I think it of very great importance," wrote Gouverneur Morris to George Washington in 1790, advising him on how to furnish the presidential mansion, "to fix the taste of our country properly...everything about you should be substantially good and majestically plain, made to endure." Modern Americans are taught to love luxury, to think of it as a reward for success. Those of the late 18th century were more apt to distrust it as a vice. They associated it with frivolity, decadence--colonial rule. Virtue showed itself in plainness, explicitness, pragmatism, "making do," an unfussed directness of craftsmanship. There was, as the phrase...

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