Privilege Blog

High WASP Weddings, Corruption And The Age Of Innocence

Gaudy, expensive, over-the-top weddings of famous people are not unique to our era. Consider if you will the inaptly named Age of Innocence. Does everyone remember, from the deep, dark recesses of high school history classes, a man named Boss Tweed? New York politician famed largely for corrupt practices. How about, from the same history class, or maybe from business school if you studied financial geniuses and possible criminals, a man named J. Pierpont Morgan? As in J.P. Morgan & Co.? As in the financial instruments responsible for the Industrial Revolution?

Guess what. They both had daughters. Guess what. Their daughters both got married. Guess what. The New York Times covered both weddings. In very different tones of voice. I will excerpt some of the articles here, but they are worth reading in all the gory detail.

J. Pierpont Morgan, Boss Tweed (gotta love this source)

Miss Morgan’s Wedding…,” respectfully begins the coverage of J. Pierpont’s daughter’s 1900 wedding. Her dress is described in the usual detail.
Clearly J. Pierpont was not lacking for diamonds. The reception, as was common for even the fanciest of affairs, followed at his residence.
Magnificence, reported in tones of awe. Now take a look at how the Times covered Boss Tweed’s daughter’s 1871 ceremony and reception. The article is even entitled, “A Costly Wedding.” Boss Tweed’s daughter committed the nouveau riche sin of purchasing her dress, albeit custom made.

Boss Tweed went all out decorating his house for the reception too. But I guess he hadn’t learned that correct protocol was to hang tapestries of the Sun God. What was he thinking, to rely only on expensive flowers?

J. Pierpont Morgan was a leading financier of his time. He was investigated by Congress but suffered no serious consequences. Was he corrupt? Boss Tweed rose from the Irish gangs of New York’s Lower East Side. Was he corrupt? So we said. And arrested him and put him in jail 4 months after his daughter’s wedding. I do not know if the New York Times was warranted in their different approaches to these two weddings. I do wonder, just a little bit why J. Pierpont’s daughter covered in diamonds and the tapestries of Greek gods in his house were exempt from the label given to Boss Tweed’s “monstrous” flowers? Old money had its privilege? But maybe Tweed was a criminal and Morgan was not. We will leave that question to the historians.

These days I believe our admiration or disdain for the excesses of celebrity weddings is ethnicity neutral. Class neutral. Unbigoted. There is progress, I believe, in the world. And yes, my family went to both events and brought presents. Power, after all, is power.

7 Responses

  1. what a contrast to my simplicity week. though i am still thoroughly intrigued by opulent weddings, both old and new. great post!

  2. You know, these wedding sound eerily familiar. The thing is now *everyone* can have monogrammed flowers, not just the super rich. Or well, we could, until the credit bubble burst…

  3. I would love to see pictures from both those weddings. What does that say about me?

  4. Well Meg I will slip you the monogrammed silver flask from my pocket so we can drown our sorrows. BTW, I would like to see pictures too. And I read US Weekly more than I should.

  5. Hi – I popped over from Bliss’s place this morning. I love history and I really love others thoughts about history. Cheers!

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