ALTHOUGH Pennsylvania Avenue is several miles long, the mile that lies between the hill on which Congress sits and the slope where the President lives is called in local parlance “the Avenue.” Outside of their formal speeches and documentary literature, members of Congress are wont to refer to the White House and its surroundings as “the other end of the Avenue.” This familiar phrase is, like the popular designation of Congress as “the gentlemen on the hill,” a survival from the period when only one hill in town was officially occupied, and the strip of highway connecting it with the group of buildings used by the executive branch of the Government was about the only thoroughfare making any serious pretensions to street improvement. It was along this line that President Jefferson planted the first shade trees ; and L’Enfant’s plan made the south side of it the northern boundary of the Mall.
The title which for almost a hundred years the American people have given to the headquarters of their chief public servant is a fine example of historic accident. The White House was not originally intended to be a white house. It was built of a buff sandstone which proved to be so affected by exposure to the weather that as an afterthought it was covered with a thick coat of white paint. From its nearness to several red brick buildings, many persons fell into the way of distinguishing it by its color, and after its repainting to conceal the stains of the fire of 1814 this practice became general. Presidents have referred to it in their messages variously as the President’s House, the Executive Mansion, and the White House. Among the people it was also sometimes known, in the early days, as the Palace. The Roosevelt administration made the White House both the official and the social designation, and fastened the label so tight that there is little reason to expect a change by any successor.
The White House was born under the eye of Martha Washington, was nursed into healthy babyhood by Abigail Adams, received its baptism of fire under Dolly Madison, was popularly christened under Eliza Kortright Monroe, and passed through numberless vicissitudes under a line of foster-mothers stretching from that time to the end of the century, every one carrying it a little further away from its original plan; then Edith Kermit Roosevelt administered a restorative elixir which started it upon a second youth. The evolution of the Capitol, described in an earlier chap-ter, finds a parallel in the architectural genesis of this building. Its drawings were made and its construction superintended by James Hoban, an Irishman ; but a distinguished critic has described it as “designed on classic lines, modified by an English hand, at a time when French art furnished the world’s models in interior detail.” That accounts, of course, for its monumental and palatial features.
But we must bear in mind that its sponsors intended it not only as an official residence for the executive head of the Government, but as a home for the foremost American citizen and his family, and that, in the esthetics of domestic architecture, local influences were most potent. All the Presidents except one, for the first thirty-six years of the republic’s existence, were Virginia gentlemen ; so, although broadly following in treatment the Viceregal Lodge in Dublin, the President’s House took on much of the character of the “great house” on a Virginia plantation. This will explain why, in their work of restoration, when the architects were confronted by some gap in their plans which could not be filled by reference to the early records of the house itself, they drew upon the material common to the Virginia mansions of the same period.
By no means the least notable of their revivals was the recognition of the proper front of the building. For a half-century, and perhaps longer, its back door had been used as its main entrance, and most visitors had borne away the impression that that was the face its designer had intended it to present to the world. Nearly all the authoritative pictures helped to confirm this notion, by displaying the north side as confidently as the photographers in Venice take San Marco from the Piazza. The confusion of front and rear came about with other changes wrought by the increase of facilities for land transportation. The rural and suburban architecture of a century ago took great note of watercourses ; for in those days wheeled vehicles were rarer than now and vastly less comfortable, the saddle was unsociable, and most travel was by river and canal. Hence the finest houses were built, when practicable, where they would not only command a pleasing view, but present their most picturesque aspect to the passing boats. Doubtless the site of the White House was chosen with reference to the bend which the Potomac made opposite the center of the building, thus opening a view down to Alexandria and beyond. The river was broader then, and probably washed the outer edge of what was intended to be preserved for-ever as the President’s Park.
With the growing preference for land approaches, a good many Southern houses of the colonial type altered their habits, the White House among them ; the side which faced the street offered the easier entrance, and thus the back door gradually usurped the dignities of the front, and accordingly the grounds on that side were laid out with lawns, trees, and shrubbery. Its outlook, also, is upon Lafayette Park, which, if sundry plans are carried through, will one day be faced on three sides with stately buildings, housing those executive Departments with which the President has to keep in closest touch.
Though President Washington was never to occupy the White House, or even to see it after it was nearly enough finished for occupancy, he took the greatest interest in watching it go up, and, only a few weeks before his death, went all over it with Mrs. Washington, thoroughly inspecting every part then accessible. He had borne a share in the Masonic ceremony of laying its cornerstone, and by his personal influence had induced the State of Virginia to advance a large sum of money at one particularly critical stage of , the building operations ; so the old mansion may boast of having some honored association with every President from the foundation of our Government till now.
When John and Abigail Adams moved in, the scantiness of fuel and lights, and the necessity for devoting the east room to the humblest of domestic uses and converting an upstairs chamber into a salon, were not the only shortcomings in their environment. Surface drainage water from a considerable bit of high ground to the eastward had formed a turbid little creek which almost surrounded the mansion. There was no water fit to drink and of sufficient quantity to meet the daily needs of the President’s family, short of a spring in an open tract which we now know as Franklin Square, about half a mile away, whence it was brought down in crude pipes. Beds of growing vegetables filled parts of the garden area where today we find well-kept lawns and ornamental shrubbery. The only way of reaching the south door from Pennsylvania Avenue was by a narrow footpath, on which the pedestrian took a variety of chances after dark. The streets surrounding the President’s grounds were so deep in slush or mud for a large part of the year that, in order to keep their clothing fairly presentable, visitors were obliged to come in closed coaches ; and when the Adamses gave their first New Year’s reception, their guests, though so few that the oval room in the second story accommodated them, could not obtain in Washington enough suitable vehicles, and had to draw upon the livery stables in Baltimore.
Adams was a well-bred and well-read man, reared in the best traditions of New England, including the sanctity of a pledge ; and, having promised his friend and predecessor, Washington, to do what he could toward building up a capital in fact as well as in name, he pocketed his petty discomforts and made the best of things. Among his other efforts to promote the popularity of the new city must be counted several dinners of exceptional excellence, at which Mrs. Adams presided with distinguished graciousness in a costume that, though it would strike us now as rather prim, was in keeping with her age and antecedents. The President, who was a rotund, florid man of middle height, appeared at these entertainments in a richly embroidered coat, silk stockings, shoes with huge silver buckles, and a powdered wig. These were concessions to the general demand for elegance of attire on the part of the chief magistrate, following the precedent established by Washington. They did not at all reflect Mr. Adams’s preferences, for he was one of the plainest of men in his tastes, and his ordinary course of domestic life in the President’s House was to the last degree unpretentious ; his luncheon, for example, consisted usually of oatcake and lemonade, and one of his amusements was to play horse with a little grand-child, who used to drive him up and down the somber corridors with a switch.
Albeit Adams and Jefferson became, late in life, the warmest of friends, no love was lost between them during the period when both were active in politics. Adams, who would have been gratified to receive, like Washington, a second term, was not disposed to “enact the captive chief in the procession of the victor,” so he did not stay to see Jefferson inaugurated, but at daylight of the fourth of March, 1801, left Washing-ton for Boston. There was no need for such haste to escape, for Jefferson, as the high priest of democratic simplicity, had no procession ; though the cheerful little fiction about his riding down Pennsylvania Avenue alone, and hitching his horse to a sapling in front of the Capitol while he went in to be sworn, received its death-blow long ago. The truth is, he had no use for a horse. He was boarding in New Jersey Avenue, where he had lived for the latter part of his term as Vice-president. A few minutes before noon on inauguration day he set out on foot, in company with several Congressmen who were his fellow boarders, and walked the block or so to the Capitol, where he was escorted by a committee to the Senate chamber and there took the oath of office and delivered his address. Then he walked back again to his boarding-house, and at dinner occupied his customary seat at the foot of the table. A visitor from Baltimore complimented him on his address and “wished him joy” as President. “I should advise you,” was his smiling response, “to follow my example on nuptial occasions, when I always tell the bridegroom that I will wait till the end of the year before offering my congratulations.”
The accommodations in the President’s House were somewhat better by the time Mr. Jefferson moved in than they were when the Adams family opened it, yet he seems to have been more or less cramped during most of his two terms owing, doubtless, to the continued presence of mechanics and building materials in the incomplete parts of the house. When the British Minister called in court costume to present his credentials, he was received, with his convoy the Secretary of State, in a space so narrow that he had to back out of one end of it to make room for the President to enter at the other. One of the legation described Jefferson as “a tall man, with a very red, freckled face and gray, neglected hair; his manners were good natured and rather friendly, though he had somewhat of a cynical expression of countenance. He wore a blue coat, a thick, gray-colored hairy waistcoat with a red under-waistcoat lapped over it, green velveteen breeches with pearl buttons, yarn stockings with slippers down at the heels, his appearance being very much like that of a tall, raw-boned farmer.” On the other hand, an admiring contemporary insists that his dress was “plain, unstudied and sometimes old-fashioned in its form,” but “always of the finest materials,” and that “in his personal habits he was fastidious and neat.” So there you are !
A social being Jefferson certainly was. He liked company, and his former residence in France had cultivated his taste for the good things of the table, including light wines and olives. He once said that he considered olives the most precious gift of heaven to man, and he had them on his table whenever he could get them. He was also fond of figs and mulberries, and his household records bristle with purchases of crabs, pineapples, oysters, venison, partridges, and oranges a pretty fair list for a man devoted to plain living. One of his hobbies as a host at very small and confidential dinners was to insure to his guests the utmost privacy, so he devised a scheme for dispensing as far as practicable with the presence of servants and avoiding the needless opening and closing of doors. Beside every chair was placed a small “dumb-waiter” containing all the desirable accessories, like fresh plates and knives and forks and finger-bowls ; while in a partition wall was hung a bank of circular shelves, so pivoted as to reverse itself at the pressure of a spring, the fresh viands entering the dining-room as the emptied platters swung around into the pantry. The company at table rarely exceeded four when this machinery was called into play. At big state dinners the usual array of servants did the waiting.
The first great reception in Jefferson’s administration occurred on the fourth of July next following his inauguration. For some reason, possibly because the novelty of his sweeping invitation prevented its being generally understood by the populace, only about one hundred persons presented themselves. A luncheon was served, in the midst of which the Marine Band entered, playing the “President’s March,” or, as we call it, “Hail Columbia.” The company fell in behind and joined in a grand promenade, with many evolutions, through the rooms and corridors of the ground floor, returning at last to the place whence they had started and resuming their feast of good things.
As he was a widower when he succeeded Adams at the head of the Government, and it was not feasible, most of the time, for either of his daughters to preside over his public hospitalities, Jefferson naturally turned for aid to Mrs. James Madison, wife of his Secretary of State. He despised empty precedent ; and when, at a diplomatic dinner, he led the way to the dining-room with Mrs. Madison instead of offering his arm to Mrs. Merry, wife of the British Minister and dean of the corps, he defied all the old-world canons. Mrs. Merry withdrew in high dudgeon, and her husband made the incident the subject of a communication to the Foreign Office in London.
Dolly Madison’s fondness for society counterbalanced the indifference of her husband a little, apple-faced man with a large brain and pleasant manners but no presence, of whom every one spoke by his nickname, “Jemmy.” She is described as a “fine, portly, buxom dame” with plenty of brisk small-talk. She knew little of books, but made a point of having one in her hand when she received guests who were given to literature ; and she would have peeped enough into it to enable her to open conversation with a reference to something she had found there. One of the celebrities she entertained was Humboldt, the scientist, concerning whom she wrote : “We have lately had a great treat in the company of a charming Prussian baron. All the ladies say they are in love with him. He is the most polite, modest, well-informed, and interesting traveler we have ever met, and is much pleased with America.” Another was Tom Moore, who, though embalming in verse some of the spiteful spirit he had absorbed from the Merrys, in later years recanted these utterances.
As she was praised everywhere for the beauty of her complexion, it is disconcerting to learn from a candid biographer that Mrs. Madison was wont to heighten her color by external applications, and now and then, through an accident of the toilet, gave to her nose a rosy flush that was meant for her cheeks. We are told also that she was addicted to the fashionable snuff habit and kept always at hand a dainty little box made of platinum and lava, filled with her favorite brand of “Scotch,” which she would freely use at social gatherings and then pass around the circle of diplomatists who assiduously danced attendance upon her. This indulgence accounted for her carrying everywhere two handkerchiefs : one a bandanna tucked away in her sleeve, whence she could draw it promptly for what she called “rough work,” and the other a spider-web creation of lawn and lace, which she styled her “polisher” and wore pinned to her side.
Besides the British Minister with his standing grievance, which he advertised by never bringing Mrs. Merry to the President’s House after the fateful dinner, we read of two other foreign envoys who used to appear there spouseless. One was Sidi Mellanelli, who, Dr. Samuel Mitchill tells us, “came from Tunis to settle some differences between that regency and our Government. He is to all appearance upward of fifty years old ; wears his beard and shaves his head after the manner of his ‘country, and wears a turban instead of a hat. His dress consists simply of a short jacket, large, loose drawers, stockings, and slippers. When he goes abroad he throws a large hooded cloak over these garments ; it is of a peculiar cut and is called a bernous. The colors of his drawers and bernous are commonly red. He seldom walks, but almost always appears on horseback. He is a rigid Mohammedan; he fasts, prays, and observes the precepts of the Koran. He talks much with the ladies, says he often thinks about his consort in Africa, and wonders how Congressmen can live a whole session without their wives.”
The other unaccompanied diplomat was the French Minister, General Turreau, a man of humble birth who had risen to some eminence during the recent revolution in his country. Having once been imprisoned, he improved the opportunity to make love to his jailer’s daughter and marry her ; but he appears to have tired of his bargain, and it was no secret that they led a most inharmonious life. According to Sir Augustus Foster, he was in the habit of horsewhipping her to the accompaniment of a violoncello played by his secretary to drown her cries, and the scandalized neighbors had finally to interfere. Doctor Mitchill’s version of the affair is that the Minister tried to send his wife back to France, and that, when she refused to leave and raised an outcry, a mob gathered at their house and enabled her to escape and go to live in peaceful poverty in Georgetown. The Doctor has little to say of Turreau’s ability, but dwells impressively on “the uncommon size and extent of his whiskers, which cover the greater part of his cheeks,” and on the pro-fusion of lace with which his full dress coat was decorated.
Jerome Bonaparte, a younger brother of the first Napoleon, passed a good deal of time in Washington during the Jefferson administration and was one of the lions at the parties in the President’s House. Meeting Miss Elizabeth Patterson of Baltimore, he succumbed to her attractions and lost no time in suing for her hand. Her father was a bank president and one of the richest men in the United States, and the family, whose social position was unexceptionable, were far from having their heads turned by the pro-posed match, possibly feeling some misgivings as to future complications ; but the young people would listen to no argument and were married. Mr. Jefferson wrote at once to the American Minister at Paris, telling him to lay all the facts before the First Consul and to make it plain that in the United States any marriage was lawful which had been voluntarily entered into by two single parties of full age. Nevertheless, the great Napoleon did not hesitate to treat the marriage as void, and Jerome lacked manliness to defy his brother and fight the matter out ; but Mrs. Bonaparte, having spunk enough for two, stood up firmly for her rights as a wife to the end of her days, and commanded recognition for them everywhere outside of the imperial court.
A friend of Jefferson’s who came to Washington during his administration, and whose advent created not a little stir, was a man about seventy years of age, described as having “a red and rugged face which looks as if he had been much hackneyed in the service of the world,” eyes “black and lively,” a nose “some-what aquiline and pointing downward” which “corresponds in color with the fiery appearance of his cheeks,” and a marked fondness for talk and anecdote. This was none other than Tom Paine, patriot, poet, political pamphleteer, and infidel. He was favorably remembered all over the United States for his writings in behalf of human rights, and for the leaflets and songs which had cheered the hearts of the Continental soldiers at the most discouraging pass in our War for Independence. After the Revolution, he had gone abroad as an apostle of popular liberty, and, though outlawed in England, had been permitted to cross to France to take his seat as a deputy in the proletariat National Assembly. There, among other acts which won him commendation, he raised his voice and cast his vote against the resolution which sent Louis XVI to the guillotine.
Appreciating his services to this country and also strongly sympathizing with the French type of democracy, Jefferson had invited Paine to come back to his native land in a United States war-ship ; and the Federalist newspapers seized their chance to make partisan capital by parading Paine’s religious heterodoxy and charging Jefferson with having brought him home to undermine the morals of our people. Jefferson had considerable difficulty in counteracting the effects of the accusation, for his own opinions had been for a good while under fire, and it was not a day of nice distinctions. Probably in this more tolerant age a man like Paine would be given due credit for his practical benevolence even when mixed with a hatred of ecclesiasticism, and Jefferson would find himself not out of place in the Unitarian fold.
When Jefferson was not occupied with affairs of state or entertaining visitors, he was fond of sitting in what he called his “cabinet” a room which he had fitted up to suit his own fancy. The rest of the house was rather unhomelike. The east room was still unfinished, and through the others were strewn articles of furniture which, though good in their way, were not especially suggestive of comfort ; many of them were relics of the Washington regime, brought from Philadelphia. But in the cabinet stood a long table with drawers on each side, filled with things dear to their owner’s heart. One contained books with inscriptions from their authors ; another, letters and manuscripts ; a third, a set of carpenter’s tools for his amusement on rainy days ; a fourth, some small gardening implements, and so on. Around the walls were maps, charts, and shelves laden with standard literature. Flowers and potted plants were everywhere, and in the midst of a bower of these hung the cage of his pet mocking-bird ; but the door of the cage was rarely shut when the President was in the room, for he loved to have the bird fly about freely, perch on his shoulder, and take its food from his lips.
As may be guessed, the sponsor for this greenery was fond of all growing things. Jefferson was often seen walking about the embryo city, watching the work-men digging or building, but manifesting a special interest in tree-planting and ornamental gardening. He tried to induce Congress to vote enough money to beautify the grounds around the President’s House, but in vain ; the most he could do was to enclose the yard with a common stone wall and seed it down to grass. Among the plans he prepared but was obliged to abandon was the adornment of these grounds exclusively with trees, shrubs, and flowers indigenous to American soil. He must be credited with the first attempt ever made in Washington to establish a zoo-logical park ; Lewis and Clarke, the explorers, brought him from the West a few grizzly bears, for which he built a pen in the yard. He also made the first move to furnish Pennsylvania Avenue with shade trees. His preference was for willow-oaks ; but he started four rows of Lombardy poplars to take advantage of their rapid growth till the slower oaks matured. One of his hobbies was to improve the market gardening of the neighborhood by distributing new varieties of vegetable seeds obtained through the American consuls in foreign countries, and instructing his steward always to buy the best home-grown table delicacies at the highest retail prices.
At Madison’s inauguration in 1809, Jefferson not only did not imitate the ungraciousness of Adams eight years before, but went to the opposite extreme, declining Madison’s invitation to drive to the Capitol in the Presidential coach lest he might divide the honors which he felt belonged exclusively to the President-elect. Madison had what was then deemed a wonderful procession of military and civic organizations, and turned the occasion into the first “made-in-America” gala day, wearing himself a complete suit of clothing made by an American tailor, of cloth woven on American looms from the wool of American sheep. Jefferson, clad in one like it, modestly waited till the pro-cession had passed and then rode to the Capitol alone, not even a servant following to care for his horse. On entering the Hall of Representatives, he declined the chair reserved for him near Madison’s but joined the ordinary spectators, saying : “To-day I return to the people, and my proper seat is among them.” At the close of the ceremony, he mounted his horse again and rode up the Avenue unattended, till George Custis, also mounted, joined him, and they went together to the Madisons’ house.
Here a crowd of friends had gathered to welcome in the new administration. Mr. Madison’s emotions had been a good deal stirred by what had passed at the Capitol, but his manner was affable. His wife was all herself as usual. She was attired in a plain cambric dress with a very long train, and a bonnet of purple velvet and white satin, adorned with white plumes. Jefferson seems to have been, for such time as he stayed, quite as much the lion of the occasion as his successor. Presently he slipped quietly away and went over to the President’s House, where the empty halls echoed to his footsteps ; for he had given all the servants a holiday so that they could see the show. But he did not remain long alone ; the news spread among his old friends that he had gone back to bid his home of eight years farewell, and they followed him after a little. In the evening he went to the in-augural ball the first ever held, and the only ball of any sort he had attended since his return from France.
From all accounts it was not a highly enjoyable affair. The room was so crowded that it was difficult to elbow one’s way across it ; nobody could see what was going on without standing on a chair ; the air became stifling, and when an attempt was made to freshen it by letting down the upper sashes of the windows, they would not move, so nothing was left but to smash the glass. Mrs. Madison was almost crushed to death ; Madison was so tired that he confessed to a friend that he wished he were abed ; and as soon as supper was over, the Presidential party withdrew. The younger set stayed and danced till midnight, when, at the stroke, the music ceased and the attendants began to put out the lights.
The social success achieved by Dolly Madison as official hostess through so large a part of Jefferson’s administration did not wane when, with the rise of her husband to the head of the Government, she came into her own by right instead of by courtesy. Her first term as mistress of the President’s House was a continuous blaze of gayety, in which we catch fleeting glimpses of her in a variety of toilets, the most truly typical being a buff velvet gown with pearl ornaments and a Paris turban topped with a bird-of-paradise plume. Then came the second war with Great Britain and the wrecking of the city.
When the British approached Bladensburg, and the improvised home-guard of Washington went out to engage them in battle, Mr. Madison permitted his military advisers to persuade him that, after seeing the stiffness of the American resistance, the British would withdraw. His wife caught the infection of confidence, and together they planned to celebrate the victory by a dinner to the officers on the evening after the battle. The table was spread by three in the afternoon, when Mrs. Madison, who had been listening with composure to the distant boom of cannon, was dismayed to see a lot of demoralized American soldiers running in from the north by twos and threes. Her sudden fears were confirmed when one of her colored servants galloped up to the door, shouting : “Clear out ! Clear out ! General Armstrong has ordered a retreat ! ” Then a few friends came over to insist on her seeking safety in flight. They helped her to fill a wagon with such valuables as were not too heavy ; but she provoked their indignation by waiting till the oil portrait of General Washington attributed to Stuart, which hangs in the White House today, could be cut out of its frame and “placed in the hands of two gentlemen from New York for safe keeping.”
We have already seen how the Capitol and other public buildings were burned. A particularly vicious scheme was worked out to assure the destruction of the President’s House, because of Mr. Madison’s personal share in the dispute which led to the war. Indeed, it was the hope of the invaders to find him and his wife at home and take them captive, so as to humiliate the American Government and people and thus impress a lesson for the future. By way of a reconnoiter, Admiral Cockburn went to the mansion and looked through it, taking with him as a hostage a young gentleman of the city, named Weightman. In the dining-room they found everything prepared for the dinner of triumph, and Cockburn ordered his companion to sit down with him and “drink Jemmy’s health.” Then he bade Weightman help himself to a mantel ornament as a souvenir of the day. “I must take something, too,” he added, and with great hilarity tucked under his arm an old hat of the President’s and a cushion from Mrs. Madison’s chair.
When all was ready, a detachment of fifty sailors and marines were marched in silence up Pennsylvania Avenue, every man carrying a long pole with a ball of combustible material attached to the top of it. Arrived at the mansion, the balls were lighted, and the poles rested each against a window. At a command from their officer, the pole-bearers struck their windows simultaneously a hard blow, smashing the glass and hurling the fire-balls into the rooms with a single motion ; and the little group of lookers-on beheld an outburst of flame from every part of the building at once.
At the Octagon House, where they passed some months after their return to Washington, the Madisons were surrounded by the same friends who had enjoyed the hospitalities of the President’s House before the fire. It was not, however, till they removed to the dwelling at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Nineteenth Street that Mrs. Madison was able to entertain on the scale she desired. The house was one of the most commodious in town, and for any fine function the whole of it was thrown open. This was done on the occasion of the levee of February, 1816, which was universally pronounced the most splendid witnessed in the United States up to that time. The illumination extended from garret to cellar, much of it coming from pine torches held aloft by slaves specially drilled to maintain statuesque attitudes against the walls and at the heads of staircases. Mrs. Madison’s toilet of rose-tinted satin was set off with a girdle, necklace, and bracelets of gold, and a gold-embroidered crown. It may have been this last adornment which suggested to Sir George Bagot, the new British Minister, his comment that “Mrs. Madison looks every inch a queen.” The compliment promptly spread over Washington, where for some time thereafter the President’s wife was constantly referred to as “the Queen.”
This levee was in the nature of a farewell, for on the fourth of the next month President Madison made way for his successor, James Monroe, whose inauguration was the first ever held in the open air. The innovation was due to a quarrel between the two chambers of Congress, which was then occupying its temporary quarters opposite the east grounds of the Capitol. Monroe had arranged to take the oath in the Hall of Representatives ; but the Senators found fault with the seats set apart for them, the Representatives were stubborn, and a deadlock seemed imminent, when Monroe suggested as a compromise that a platform be raised in front of the building, and that the ceremony take place there, where all the people could witness it. Thus began what came to be known as “the era of good feeling.”
How class consciousness prevailed in those days is amusingly illustrated by Monroe’s resentment of the foreign conception of Americans. “People in Europe,” he had once said to the French Minister, while Secretary of State under Madison, “suppose us to be merchants occupied exclusively with pepper and ginger. They are much deceived. The immense majority of our citizens do not belong to this class, and are, as much as your Europeans, controlled by principles of honor and dignity. I never knew what trade was ; the President was as much a stranger to it as I.” Perhaps it was because he knew so little about trade that he took pains to cultivate its acquaintance as soon as he became President. He made a grand tour of the new West, staying away from Washington more than four months and visiting especially the commercial centers, where he showed himself to the people as much as possible. He invited some criticism by making his tour in the buff-and-blue uniform of the Continental soldiery of forty years before, cocked hat and all ; but his friends always contended that this appeal to patriotism vastly increased his popularity and went far to account for his wonderful success in his campaign for reelection in 1820, when he captured all the electoral votes except one.
The period covered by the last few pages brought to Washington two great men, whose share in shaping the history of the United States was such as to warrant our pausing to take a closer look at them. These were Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Clay was probably the most popular man in our public life from Washington’s time to Lincoln’s, and his legislative career was unique both in its beginning and in its ending. He came to Washington first to fill a vacancy caused by the death of a Kentucky Senator, and held this position for several months while he was still too young to be eligible under the Constitution, because nobody was disposed to inquire into the years of one who possessed so mature a mind. Both before and after this experience he served in the Kentucky legislature, where, on account of an insult received in debate, he challenged its author and “winged” him in a duel. When the Twelfth Congress was about to meet, with every prospect that John Randolph and his little coterie were going to make trouble in the House, a demand arose for a Speaker who would be able to cope with the turbulent element. Clay had just been elected a Representative, and his prowess as a duelist drew all eyes in his direction. “Harry Clay can keep Randolph in order,” declared his Kentucky neighbors, “and he is the only man who can !” On this ground, then, he was elected Speaker before he had actually taken his seat in the House. He was the first man ever thus honored ; and he was, I believe, the only one who ever made two formal farewells to the Senate. The first, preliminary to his resignation in 1842, appears among the classics of American eloquence ; but, as he was sent back in 1849, he had the chance, rarely accorded any one except a histrionic star, to bow himself off the stage a second time.
During the years of his greatest activity, every announcement that he was to speak made a gala day at the Capitol. “The gallery was full,” wrote Margaret Bayard Smith of one such occasion, “to a degree that endangered it ; even the outer entries were thronged. The gentlemen are grown very gallant and attentive, and, as it was impossible to reach the ladies through the gallery, a new mode was invented for supplying them with oranges, etc. They tied them up in handkerchiefs, to each of which was fixed a note indicating for whom it was designed, and then fastened to a long pole. This was taken on the floor of the house and handed up to the ladies who sat in the front of the gallery. These presentations were frequent and quite amusing, even in the midst of Mr. Clay’s speech. I and the ladies near me divided what was brought with each other, and were as social as if acquainted.”
The orator who could hold his own against such a background of confusion might well take pride in his powers ; but the universal testimony was that Clay’s wonderfully modulated voice and magnetic charm of personality triumphed over everything. He was so attractive a man that even Calhoun, with whom he was at swords-drawn in every forensic battle, could not forbear wringing his hand with a “God bless you !” at their final parting in the Senate chamber; and John Randolph, with whom he had clashed repeatedly and whose coat he had punctured in a duel, insisted on being carried to the Capitol, while dying, and laid on a couch where Clay was going to deliver a much-heralded speech. Possibly one of the secrets of Clay’s success in winning people was illustrated in his quarrel with Senator King of Alabama, which began on the Senate floor and led to the passage of a challenge. Friends interfered, and after some days a peace was patched up, both men publicly withdrawing their offensive remarks, and a brother Senator making some appropriate gratulatory observations on the reconciliation. Then Clay gave the final dramatic touch to the scene by crossing the chamber to where his late adversary sat, saying aloud : “King, give me a pinch of your snuff !” King, surprised, sprang up and held out both a snuff-box and an open hand, while Senators and spectators applauded to the echo.
Clay was a slimly built man who always appeared for action clad in a solemn suit of black, with a claw-hammer coat, a stiff silk stock, and a huge white “choker” with pointed ears. His face was spare and his forehead high, his cheekbones were prominent, the nose between them was slender and forceful, and the mouth wide, thin-lipped, and straight-cut. His lank hair, naturally of a tawny hue, became early streaked with gray and was worn long enough to fringe his coat collar. He was approachable in manner, had a most genial smile, and was ready with a pleasant response to every greeting, its effect being intensified by its musical clarity of enunciation. He was distinctly fond of society and especially enjoyed a game of cards. Al-though his wife accompanied him to Washington, she appeared little with him in public. She was a good woman with few gifts, but a devoted mother, and her chief joy in life was to sew for her six children. Wherever he went, Mr. Clay was always surrounded by a circle of adoring women, who hung upon every word of the many he uttered as he talked in desultory style with his back against a sofa-cushion. He followed a free fashion of his time in taking toll from the lips of all the young and pretty maidens he met. The first time he saw Dolly Madison, her youthful face and dainty dress misled him into saluting her in this fashion. On discovering his mistake, “Ah, madam,” he pleaded gallantly, “had I known you for whom you are, the coin would have been larger !”
I may add in passing that the American navy owes its monitor type of fighting-craft largely to Henry Clay. Theodore Timby, who invented the revolving turret which Ericsson used during the Civil War, came to Washington bearing a letter of introduction to Clay, who became interested in the idea and helped him get the patent without which it might have been lost to the world.
Webster was cast in quite a different mold from Clay. He was godlike where Clay was human ; his eloquence overwhelmed his hearers where Clay’s fascinated them. He had a big head, a big frame, a big voice, a big presence. Emerson speaks of his “awful charm.” Some one who heard him condemn the dishonest gains of a certain financial institution, says that the word “disgorge,” as he uttered it, “seemed to weigh about twelve pounds.” Once Mrs. Webster brought their little son to hear his father deliver an oration. Daniel began a sentence in his thunder-tone : “Will any man dare say ” and the audience were waiting breathless to hear what was coming next, when a wee, piping voice responded from the gallery : “Oh, no, no, Papa !”
His greatest effort in Congress, of course, was his reply to Hayne. Everybody in Washington was eager to hear it, and galleries and floor, including the platform on which the Vice-president sat, were crowded to the last limit. Representative Lewis of Alabama, being unable to gain access to the hall, climbed around be-hind the wooden framework which flanked the plat-form and bored a hole through it with his pocket-knife in order to get a view of the great expounder. At a levee that evening at the White House, Webster was besieged by admirers offering congratulations. Among the crowd that drew near him at one time happened to be Hayne himself. “How are you, Colonel Hayne ?” was Webster’s greeting. “None the better for you, sir,” answered Hayne, good humoredly but with sincere feeling.
We are treated to another picture of him when he arrived late at a concert given by Jenny Lind. For the benefit of the statesmen who were present, Miss Lind, for an encore, sang “Hail Columbia.” Webster, who had been dining, was on his feet in an instant and added his powerful bass voice to hers in the chorus. Mrs. Webster did all she could to induce him to sit down, but he repeated his effort at the close of every verse, and with the last strain made the song-stress a profound obeisance, waving his hat at the same time. Miss Lind curtsyed in return, Webster repeated his bow, and this little comedy of etiquette was kept up for some minutes, to the delight of the audience.