Republican party. Later that year, Madison defeated the Federalist candidate, winning the 1808 presidential election. Madison succeeded Jefferson and won re-election in 1812.  

It is an interesting coincidence that at the dinner for John Adams in June 1800, held in the Long Room at the City Tavern and marking the arrival of the nation’s new capital in Washington, seventeen planned toasts were given to welcome Adams and the new capital. At the dinner for Jefferson’s cabinet on the Fourth of July in 1808, precisely seventeen planned toasts were again delivered (each set followed by a few more “volunteer” toasts).  

The historic rivalry between Adams and Jefferson lasted at least until July 4, 1826, when they died on the same day, hours apart, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps the toasts for Adams at the City Tavern in 1800, and the Fourth of July toasts for Jefferson’s cabinet in 1808 (likely also at the City Tavern), as well as the toasts penned by Madison for the Fourth of July 1798, may have each played a minor role in their patriotic, life-long rivalry?

Tale courtesy of B Bello, July 4th memo.