Senatorial Saucer

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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The following story about a meeting between Thomas Jefferson and George Washington has been repeated many times:

...there existed a variety of opinions as to a Legislature of one or two houses. It is said that when Jefferson returned from France he was breakfasting with Washington, and asked him why he agreed to a Senate.

"Why," said Washington, "did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer before drinking it?"

"To cool it," said Jefferson; "my throat is not made of brass."

"Even so," said Washington, "we pour our legislation into the Senatorial saucer to cool it."

To date, no evidence has surfaced that such a conversation actually took place. The earliest known appearance of this story is in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1884 (the transcription above is from this source).[1] It was repeated by M.D. Conway in his Omitted Chapters of History Disclosed in the Life and Papers of Edmund Randolph, first published in 1888.[2] Since then, the story has appeared many times in print, usually prefaced by the phrase, "the story goes..." or something similar.

There is no definitive proof that this story is not true. However, one possible indication that it is apocryphal is the fact that, to all appearances, Jefferson was not against the idea of a bicameral legislature. He wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette in 1789, "...for good legislation two houses are necessary..."[3]


  1. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "The Birth of a Nation," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, January, 1884, 242. Available online in Cornell University's Making of America archive at
  2. M.D. Conway, Omitted Chapters of History Disclosed in the Life and Papers of Edmund Randolph (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1888).
  3. Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, Paris, 6 May 1789. PTJ 15:98. Press copy available online at

Further Sources