Over George Washington’s signature they say (within quotation marks), “Decision making, like coffee, needs a cooling process.”
These cups were shelved with lots of other paraphernalia displaying Washington quotes, such as:
- “A sensible woman can never be happy with a fool” (to Nelly Custis, 21 Mar 1796).
- “Peace with all the world is my sincere wish” (to Jonathan Boucher, 15 Aug 1798).
And indeed, I haven’t found them in any published edition of Washington’s papers, in the material now available at Founders Online, in the Library of Congress’s online papers, or at the Washington Papers project. In fact, Google Books doesn’t find the quotation in any book at all, though it does appear on internet quotation sites.
The phrase “decision making” didn’t really take off until the mid-1900s. The phrase “cooling process” made it into a 1799 issue of The Critical Review, just within Washington’s lifetime, but it’s not in Washington’s own writings.
The source of this ersatz quotation is probably the legend of the “senatorial saucer” which recounted a supposed conversation between Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As printed in Harper’s magazine in 1884, that story quoted the first President explaining the need for a Senate this way:
“Why,” asked Washington, “did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer, before drinking?”However, Monticello’s website points out that Jefferson was in France when the Constitutional Convention discussed and decided on a bicameral legislature, and his writings show he supported the idea before he returned. Back in 1776 he had mapped out a bicameral legislature for Virginia. Monticello therefore has the story filed under “Legends.”
“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.”
Mount Vernon likewise has a webpage devoted to “Spurious Quotations” of Washington. I believe the line about decision-making and coffee should be on it, but perhaps the coffee cups have to sell out first.
TOMORROW: The search for the source of the senatorial saucer.