Suddenly many people are upset because Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, the team that just won the Stanley Cup, declined an invitation to the White House to be received by the President of the United States. To hear some of the carry-on you’d think Mr. Thomas had flouted a Divine Command of the Deity of Your Choice! So you may be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer fully supports Mr. Thomas’s decision not to attend this event (although he could have done so without making a statement to the press about it).
The United States of America remains a democracy. Its founding cornerstone has been Liberty. Citizens have the right to accept or decline invitations from anyone as they choose, including invitations from the Chief Executive. Such invitations are not Royal Commands! Etiquetteer is fond of historical precedent in such cases, and indeed, Etiquetteer’s beloved Ellen Maury Slayden supplies it. In 1902 she wrote “That snobbish twaddle about invitations to the White House and elsewhere being ‘virtually commands’ is having quite a vogue lately, chiefly, of course, among those just ‘arriving’ socially. I wish I could reproduce the savage humor with which Senator Vest treated the subject when we discussed it before him. He said he had been declining invitations to the White House for fifteen years because he didn’t want to go and had not been threatened with impeachment yet.”*
Of course Senator Vest was able to decline an invitation without making a sweeping statement to the press criticizing the Nation’s government as a whole. While Mr. Thomas may exercise his Freedom of Speech to say whatever he pleases, and while the press may exercise its own essential Freedom to report what Mr. Thomas says, Etiquetteer can’t find it Perfectly Proper for them to have gone to all this fuss.
To conclude, Etiquetteer thinks complaints about Mr. Thomas “insulting the President” by turning down this invitation are unjustified. If one is going to complain about Mr. Thomas, one is more justified complaining about the manner in which he did so, not the mere fact that he did.
* From Washington Wife: Journal of Ellen Maury Slayden from 1897-1919, page 41, copyright 1963. Used without permission.