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Jacksonian Democracy Enjoys a Special Treat, 1837. Peter Waddell, The Great Cheese, oil on canvas, 48 x 96.

The White House Historical Association

The East Room, the largest interior in the White House, was conceived in planning the house as an official gathering place where, among other ceremonies of state, Congress would convene to present bills to the president. President Jefferson disposed of state ceremony early-on, so there was no urgency to complete the room. It was unfinished when the British burned the house in August 1814 and although reconstructed by 1817, it remained without interior decoration until in 1828 when Congress appropriated the necessary funds to furnish it for the incoming president, Andrew Jackson.

Completed in 1829, during the first year of Jacksons administration, the East Room is shown here in about 1836, having served as old Hickorys stage for his two terms. It was a rich ensemble of glass, mahogany, and silk; the walls were papered in lemon yellow, and twenty-two spittoons served the national habit of the time. Reception crowds, alerted by the Marine Bands marching strains, rushed to see Andrew Jackson enter through the tall arch to the left, and pause for a thrilling moment. Wrapped in his blue cape, the greatest American hero since Washington posed beneath the halo of gold stars and sun rays that his aides had pasted on the wallpaper above him.

The White House was first opened to the public in 1801 by Jefferson, and by Jacksons time the East Room was the main interior shown to visitors. The East Rooms attractions increased notably late in Jacksons administration when the president received a thousand-pound cheese from New York admirers. Put first in the Entrance Hall for two years, the cheese gradually lost its better fragrance, so, stinking mightily, the by now famous Mammoth Cheese was towed to the East Room where the visiting public was invited to cut off and eat as much as it pleased.

The artist captures the moment, re-creating in the opulent interior the human tone of a railroad waiting room. Foreigners looked upon such White House scenes patronizingly as negative expressions of American democracy. In spite of it, artist Waddells visitors, dressed nicelya requirement for admissionenjoy their free presidential cheese and pause to drink in the delightas we might do todayof simply being there.

Footnotes & Resources

Congressional Record. Library of Congress, Rep. No. 552.

Connecticut Courant. Republican Simplicity, January 12, 1830.

Daily National Journal. The East Room, November 16, 1829.

National Intelligencer. Public Notice: The Jackson Cheese, February 22, 1837.

National Intelligencer. The Presidents At Home, February 25, 1837.

Pittsfield Sun. A letter from Washington to the Editor of the Boston Post, March 3, 1837.

Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Democracy, 18331845 (Volume 3). Baltimore:

The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Richmond Enquirer. The Anniversary at Washington, February 25, 1837.

Salem Gazette. Closing Scenes of the Session at Washington, March 28, 1837.

United States Gazette. The Last Levee, February 22, 1837.

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