Historic Sketches At Washington - George Alfred Townsend - ebook

Historic Sketches At Washington ebook

George Alfred Townsend



The purpose of this book, which was originally published at the beginning of the 20th century, was to make Washington visible to voters, so that they could be guided in criticism upon abuses such as have been related. The course of the chapters is purposely made discursive so that the mind can be carried through a variety of scenes without flagging.

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Historic Sketches at Washington







Historic Sketches at Washington, G. A. Townsend

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9



ISBN: 9783849652500


Cover Design: Based on a photo by By Wknight94 talk - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16852099



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The public mind is at last exercised on the subject of scheming and jobbery.

The Crédit Mobilier investigation accomplished what many years of unthanked agitation and challenge failed to do. It reached such eminent reputations and made such general wreck of political prospects and accomplishments, that every class of citizens—even those who came to scoff, remained beside their Capitol to pray. This was the first element of encouragement; for it proved that in every extremity of the American nation there is still a public sentiment to be found, and it will rally on the side of good morals and the reputation of the state, if it understands the necessity.

The people must not be blamed if, in the great variety of affairs and investigations, they often look on confused and apathetic. Our government is so extensive in area and so diversified in operations, that it requires men of state—statesmen—to keep its machinery in order and prevent waste, neglect, interference, and incendiarism. No amount of mere honesty and good negative inclination can keep the ship of state headed well to the wind. A reasonable experience in civil affairs, education, and executive capacity are requisite, and it is when the accidents of war and the extremities of political parties bring men without these qualities to the surface that the enemy of public order and well-regulated government seeks and finds his opportunity.

Such is our present condition. It is to our noble system of schools and our unhampered social civilization that we owe the moderate capacity, even of men of accident, for public affairs. From the time of President Fillmore, all our Chief Magistrates have been of this popular growth. Mr. Lincoln proved to be the possessor of powers extraordinary in their combination, ranging from the Jesuitry of the frivolous to the depth and gravity of the heroic, and, at last, the tragic. He kept in view great objects of human performance and showed how profoundly his inherited idea of the equality of rights and his belief in the destiny of America to protect and teach them, animated his conduct. He bore the sword of the country while constantly possessed of the ambition to preserve its nationality and expel slavery; his amiable nature added to these achievements the softness and sweetness of a personal mission, and his lofty fate the solemnity of a personal martyrdom.

The elements of corruption, inseparable from human nature, had long existed in a more or less organized form in the United States, and they waxed in strength and took enormous proportions during Mr. Lincoln's administration. He was a statesman and kept his mind steadily upon the larger objects, preferring to leave the correction of incidental evils to the administrators who should succeed the war. Had he been of a desponding spirit, and nervous and violent upon errors of omission and commission by the way, we might never have kept in view the main purposes of the war but would have been demoralized by the ten thousand peculations and intrigues which marked the course of that extraordinary conflict.

It is our province and the task of statesmanship in our time, to return along the course of those war-ridden years and take up their civil grievances, exhibit them clearly and correct them unflinchingly. If we do not do so the Union is too great for us and emancipation has been a mockery.

The opportunities for gain at the public and general expense, had been too vast during the war to be suddenly relinquished at the peace. President Johnson was as honest personally as President Lincoln, but the division of arms was now succeeded by a conflict of policy in which the harpies who had studied the Government to take advantage of it plied between both sides, and by the common weakness of the administration and Congress continued their work. They set up the audacious proposition that the schemes which prevailed in the war and the grade of taxation consequent upon it were the declared national policy. A large proportion of the capital and enterprise of the country took the same ground. The currency was maintained in its expanded amount, and war was even declared upon gold, the standard of valuation throughout civilization. High prices and high wages were advocated as evidences of national happiness, and, of course, high salaries were demanded to make public and private conditions consistent with each other. The prevalence of money, work, and rank during the war were not suffered to relax, and Congress undertook to supply artificial means of prosperity by laying out schemes, subsidizing and endowing corporations, increasing offices and commissions, and altering the tariff and the tax list. The victorious side in the wrangle about policy was soon represented in congress by a great number of adventurers, foreigners in the constituency they affected to represent, and shameless and unknown.

At this period the third President of the new era was elected, a brave and victorious soldier, who was in part a pupil and associate of the loose notions of the period. He had a modest person, and this, with his historic exploits, affected the sensibilities of his countrymen, including many of the larger men in literature, criticism, and society, so that this personal sympathy, added to the financial necessities of the time, and the well-organized Northern sentiment of the majority of the people carried him again into the White House. Whatever might have been the capacity, or incapacity of General Grant to direct the law makers and give example to the laws, he sank into a relatively inconspicuous place almost at the moment of his second inauguration by the nearly simultaneous exposure of a series of old and new corruptions in congress which involved the Vice-President of the United States, the Chairman of the three leading committees of Congress, the head of the Protection School in public life, half a dozen senators and as many members of the House, of both parties.

The Vice-President departing and the new Vice-President acceding, both complicated in the celebrated Credit Mobilier corruption, confronted the public gaze as actors in the same ceremonial with President Grant, who was waiting to deliver his second inaugural address to the public. Five senators, Bogy, Casserly, Clayton, Caldwell, and Pomeroy, were at that moment under accusation of purchasing their seats in the Senate. Three judges of the United States Courts, Delahay, Sherman, and Durrell, were under impeachment or imputation for complicity in the Credit Mobilier intrigue. The proudest foreheads in the national legislature were abashed. It was a melancholy and disgraceful spectacle, and it saddened the Capital and cast a cloud over all the country.

The purpose of this book is to make Washington at the present day visible to voters, so that they can be guided in criticism upon abuses such as have been related. The course of the chapters is purposely made discursive so that the mind can be carried through a variety of scenes without flagging.



The American Capital is the only seat of government of a first-class power which was a thought and performance of the Government itself. It used to be called, in the Madisonian era, "the only virgin Capital in the world."

St. Petersburg was the thought of an Emperor, but the Capital of Russia long afterward remained at Moscow, and Peter the Great said that he designed St. Petersburg to be only " a window looking out into Europe."

Washington City was designed to be not merely a window, but a whole inhabitancy in fee simple for the deliberations of Congress, and they were to exercise exclusive legislation over it. So the Constitutional Convention ordained; and, in less than seven weeks after the thirteenth state ratified the Constitution, the place of the Capital was designated by Congress to the Potomac River. In six months more, the precise territory on the Potomac was defined, under the personal eye of Washington.

The motive of building an entirely new city for the Federal seat was not arbitrary, like Peter the Great's will with St. Petersburg, nor fanciful, like that of the founder of Versailles. It was, like many of our institutions, an act of reflection suggested by such harsh experience as once drove the Papal head from Rome to Avignon, and, in our day, has withdrawn the French Government from Paris to Versailles. Four years before the Constitution was made, Congress, while sitting at Philadelphia, —the largest city in the States, —had been grossly insulted by some of the unpaid troops of the Revolutionary War, and the Pennsylvania authorities showed it no protection. Congress with commendable dignity, withdrew to Princeton, and there, in the collegiate halls, Eldridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, (whose remains now lie in the Congressional Cemetery of Washington,) moved that the buildings for the use of Congress be erected either on the Delaware or the Potomac.

The State of Maryland was an early applicant for the permanent seat of the Government, and, after the result at Philadelphia, hastened to offer Congress its Capitol edifice and other accommodations at Annapolis. Congress accepted the invitation, and therefore, it was at Annapolis that Washington surrendered his commission, in the presence of that body. The career of Congress at Annapolis—which was a very perfect, tidy, and pretty miniature city—left a good impression upon the members for years afterwards and was probably not without its influence in making Maryland soil the future Federal District. The growing " Baltimore Town," which was the first place in America, after the revolution, to exhibit the Western spirit of " driving things," appeared in the lobby and prints, as an anxious competitor for the award of the Capital; and the stimulation of that day bore fruits in the first and only admirable patriotic monument raised to Washington, while Washington City was yet seeking to survive its ashes. With the jealousy of a neighbor, the snug port and portage settlement of Georgetown opposed Baltimore and directed attention to itself as deserving the Federal bestowal, and counted, not without reason, upon the influence of the President of the United States in its behalf.

Many other places strove for the exaggerated honor and profit of the Capital, and it is tradition in half-a-dozen villages of the country, —at Havre de Grace, Trenton, Wrightsville, Pa; Germantown, Pa; Williamsport, Md; Kingston, N. Y., and others— that the seat of government was at one time nearly their prize.

Two points, however, gained steadily on the rest, —New York and some indefinite spot on the Potomac. The Eastern Congressmen, used to the life of towns, and little in love with what they considered the barbaric plantation life of the South, desired to assemble amongst urbane comforts, in a place already established. Provincialism, prejudice, and avarice all played their part in the contest; and, in that day of paper money, it was thought by many that the currency must follow the Capital.

Hence, according to Jefferson, whose accounts on this head do' not read very clearly, the financial problems of the time were offset by the selection of the Capital. Hamilton deferred to the South the Federal City and had his Treasury policy adopted in exchange for it. When Jefferson and Hamilton came to write about each other, we are reminded of the adage that, when the wine is in, the wit is out; but it is agreeable to reflect that they were both accordant with Washington on this point, and Jefferson had great influence over the young Capital's fortunes.

Congress made a reasonable decision on the subject. The comforts of a home were to be accorded at Philadelphia for ten years, to quiet Philadelphia, and meantime a new place was to be planned on the Potomac River, and public edifices erected upon it. The actual selection and plan were to be left to a commission selected by the President; and thus the Federal City is an executive act, deliberated between Washington and private citizens.

Mortifying, indeed, was the early work of making the Capital City for the three Commissioners, whose ranks were renewed as one grew despondent and another enraged.

It was July 16, 1790, that President Washington approved the bill of six sections which directed the acceptance of ten miles square "for the permanent seat of the Government,"

"between the mouths of the Eastern Branch and Conogocheague." The bill had become a law by a close vote in both Houses, and the Capital might have been placed, under the terms of it, at the Great Falls, or near the future battle-site of Ball's Bluff, or under the presence of the Sugar-Loaf Mountain, in the vale of the River Antietam. It is possible that Washington himself, who held discretionary control over the Commissioners, was not firmly of the opinion that the future city should stand on tide-water; for he had previously written letters, in praise of the thrifty German country beyond the Monocacy, in Maryland. But the matter of transportation and passage was greatly dependent, in those days, upon navigable water-courses, and it is probable that, when the law passed, the spot of the city was already appointed.

About five years before selecting the site for the Federal Capital, Washington made a canoe upon the Monocacy River, and, descending to the Potomac, made the exploration of the whole river, from the mountains to tide-water, in order to test the feasibility of lock and dam navigation. It is apparent, from his letters to Arthur Young, the Earl of Buchan, and others, that he was aware that the value of his estates on tidewater was declining, and he wanted both the city and the canal contiguous to them. A noble man might well, however, have such an attachment to the haunts of his youth as to wish to see it beautified by a city.

The bill was passed while Congress sat in New York; six months later, on January 24, 1791, Washington, at Philadelphia, made proclamation that, "After duly examining and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the several situations within the limits," he had thrown the Federal territory across the Potomac from Alexandria.

The site of the new district was not entirely the wilderness it has been represented. The Potomac had been explored up to this point, and as far as the Little Falls above, by Henry Fleet, one hundred and sixty years before. Fleet was the first civilized being who ever looked upon the site of Washington, and his manuscript story of ascending the river was never published until 1871. When Leonard Calvert arrived in the Potomac, in 1634, he went up to confer with this adventurous fur trader, who had been many years in the country.

"The place," said Fleet, evidently alluding to the contracted Potomac just above Georgetown, " is, without all question, the most healthful and pleasant place in all this country, and most convenient for habitation; the air temperate in Summer and not violent in Winter. It aboundeth with all manner of fish. The Indians in one night commonly will catch thirty sturgeons in a place where the river is not over twelve fathoms broad. And, for deer, buffaloes, bears, turkeys, the woods do swarm with them, and the soil is exceedingly fertile; but, above this place, the country is rocky and mountainous, like Canada. * * * * We had not rowed above three miles but we might hear the Falls to roar."

The early settlers of Maryland and Virginia kept to the navigable streams, and the earliest pioneers of the terrace country of Maryland were Scotch and Scotch-Irish, some Germans, and a few Catholics.

Georgetown and Bellhaven (or Alexandria) were rather old places when the surveys were made for Washington City, and the former had been laid out fully forty years. The army of General Braddock had landed at Alexandria, and a large portion of his army marched from Rock Creek, as the infant Georgetown was then called, for Fredericktown and the Ohio. As early as 1763, the father of Gen. James Wilkinson purchased a tract of " five hundred acres of land on the Tyber and the Potomac, which probably comprehended the President's house;"

but the purchaser's wife objected to a removal to such an isolated spot, and the property was transferred to one Thomas Johns.

In 1775, the young Wilkinson " shouldered a firelock at Georgetown, in a company commanded by a Rhode Island Quaker, Thomas Richardson," in which also the future Gen. Lingan was a subaltern, and this full company drilled for the Revolutionary struggle " on a small spot of table-land hanging over Rock Creek, below the upper bridge." As Wilkinson lived "thirty miles in the up-country, and was always punctual at wade," we may infer that Georgetown was the most considerable place in all this quarter of Maryland. As early as 1779, William Wirt, whose parents resided at Bladensburg, went to " a Classical Academy at Georgetown;" and he and others long bore remembrance of the passage of the French and American armies from north to south over the ferry at that place, of encampment at Kalorama Hill, and wagons loaded with specie crossing Rock Creek. Gen. Washington also designated Georgetown as one of the three great places of deposit for military stores; and so important was Alexandria that Charles Lee, in his plan of treason, had proposed to cut the Northern States from the South by occupying it with a permanent detachment of British troops, who should keep open the ferries between Alexandria and Annapolis, and, by menacing the rich farms of the German settlers in the up-country, compel them to starve 'out the Patriot armies.

The port-town of Bladensburg was now just upon the decline, and the period had come when the interior parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were showing forth their promises.

Maryland had contained considerably more population than New York during the Revolutionary War, and we may conceive Georgetown and Alexandria to have been amongst the best grade of secondary towns at that period. They stood, as now, in full sight of each other; and the ridgy basin and lower terraces between them, where the Federal City was to rise, presented a few good farms tilled by slaves, and was already marked for a couple of rival settlements before the Commissioners adopted it.

One of these prospective settlements was located near the present National Observatory, and took the name of Hamburg, afterward Funkstown, the other was projected near the present Navy-Yard, and was named after the proprietor of the estate, Carrollsburg. At any rate, there were enough people on the site to give the Commissioners a great deal of trouble with their bickering and rapacity; and it is likely that the idea got abroad in advance of the official choice, that here was to be the mighty Capital, and therefore lands and lots had been matters of considerable speculation.

Few who had passed the ferry at Georgetown and beheld the sight from the opposite hills of Virginia, could fail to have marked the breadth of the picture, and the strong colors in the ground and the environing wall of wooded heights, which rolled back against the distant sky, as if to enclose a noble arena of landscape, fit for the supreme deliberations of a continental nation.

Dropping down from those heights by stately gradations, over several miles, to a terrace of hills in the middle ground, the foreground then divided, parallel with the eye, into a basin and a plateau. The plateau on the right showed one prominent but not precipitous hill, with an agreeable slope, at the back of which the Potomac reached a deep, supporting arm, while around the base meandered a creek that changed course when half-way advanced, and then flowed to the left, parallel with knolls, straight through the plain or basin, —defining to the inspired eye, as plainly as revelation, the avenues, grades, and commanding positions of a city.

As such, Washington must have built it up in his own formative mind; for many a time he had passed it in review.

He did not require to take note of the shiftless slave farms for which the ground had been already broken. Where yonder orchard grew, he saw the Executive Mansion, with its grounds extending down to the river-side cottage of that curmudgeon Scotch planter who was to be among the last to say words of impudence to the father of the city. Where the pleasant hill swelled up to the clear skies in the night, Washington saw the spiritual outlines of the fair white Capitol, soon to be embodied there. Flowing down into the plain, and extending back over the hill of the Capitol, he realized the lower and the upper city, on which a circle of villas in the higher background should someday look down; and all the undulating space between the blue heights of Georgetown, from the river back to the tableland, should, by another century, smoke with population, worship with bells, and march with music to honor the founder of this virgin Capital.

Having named the three civil Commissioners to whom Congress—wiser than Congresses of a later period—committed the business of Capital-making, Washington set out from Philadelphia, to confer with them on the spot.

It is characteristic of Maryland roads in those days, in March, that the President drove down the Eastern shore of Maryland, instead of crossing the Susquehanna, and was ferried over from Rockhall to Annapolis. At the latter place, he rested all Saturday, receiving hospitality; and, on Sunday, continued his journey by Queen Ann to Bladensburg, where he dined and slept.

Next morning he took breakfast at Suter's tavern, a one-story frame in Georgetown, —having occupied one week in fatiguing and perilous travel from Philadelphia.

From the heights of Georgetown, Washington could look 'over the half-uncultivated tract, where the commissioners had plotted a part of their surveys for the Federal City, and Pennsylvania Avenue was then a path through an older swamp from Georgetown to Carrollsburg.

On Tuesday, a misty and disagreeable day, Washington rode out at seven o'clock, with David Stuart, Daniel Carroll, and Thomas Johnson, the three Commissioners, and with Mr. Andrew Ellicott and Major L'Enfant, who were surveying the grounds and projecting the streets of the city. "I derived no great satisfaction," says Washington, " from the review," and this we can readily suppose from our present knowledge of what might be the condition of the soil of the District in the spring of the year, on a damp day, with the landholders of Georgetown and Carrollsburg contending with each other by the way, with the numerous uninvited idlers pressing after, and the crude and tangled nature of the region.

That night at six o'clock, Washington endeavored to contrive an accommodation between the Georgetowners and Carrollsburgers, and it was probably at this time that he had reason to designate Davy Burns, the Scotch farmer and father to the future heiress of the city, as " The obstinate Mr. Burns." He dined that night at Colonel Forrest's, with a large company. The next day, the contending landholders agreed to Washington's suggestions, and entered into articles to surrender half their lots when surveyed; and, having given some of his characteristically precise instructions to the engineers and others, the President crossed the Potomac in the ferry-boat, his equipage following, and dined at Alexandria, and slept that night at Mount Vernon, his homestead.

There is a statue of Washington in one of the public circles of the Capital City, representing him on a terrified steed doing battle-duty; but a local treatment of the subject would have been more touching and thoughtful; the veteran of war and politics, worn down with the friction of public duty and rising party asperity, riding through the marshes and fields of Washington, on the brink of his sixtieth year, to give the foundling government he had reared an honorable home. Could a finer subject appeal to the artist or to the municipality of Washington; the virgin landscape of the Capital, and this greatest of founders of cities since Romulus, surrounded by the two engineers, the three commissioners, and certain courteous denizens, and seeking to reason the necessities of the state and the pride of the country into the flinty soul of Davy Burns, that successor of Dogberry, —for he is said to have been a magistrate?

The new city was one of the plagues of General Washington for the remainder of his days, because he was very sensitive as to its success; and it had to suffer the concentrated fire of criticism and witticism, domestic and foreign, as well as more serious financial adversity. He never beheld any of the glory of it; and the fact that he had been responsible for it and had settled it in the neighborhood of his estates, probably weighed somewhat upon his spirits in the midst of that light repartee which a grave nature cannot answer. Greater is he who keepeth his temper than he who buildeth a city. That Washington did both well, the latter century can answer better than the former. The extravagant plan of Major L'Enfant has not been vindicated until now, when the habitations of one hundred thousand people begin to develop upon the plane of his magnificence. The neighbors of General Washington had no capacity in that early day to congregate in cities, and the Federal site had to wait for a gregarious domination and a period of comparative wealth. It is -yet to be tested whether the ornamentation of the city is to conduce to an equally Republican rule with that of more squalid times; for, New York excepted, Washington is now the dearest city in America.

The trustees of the Federal City in whom at law nominally reposed the conveyed property, were Thomas Beall and John M. Gautt. The chief owners of the site were David Burns, Samuel Davidson, Notley Young, and Daniel Carroll. The cost of the ground on which Washington City stands was truly insignificant as compared with the remarkable expenditures of the years 1871, '72, '73.

The few property-holders agreed to convey to the Government out of their farm-lands as much ground as would be required for streets, avenues, public-building-sites, reservations, areas, etc., and to surrender, also, one-half of the remaining land, to be sold by the United States as it might deem fit, —receiving, however, at the rate of twenty-five pounds per acre for the public grounds, but nothing for the streets. In other words, the Government through its three commissioners, was to plot out the Federal City in the first place, delineating all the grounds required for buildings and reservations, and surveying the parts to be inhabited. It was then to divide these inhabitable lots equally between itself and the landholders, and sell its own lots when, and on what prices and terms, it pleased, and, out of the proceeds of such sales, to make its payments for the national grounds and reservations.

In this way the Government took seventeen great parcels of ground out of the general plan, such as now surround the Capitol, the President's House, etc., and the same amounted to five hundred and forty-one acres. At sixty-six dollars and sixty-six cents per acre, this yielded to the farm holders thirty-six thousand ninety-nine dollars, —a very small sum indeed if; we compute interest upon it and subtract principal and interest from the present value of the ground.

The building lots assigned to the Government numbered ten thousand one hundred and thirty-six. The amount of sales of these lots, up to the year 1834, was seven hundred forty-one thousand twenty-four dollars and forty-five cents, and an assessment upon the unsold lots, made at that time, brought the Government's share up to eight hundred fifty thousand dollars.

Besides this handsome speculation, the State of Virginia voted to the Government the sum of one hundred twenty thousand dollars, and the State of Maryland seventy-two thousand dollars, as a concession for planting the great city on their borders. With equal courtesy, the Government gave away a great many lots to such institutions as the Columbian and Georgetown Colleges, and the Washington and St. Vincents Orphan Asylums; and it also squandered many lots upon less worthy solicitors, giving a depot site away to a railway company in 1872, which was worth several hundred thousand dollars.

In the entire area included under the above agreement, there were seven thousand one hundred acres, with a circumference of fourteen miles. The uneven plain of the city extended four miles along the river and averaged three-quarters of a mile in breadth. The only streams were the Tiber, which divided the plain nearly equally; James' Creek, emptying into the mouth of the Eastern Branch; and Slash Run, emptying into Rock Creek. These streams still preserve the names they received long before the Capital was pitched. The first dedicatory act was to fix the corner-stone at Jones' Point, near Alexandria.

James Muir preached the sermon, Daniel Carroll and David Stuart placed the stone, and the Masons of Alexandria performed their mystic rites.

A glimpse of the United States as it was at that day (1791) will complete the impression we may derive on thus revisiting the nearly naked site of the " Federal Seat." Virginia led all the states with nearly seven hundred fifty thousand people; Pennsylvania and New York combined did little more than balance Virginia with four hundred thirty-four thousand and three hundred forty thousand respectively. North Carolina outweighed Massachusetts with three hundred ninety-four thousand to the Bay State's three hundred seventy-nine thousand.

All the rest of New England displayed about six hundred thousand population. South Carolina and Georgia with three hundred thirty thousand, people together, were inferior to Maryland and Delaware together by fifty thousand. There were only two Western States, Kentucky and Tennessee, whose one hundred eight thousand people lacked seventy-five thousand of the population of New Jersey and altogether, four millions of Americans were watching with various human expressions the puzzle of the capital town. Such was the showing of the census of 1790, but by the year 1800, when the infant city was occupied by its government, the country was one third greater in inhabitants. It was not until 1820 that any state passed Virginia, but in 1830 both New York and Pennsylvania had bidden her good-bye.

The Capital was staked out the year after Franklin's death, thirty years before the death of George III, in Goethe's fifty second year and Schiller's thirty-second, sixteen years before the first steamboat, two years before Louis XVI was guillotined, when Louis Phillipe was in his nineteenth year, while Count Rochambeau was commander of the French army, two years after Robespierre became head deputy, five years after the death of Frederick the Great, while George Stephenson was a boy of ten, the year subsequent to the death of Aden Smith, the year John Wesley and Mirabeau died, two years before Brissot was guillotined, in Napoleon's twenty-second year, the year before Lord. Nott died, the year Morse was born and Mirabeau was buried, in the third year of the London Times, just after Lafayette had been the most powerful man in France, three years before the death of Edward Gibbon, while Warren Hastings was on trial, in Burke's sixty-first year and Fox's forty-second and Pitt's thirty-second, three years after the death of Chatham, in the Popedom of Pius VI, while Simon Bolivar was a child eight years old, the year Cowper translated Homer, and in Burns' prime.



According to the whole of many authorities and a part of all, the city of Washington itself was a scheme and the public buildings severally were sown in corruption. That they have been raised in incorruption, however, is clear to the cheerful, patriotic mind; for the Capitol is the ornament in some manner of nearly every American dwelling. The White House is the most beautiful building in the world to a politician aspiring toward it. Thousands of people would be glad to get as much as a hand in the Treasury or even a name in the Pension office.

These buildings make a continuous romance in respect to their design, construction, and personal associations. In their day they were esteemed the noblest edifices on the continent, and educed praise even from such censorious strangers as Mrs. Trollope. To this day the Capitol and President's house remain as they were exteriorly, the same in style and proportions, and the additions to the Capitol have been made consistent with the old elevation. The public is better satisfied with the Capitol from year to year, and many men of culture and travel even prefer the old freestone original edifice to the spacious and costly marble wings. The President's House has lost somewhat of its superiority as a residence, owing to the progress made in household comforts during the last half century, but it is still admired by the visitor for the extent, harmony, and impressiveness of its saloons. Both buildings and the city as well invite at this day our inquisitiveness as to how the young republic became possessed of architects and engineers of capacity equal to such ample and effective constructions.

The material for this inquiry is to be found in the journals and letter books of the early commissioners of the Federal City, which are kept on the crypt floor of the Capitol and are partly indexed. The personal story of the early architects must be obtained by family tradition and partly by recollection. The printed documents of congress continue the story of those constructions to our own day, but many of them are rare and some missing, because the Capitol has been three times devastated by fire which twice chose the library as the point of attack.

Let us first note the lives of the planners of the city itself.

They assembled at Georgetown with tents, horses, and laborers, and proceeded to plot the city upon the site, while the commissioners, acting for the executive, raised and supplied the money, dealt with the owners of the ground and negotiated with quarrymen, carters, and boat owners. Every step was a matter of delicacy, and conflicts were frequent between all parties. A high degree of personal independence prevailed in the late colonies and in military, political, and professional life, amounting in many cases to sensitiveness and jealousy.

The commissioners had little consonance of temperament with the professional men, many of whom were foreigners, and both had reason to dislike the natives who began by craving the boon of the city and ended by showing all the forms of querulousness and discontent which rise from excited avarice.

First in consideration is the man out of whose mind and art were drawn the design of Washington city as we find it still.

Peter Charles L'Enfant was born in France, 1755, and made a Lieutenant in the French provincial forces. Touched at an early period in the American revolution with the spirit of the American Colonies and the opportunities afforded in the new world for a young officer and engineer he tendered his services in the latter capacity to the United States in the autumn of 1777.

He received his wish and the appointment of Captain of Engineers February 18, 1778. At the siege of Savannah, he was wounded and left on the field of battle. After cure he took a position in the army under the immediate eye of Washington and was promoted Major of Engineers May 2, 1873. Hence the rank with which he descends to history.

At the close of the Revolution L'Enfant commended himself to Jefferson who almost monopolized the artistic taste and knowledge of the first administration, and as the project for a Federal city developed L'Enfant was brought into very close relations with President Washington. The artistic and the executive mind rarely run parallel, however, and very soon 'Washington heard with indignation that L'Enfant, enamored of his plan of the city, had refused to let it be used by the Commissioners as an incitement and directory to purchasers. The excuse of L'Enfant appears to have been that if acquainted with the plan speculators would build up his finest avenues with unsuitable structures. Washington's letter displays both the ability and weakness of his architect and engineer: "It is much to be regretted," he says, " that men who possess talents which fit them for peculiar purposes should almost invariably be under the influence of an untoward disposition."

I have thought that for such employment that he is now engaged in for prosecuting public works and carrying them into effect.

Major L'Enfant was better qualified than anyone who had come within my knowledge in this country or indeed in any other I had no doubt at the same time, that this was the light in which he considered himself."

This letter was written in the autumn of 1791, eight months after Jefferson instructed L'Enfant as follows: "You are directed to proceed to Georgetown where you will find Mr. Ellicott in making a survey and map of the Federal territory." Jefferson then distributed the responsibility by prescribing as L'Enfant's duty " to draw the site of the Federal town and buildings." He was to begin at the Eastern Branch and proceed upwards, and the word " Tyber " is used thus early in the history of the city as applying to the celebrated creek of that name, long afterwards the eye-sore of the city.

As between the immortal patron of the new city and the poor military artist posterity will expend no sympathies upon L'Enfant, but there was probably a provincial hardness amongst the Commissioners and a want of consideration for the engineers, for even " Ellicott," also a man of uncommon talents in his way and of a more placid temper, was incensed at the slights put upon him.

Jefferson wrote to L'Enfant Nov. 21,1791, that he must not delay the engraving of his map by over nicety and thus spoil the sale of town lots, which it appears brought as good prices without the map as with it; for he had written in October that "the sales at Georgetown were few but good." They averaged two thousand four hundred the acre.

The Map was not produced, however, and his appeals over the heads of the Commissioners on points of difference were decided against the artist. His task lasted but one year and was abruptly terminated March 6th, 1792, as the following letter of Jefferson to the Commissioners shows: "It having been found impracticable to employ Major L'Enfant about the Federal City in that degree of subordination which was lawful and proper, he has been notified that his services are at an end. It is now proper that he should receive the reward of his past services and the wish that he should have no just cause of discontent suggests that it should be liberal.

The President thinks of two thousand five hundred dollars or three thousand dollars but leaves the determination to you. Ellicott is to go on and finish laying off the plan on the ground and surveying and plotting the district."

L'Enfant's reputation and acquaintance were such that he might have done the new city great injury by taking a position to its detriment, and Washington wrote that " the enemies of the enterprise will take the advantage of the retirement of L'Enfant to trumpet the whole as an abortion." It appears, however, that L'Enfant was loyal to the Government and the city, for he lived on the site and in the neighborhood all his days, and several times afterwards came under the notice of the executive and was a baffled petitioner before Congress.

We hear of him in 1794 in the public employment as Engineer at Fort Mifflin below Philadelphia and after a long lapse as declining the Professorship of Engineers at West Point, July, 1812.

Christian Hines, referred to elsewhere, told me that he had seen Major L'Enfant many a time wearing a green surtout and never appearing in a change of clothes, walking across the commons and fields followed by half a dozen hunting dogs. Mr. Hines reported with some of his company to L'Enfant at Fort Washington in 1814 to do duty, and that officer, who was in temporary command, filled him a glass of wine in his old broadly hospitable way and told him what to do.

The author of the plan of the city led a long and melancholy career about Washington and died on the farm of Mr. Digges in Prince George's County, about eight miles from the Capital ho planned. The Digges family were allied to the Carrolls of Duddington and had pity upon the military gentleman who had been at once so capable, so willful, and so unfortunate. The banker Corcoran has a distinct remembrance of L'Enfant as he lived, a rather seedy, stylish old man with a long blue coat buttoned up on his breast and a bell-crowned hat, a little moody and lonely like one wronged. He wrote much and left many papers which Mr. Wyeth of Washington told me he had inspected.

He would not abate a particle of his claim against the Government, being to the last as tenacious of the point of pride as when he refused his maps to the Commissioners to be the accessory of the auctioneer and the lot speculator. The Digges farm was purchased by the banker, George Riggs, Esq., many years after L'Enfant's death, and a superb stone mansion and a chapel for worship were erected upon the pleasant hill where the architect of the ruling city sleeps. In the garden planted by the Digges family there had been one of those private burial grounds not uncommon in Maryland and quite common to Catholic families.

Amongst the people who closed his eyes he was laid to rest in June, 1825, at the age of seventy. Mr. Riggs says that subsequently a member of the Digges family committed suicide and the negroes buried this person crosswise to L'Enfant's body. The leading members of the family were disinterred afterward and the old soldier left there nearly alone. Some measures were suggested for giving him a monument at the time I made these inquiries.

L'Enfant's judgment was not equal to his imagination, but he had taste, knowledge, and amplitude, and with a richer patron than the American Nation might have made a more sounding fame. His plan of the Capital City is gradually vindicating itself as the magnificent distances fill up with buildings, and the recent happy expedient of parking the streets has made it possible to pave them all without extraordinary expense. Such as it is, the city is irrevocably a part of his fame. One cannot fail to see that he drew it from the study of LeNotre's work in the city of Versailles and in the forests contiguous to Paris, where aisles, routes, etc., meet at broad open carrefours and a prospect or bit of architecture closes each avenue. Washington city in its grand plan is French; in its minor plan Quaker.

It is the city of Philadelphia griddled across the city of Versailles. Anybody who will look at the design of the house which L'Enfant built for Robert Morris at Philadelphia after ho 'was discharged from the public service, —that house which so far exceeded the estimates, that it was pulled down after the ruin of Morris and the materials made a quarry of—will observe that it is very much in the style of Mansard and the French architects of the seventeenth century. Thus the French alliance with America brought to our shores the draughtsman of the government city, and few men have had it in their power to define so absolutely a stage for historical and biographical movement. As L'Enfant made the city it remains, with little or no alteration. And his misfortunes and poverty contrasted with his noble opportunity will always classify him with the brotherhood of art and genius and make him remembered as long as the city shall exist.

The first quarrel which L'Enfant had with the commissioners related to the destruction of a mansion belonging to one of the proprietors of the ground, the aged Daniel Carroll, who had begun to build a great brick house which he called " Duddington," in the middle of New Jersey Avenue right under the Capitol. As this house embarrassed the engineer's much beloved plan and assumed for itself the importance of a public edifice, L'Enfant issued an order for its demolition. The commissioners protested but the artist gave orders to his Lieutenant, Isaac Roberdeau, to pull down the structure in his absence while he meantime should be at Acquia Creek where he had leased the quarries of Brent and Gibson. Roberdeau was stopped by Carroll who sent a courier to Annapolis to get an injunction but seeing the speed the Frenchman was making in the interval Carroll served a local magistrate's warrant upon him. When L'Enfant returned and found his orders unfulfilled he quietly organized a gang of laborers and in the evening these set to work and reduced the presumptuous edifice with a hearty diligence which led to a shower of complaints from both proprietors and commissioners. Carroll proposed to sue L'Enfant; Roberdeau was discharged and the artist in chief kept his place only two months longer. The Administration directed Buddington House to be reconstructed as it was before but in another spot, and there it remains to-day, a grim old relic surrounded with a high brick wall and a park of forest trees.

Andrew Ellicott, the consulting and practical engineer of the new city, was a native of Bucks county, Pennsylvania, where his English father emigrated in 1780. Ho and two brothers had moved from Pennsylvania in wagons in 1772 and started the town of Ellicott's Mills and were promoters of the fortunes oi Baltimore and enterprising merchants, manufacturers, agriculturists, and inventors. They were the fathers of good road building, of iron rolling and copper working in Maryland, and inventors of many useful things, such as the wagon-brake.

Andrew Ellicott was in the prime of life, —thirty-seven years old, —when he rode out with Washington to inspect the embryo city. Of all the party he was the most intellectual unless we except L'Enfant; for although a Quaker he had commanded a battalion of militia in the revolution, and it gives us a wondering insight into the resources of the American Colonial mind to find that this companion of Franklin, Rittenhouse, and Washington learned the elements of what he knew at the little Maryland milling place he established.

Ellicott had surveyed portions of the boundaries of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, executed a topographical map of the country bordering on Lake Erie, and made the first accurate measurement of Niagara Falls. He had besides been a member of the Maryland Legislature. His more tractable and accommodating disposition secured him the honor of finishing the work of L'Enfant, and it appears that he was paid while on this service five dollars a day and his expenses.

In 1792 he became Surveyor General of the United States, laid out the towns of Erie, Warren, and Franklin in Pennsylvania, and constructed Fort Erie. In 1796 he determined the boundary line separating the republic from the Spanish possessions, and for many years subsequently was Secretary of the Pennsylvania state land office. His acquaintance and correspondence were with the most eminent people of his day in America and Europe, and in 1812 he was made Professor of Mathematics at West Point, where he died August 28, 1820, at the age of sixty-six. One of his family, Mr. Jos. C. G. Kennedy, was Superintendent of the United States census in 1860, and is now a resident of Washington. Amongst the assistants to run the lines of the new city was one man entitled to the future consideration of all his race, Benjamin Banneker, a negro.

He was at this time sixty years of age and a native of Ellicott's Mills and the protege" of the family of Andrew Ellicott. He is represented to have been a large man of noble appearance with venerable white hair, wearing a coat of superfine drab broad cloth and a broad brimmed hat, and to have resembled Benjamin Franklin. He was honored by the commissioners with a request to sit at their table, but his unobtrusive nature made him prefer a separate table. He was not only considerately cared for by these gentlemen, but Mr. Jefferson with his broad encouragement for learning and ability had praised an almanac he constructed, and the black man's proficiency in the exact sciences had given him a general reputation. He was sometimes too fond of a glass but made it a matter of pride that at Washington he had carefully avoided temptation. Banneker died in 1804, and his grave at Ellicott's Mills is without a mark.

Thus much for the makers of the plan of the city. The trials and quarrels of the architects will be found even more romantic. With all his discouragements concerning it Washington kept up the gleam of belief in the fortunes of his namesake city and called attention to it in letters to the Earl of Buchan and his old neighbor Mrs. S. Fairfax. To the latter, who was in England, he wrote the year before his decease: "A century hence, if this country keeps united, it will produce a city though not as large as London yet of a magnitude inferior to few others in Europe."

Three quarters of that century have expired and Washington is a city of one hundred and fifty thousand people. By the year 1900 this should increase to two hundred and fifty thousand.

At the time Washington wrote, London had eight hundred thousand inhabitants.


The first architect of the Capitol in the proper sense of a professional man was Stephen S. Hallet, whose name is also spelled Sallate. About this gentleman, whose career on the public buildings was very brief, no recollections and scarcely a tradition prevails. It has been generally said that he was an Englishman and a pupil of the celebrated John Nash of London.

It is apparent however, from the books of the Commissioners, that Hallet was a Frenchman. He is addressed by them as Monsieur Hallet and referred to by them as a French artist.

They also apologize for writing him a letter by saying that the difficulty of making explanations between themselves and him verbally suggests the former manner of communication. Hallet sent his plan to the Commissioners and they received it July 17, 1792. They were struck with the evidences of his professional capacity and invited him to visit the spot as soon as he could. These were the old Commissioners, Johnson, Stewart, and Carroll. It appears that Hallet's plans, which were several in number, had about commended him as the author of the building, and he was employed in that capacity when Dr. Thornton, an Englishman, also presented a plan which the Commissioners requested him to lodge with the Secretary of State at Philadelphia. This latter plan, although drawn by an amateur, affected both Jefferson and Washington to such a degree that a letter was at once dispatched to the Commissioners requesting them to adopt it and to substitute it for Hallet's, but to do this with as much delicacy as possible and to retain Hallet in the public service. This peremptory order probably gave the Commissioners much relief if we may believe the statement of George Hadfield, another architect who wrote twenty years later to the following effect: "A premium had been offered of five hundred dollars and a building lot for the best design for a capitol, at a time when scarcely a professional artist was to be found in any part of the United States; which is plainly to be seen from the pile of trash presented as designs."

It does not appear that Monsieur Hallet received in a cordial 'way this assurance that an English amateur had made a superior elevation to his own, and he drew again and again designs while Thornton's were also amended after the foundations of the Capitol had been raised to the ground level. The situation was further embarrassed by Thornton's appointment as one of the Commissioners where he came into conflict with his predecessor in an administrative as well as a professional way. Mr.

Hallet, in deference to Jefferson's suggestion, was employed at four hundred pounds per year, November 20,1793. More than nine months previously, on April 5,1793, the Commissioners wrote to Thornton: " The President has given his formal approbation of your plan." The changes in Thornton's design were, however, made so nearly like that of Hallet's, particularly as to the interior, that Monsieur demurred to the premium being accorded to Doctor Thornton. Quarrels ensued and Hallet withheld his drawings and wrote a letter to the Commissioners June 28, 1794, saying: "I claim the original invention of the plan now executing and beg leave to lay hereafter before you and the President the proofs of my right to it." Thereupon the Commissioners demanded the plans and Monsieur Hallet refused to surrender them. He was then verbally acquainted with the order that their connection with him had ceased and he was no longer in the public service. From this time forward there is no notable mention in the Commissioner's books of this unfortunate architect, and I have not been able to find any traditions respecting him. His successor was George Hadfield, who continued on the work until May 10, 1798. Mr. Hallet's account, amounting to upwards of one hundred and seventy-six pounds, was allowed by the Commissioners.

His name, however, had been deposited in the corner-stone, as one of the architects, and subsequent developments have in a great measure vindicated his claim as a principal suggestor of the building. About seventy years after his disappearance from the public view a son of B. H. Latrobe, the real builder of the wings, returned to Washington Hallet's drawings. Mr. Clark the architect passed them over to the Librarian of Congress in 1873. I was permitted to make sketch copies of Hallet's plans, and Mr. Clark came into the library while I was drawing from these plans and expressed his opinion that Hallet was the real architect, that what he called his " fanciful plan" had been borrowed by Thornton and changed to such a degree that Hallet was overridden in the premises. He called my attention to this memorandum in Hallet's handwriting: "A grand plan accompanied this (elevation) which Dr. Thornton sent for, together with my plan in pencil."

On another drawing the following memorandum in Hallet's handwriting appeared: "Sketch of the groundwork: part of the foundations were laid by sometime in August, 1793, now useless on account of the alterations since introduced. s. hallet."

Other drawings by Mr. Hallet were endorsed as follows:

"The ground floor of a plan of the Capitol, laid before the board in October, 1793."

"Plan of the ground and principal floor sent from Philadelphia to the board in July, 1793."

Doctor William Thornton came to America, like Alexander Hamilton, from the West India Islands. He was a man of a good deal of amateur talent, and his introduction to Jefferson brought him to live on the Capitol site where he remained for the remainder of his days. He would appear to have been of an officious, buoyant, persevering disposition, and after he was relieved as Commissioner he gathered together models and curiosities in an abandoned hotel which stood on the site of the present general Post-office, and these curiosities were spared at his intercession from the British incendiary and became the nucleus of the present Patent Office collection, of which, while nominal clerk, Thornton was really the first Commissioner.

He was also the founder of the first race track at Washington, and took delight in blooded horses, entering the lists with the great John Tayloe, the chief stock breeder and the richest citizen of the District. Dr. Thornton always insisted with vehemence that he was the original architect of the Capitol, and no doubt his picture of the elevations brought the administration to a conclusion. Jefferson says of it: "The grandeur, simplicity, and beauty of the exterior, the propriety with which the apartments are distributed and economy in the mass of the whole structure recommended this plan." The next day he says that Thornton's plan has captivated the eyes and judgment of all. "It is simple, noble, beautiful, excellently distributed, and moderate in size. * * Among its admirers no one is more decided than he whose decision is most important," meaning Washington.

Mr. Jefferson, at the time above referred to, was held in great consideration by Washington. He had been stationed at the Court of France and was known to have a fine fancy for the arts and to take a patron's delight in the legislative edifices of his country. We can get an idea of his sentiments on art from a letter which he wrote April 10,1791. He says: "For the capitol I should prefer the adoption of some of the models of antiquity, which have had the approbation of thousands of years—and for the President's House I should prefer the celebrated fonts of modern buildings."

A controversy sprang up amongst the architects, which outlived the fife of Washington, and Thornton was put upon the defensive. In 1804, Mr. Latrobe addressed a report to Congress in which he denounced Thornton's plan and animadverted with some severity upon the principle of competition for designs of great public buildings, saying that " A picture" was not a plan, and intimating that Thornton's work in the premises was merely pictorial. To this Thornton rejoined in a pamphlet, of which a copy exists in the Congressional Library, —a purchase with Mr. Jefferson's collection. Thornton says: "Mr. Hallet was not in the public service when or since I was appointed commissioner, which was on the twelfth day of September, 1794. Mr. Hadfield was appointed to superintend the work at the Capitol, October 15, 1795." Thornton says further: "Mr. Hallet changed and diminished the senate room, which is now too small. He laid square the foundation at the center building, excluding the dome; and when General Washington saw the extent of the alterations proposed he expressed his disapprobation in a style of such warmth as his dignity and self-command seldom permitted. * * * Mr. Hallet was desirous not merely of altering what might be improved, but even what was most approved. He made some judicious alterations, but in other instances he' did injury * * *. When General Washington honored me with the appointment of commissioner he requested that I should restore the building to a correspondence with the original plan."

It further seems that Washington addressed the commissioners, Gustavus Scott, William Thornton, and Alexander White, February 27, 1797, expressing his " Real satisfaction with their conduct," which involved an endorsement of Thornton's ideas.

Mr. Hallet's first design for the capitol, as well as the modifications and amendments of the same, show that he was an architect of very perfect knowledge. Mr. Clark, as we have said, the architect in 1873, told me that he had heard that Hallet was a pupil of Nash, who was the leading English architect of his period. Nash was born in London in 1752, and after undergoing a course of training in his profession and practicing it for some time, withdrew under the delusion of speculation and lost considerable sums of money. When he returned to his profession he met with very great success and opened an office in London in 1792. He designed and constructed numerous splendid mansion houses for the nobility and gentry in England and Ireland and performed some of the most celebrated street improvements in the British metropolis.

He was an inventor as well, and in 1797 obtained a patent for improvement in the construction of arches and piers of bridges, which led him to assume the credit of introducing the use of cast-iron girders. His work in London has been quite celebrated, including the fashioning of Regent Street and its beautiful blocks, the Langham Place Church, the Haymarket Theater, the terraces in Regent's Park, and the pavilion at Brighton. England contains many superb interiors and imposing mansion-houses accredited to him, and he lived until 1835.

It would be interesting only to architects to go at length into a discussion of the relative cleverness of Thornton's original plan, of Hal-let's plans and of the amended Capitol as we see it to-day, the work of Latrobe and Bulfinch. The building has received the general approval of the public sentiment, and with the magnificent marble extensions of Mr. Walter, —which are a pattern with the old Capitol, —is one of the most imposing buildings in the world. Thornton's original design of the Capitol had but one dome, a great eagle in the pediment, a statue with a club on the top of the pediment flanked by two female statues on the balustrade, and oak or laurel encompassed the rounded top of the chief window in each wing.

The original plan by Hallet placed the dome outside of the rectangle of the center and put the Senate Chamber in that rotunda. The center of the building was made a square open court with a covered walk around the sides and a carriage turn in the middle. The Supreme Court took the place of the subsequent senate chamber and the Vice-President's room was semi-circular and facing the long main corridor which traversed the edifice lengthwise.

It would appear that Hallet was in Washington until February 22, 1795, for in the bunch of drawings recently consigned to the library and which were doubtless sent to the authorities by Hallet to prove his right to the premium—there is one "A fanciful plan and elevation which the President having seen accidentally in September, 1793, agreed with the commissioners to have the Capitol planned in imitation thereof."

Hallet's "Fanciful plan" was surmounted by a dome with drum pillars and a light open cupola. Six Doric columns supported the center which upheld a curved pediment with a large eagle in the tympanum, and below were four standing colossal figures of war, peace, justice, and time. Three columns flanked the portico, which had four doors of equal size and low flights of steps. Shallow curtains with ono door and one window connected in the center with the wings, which consisted of a basement and one story. The basement was of stone rusticated, and the portico above had four Ionic columns flanked by windows flush with the portico. In the pediment of each of the wings was a group of statuary of half a dozen figures, representing war and peace. In the recess under the porticoes were three designs in relief over the three doors which opened upon the portico. Hallet's "Fanciful plan " was borrowed by Thornton.