The state visit of President Emmanuel Macron of France and Mrs. Macron has everyone talking about the revitalized relationship between France and the United States. The night before President and Mrs. Trump host their first official State Dinner at the White House they will have a private dinner at Mount Vernon. To the casual observer it may seem random, but to those with an appreciation for French-American History, like our First Lady, it is deliberate, well thought out and deeply symbolic.
Mrs. Trump’s selection of Mount Vernon reflects her desire to highlight our country’s history and traditions through her public events. As the home of our first, First Family, President George and Martha Washington, Mount Vernon is representative of America’s path to freedom as well as a not-so-well-known connection with France.
George Washington was granted honorary French Citizenship by the National Assembly of France in 1792, illustrating the deep transatlantic connections between the American and French Revolutions. Even Jacques Cousteau, the famous French undersea explorer and environmentalist; celebrated his 75th birthday at Mount Vernon. Many artifacts of French origin can be found at Mount Vernon, including a 309-piece service, President Washington purchased from the departing French minister, Comte de Moustier. Other items from France, including gifts from Marquis de Lafayette (Following the Revolutionary War, George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, and their families exchanged numerous gifts and tokens of affection), are located at Mount Vernon. Perhaps the most significant item is the key to France’s notorious prison, the Bastille, a gift from Marquis de Lafayette. Dozens of notable French visitors have made the pilgrimage to Mount Vernon starting in 1781.
The selection of Mount Vernon is also a nod to American Presidential history. President Reagan visited for the 250th Anniversary of the Birth of George Washington, and First Lady Laura Bush hosted a luncheon on the estate. Aside from past Presidents and First Ladies just going there to pay their respects, inspiration or curiosity there have been past state visits such as the State Dinner honoring President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan and his daughter, Naseem Akhtar Aurangzeb, July 11, 1961.
The alfresco dinner where guests arrived by boat on the Potomac and dined under a beautiful tent on the former President’s lawn was no easy task. With no electricity, no heating, and limited kitchen facilities, The Kennedy’s military aide, was not over embellishing when they compared Jackie’s plans to that of a “full-scale military engagement”, which ended in an evening of elegance and grandeur. Her inspiration for the evening was to be reminiscent of one of her favorite evenings, a French dinner in Versailles that honored President Kennedy and herself. Perhaps the Trumps visit to France this past summer, dining at the Eiffel Tower with the Macrons and her Mount Vernon tour in February of 2017 provided the inspiration to have this intimate dinner at Washington’s estate.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy met in the large dining room of Mount Vernon, marking the first time Mount Vernon was used for a substantive, meeting between two heads of state. The French President, in a rather heartwarming moment, shared with President Bush: “When I say the French people love the American people, that is the truth and nothing but the truth.”
While many are aware of the magnificent 18th century home and its more than 500 acres what most people aren’t aware of is the deep ties it has to the French American bond, again showing First Lady Melania Trump’s intentional historical insights.
There will be talk about menus, and haute coutre gowns and guest lists but it is important to recognize the historical aspects of these elegant affairs. Remember, Mrs. Trump’s first seated White House social dinner was in honor of the White House Historical Association, and her first Christmas theme honored traditions from past first families. The Trumps’ first official State Dinner will be an elegant affair, but the pomp and circumstance will begin at Mount Vernon, displaying our American heritage for an evening President and Mrs. Macron should never forget.
Jennifer Boswell Pickens is a White House East Wing historian with an expertise in White House traditions, social events and First Ladies. She is a highly sought-after speaker, and author of two books, Christmas at the White House and Pets at the White House. Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @JenniferPickens.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.