Books about the national capital are always in order. Those written almost one hundred years ago might already be out of date, as regards many significant features of the city's growth and development. But Mr. Robert Shackleton, after an extended experience in describing such cities as New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, has at last written a comprehensive "Book of Washington"—not a guide or handbook merely, but an intelligent summary and review of the past and present attractions of the city.
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The Book of Washington
The book of Washington, R. Shackleton
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Chapter I - The City Of George The Great1
Chapter II - A House Happily Named. 9
Chapter III - A Curious Visit19
Chapter IV - Our Appian Way. 27
Chapter V - The Capitol32
Chapter VI - 'Grave And Reverend Seigniors'39
Chapter VII - Representatives And Misrepresentatives. 46
Chapter VIII - Some Characteristics. 51
Chapter IX - Around Lafayette Square. 59
Chapter X - Houses And Memories. 68
Chapter XI - The Gathering Of Art78
Chapter XII - The Mall82
Chapter XIII -Memorials That Do Adorn. 89
Chapter XIV - The dominance of titles. 95
Chapter XV - The Pervasive Classic. 104
Chapter XVI - Books And Libraries111
Chapter XVII - The Charm Of The City. 120
Chapter XVIII - Streets And Ways. 126
Chapter XIX - The Potomac. 132
Chapter XX - Georgetown And The Suburbs139
Chapter XXI - From Alexandria To Fredericksburg. 144
Chapter XXII - Mount Vernon. 152
Chapter XXIII - Annapolis. 161
Chapter XXIV - The Goal Of Hostile Armies. 166
Chapter XXV - An Inauguration. 173
THE city of George the Great! And why should he not be known as George the Great! Familiarly to all Americans come such names as Napoleon the Great, Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, Louis the Great, Peter the Great.
The leader in a republic is under a marked disadvantage, for his time is limited, his rule is for a few years only, where monarch may have many years of rule and opportunity. Louis the Fourteenth had over seventy years of kingship in which to win in history the undisputed title of ''great," but the great Washington was head of the army for only eight years and gladly gave up the post; he was President for another eight years and, again, gladly retired. His contemporary, Frederick the Great, became king when Washington was but a boy of eight and continued to rule until three years after the completion of our Revolutionary War.
Another contemporary of Washington was Peter the Great, and he ruled arbitrarily for a quarter of a century and was formally given by what was known as the Russian Senate the title of ''the Great" and remarkably, the Washington-like title of "Father of his Country."
Both Peter the Great and George Washington founded a city, a capital city, and in each case the city was named after its founder— the City of Washington and the City of St. Petersburg. Peter laid the foundation stone of his St. Petersburg and Washington the foundation stone that marked the beginning of the city of Washington, in the course of the same century! Each was an event of the seventeen hundreds. It is one of those facts on which the imagination loves to linger.
While winning his right to be classed among the great ones of the world, Washington won also loving admiration: he won distinction, honor, even veneration, in measure quite unapproached by any other of the great or the near-great or the little.
The very nation that he had fought, and from which he had wrested the Thirteen Colonies, led in doing him honor. Every Englishman of character and standing grieved when the news arrived of his death. And for example, a fleet of sixty anchored ships of war, at once set its flags at half-mast. When, a quarter of a century later, England was again at war with us, and a British fleet, under orders to attack and bum the cities of Washington and Baltimore, sailed past Mount Vernon, every ship put its flag at half-mast and the flagship solemnly tolled its bell.
Washington, at the time of his death, was holding himself in readiness, at the desire of President Adams and the Senate, to assume active command of our forces as soon as the then fully expected war with France should begin: but when the news of his death reached the French, their leader, Napoleon, then First Consul, ordered that for ten days all the standards of the troops should be draped with crepe, and in issuing this order the mighty Frenchman told his armies of the greatness of Washington and of his leadership for freedom.
When ''Tom" Moore was in America, in 1804, his vanity was touched by not receiving more adulation than he did, and his foreign prejudices made him incapable of recognizing possibilities in the new city. He even searched for wasp-like phrases to use in belittling the mighty leader, and then gave up the effort as he burst into unwilling enthusiasm:
"Nor yet the patriot of one land alone
For thine 's a name all nations claim their own.
And every shore, where breathed the good and brave,
Echoed the plaudits thy own country gave. "
Before settling down to build the City of Washington, for its home, our Government had been peregrinative, perambulatory, peripatetic. It had exercised its functions not only at New York and Philadelphia, but at York, Baltimore, Annapolis, and Lancaster.
A settled home was required for the national housekeeping; and after a great deal of discussion, representative of a great deal of rivalry, a balancing of conflicting prejudices and interests, it was decided, carrying into effect Constitutional provision, that the seat of Government should be a piece of territory, not more than ten miles square, situated somewhere on the Potomac River, taken part from Maryland and part from Virginia, between certain defined points — namely, between the mouth of the Eastern Branch of the Potomac and that of the Conocheague (now what an unknown name!) — and George Washington was given the power to decide upon the precise locality. Literally, three men, of whom he was the chief, were to be the deciders, but in practice it resolved itself into a matter for Washington alone, for the other two promptly slipped out of sight. And he declared in favor of a territory which included the present site of the city, with also the already existent towns of Georgetown (now within the city limits) and Alexandria. Half a century afterwards, the portion which included Alexandria was given back to Virginia, leaving a territory of something over sixty square miles of land and ten of water instead of the original one hundred. Or, if one would be particular to the point of absolute correctness, he may take it that the total area, of land and water, is now sixty-nine and one-quarter square miles.
Washington fixed upon the location of the capital city. The choice was made out of a 'wide local knowledge, with such promptitude that the decision was announced within three days after the passage of the enabling act. The new city, the Federal City he termed it, was at once laid out and its construction begun.
And in one particular the city was most curiously planned, for it was in a sense planned as two cities: one, with ancient houses, some of them still standing, leading to the southeast and to the ferrying point across the Potomac, that connected with Alexandria: the other town beginning with the White House, and connecting at once, past old-looking houses, with ancient Georgetown.
So it came about that the oldest homes in Washington are in two widely separated groups. The two separate communities, one dominated by the Capitol, the other by the White House, were to be connected by boulevards and gardens, which were to be lined by public buildings.
And it is keenly to be regretted that, until the present day, the nobly picturesque planning was but slightly carried into effect.
But it should not be forgotten that Washington had to decide according to the standards of commerce, of shipping possibilities, of problems of municipal growth, of communication with the interior of the States, and the north and south communication; and, always, that he was held to the best that he could do between the Potomac Branch, more frequently known as the Anacostia, and the long-forgotten Conocheague. And it may be that in the last four letters of this stream's name there were many who recognized something ominous for the new city.
With Georgetown and Alexandria both of them flourishing towns within the limits of the District, it assuredly seemed as if no better locality could be chosen for the new capital city.
Busy as Washington was with the multifarious duties of his position as President; the Constitution having but newly gone into effect, with its entirely new form of government; and with a myriad of problems confronting him as to home affairs and our disturbed relations with Europe; he still found time to devote close attention to the new city; knowing that the formation of the capital, its actual beginning, its holding a place on the map and in the public eye, would have a great effect in stabilizing public opinion. He did not attempt to plan the new city unassisted. Always ready to assume complete responsibility, and always ready to make decisions, he at the same time had none of the vanity which would prevent his seeking advice. He knew intimately New York, Philadelphia and Boston, but not the cities of Europe. He talked the matter over with Thomas Jefferson, and Jefferson, remarkable man that he was, discussed fully and freely the plans and the buildings of numerous cities abroad. For Jefferson had not only closely observed what he saw on the other side of the ocean but had made voluminous notes.
An assistant was necessary and Washington chose a Frenchman, Major Pierre Charles L 'Enfant. Trained as an engineer, in France, he had come over with Lafayette. He had soon attracted the attention of Washington, had ably designed the construction of fortifications, and had been made chief of engineers. After the war he had remained in this country, designing and altering various buildings, principally for the Government.
L 'Enfant threw himself into the new work w4th intense absorption. He saw in it, opportunity. And he promptly produced a plan for the city.
On the main street of Georgetown there still stands a little stone building which was used as an office, for the work of planning, by Washington, Jefferson, L 'Enfant and others. There the matured plan of Jefferson, that of a checker-board city, was discussed and there it was rejected in favor of the plan of L 'Enfant. His plan is still the plan of the city.
The criss-crossing of numerous avenues at unexpected tangents, with numberless odd junctions and breaks and unexpectednesses, just as the streets and avenues are still seen, were all in the plan of L 'Enfant: and even the combination of numbered streets in one direction and lettered streets in the other, with the State-named avenues running at the queerest of angles, was his. But of course there were then only thirteen of them. A witty compatriot said of L 'Enfant, that he was well named; that he was indeed an ''Enfant," for he was ''practicing his A, B, C and his 1,2, 3."
L 'Enfant visualized a fine city. His map, showing what he planned, has been preserved and is in the Congressional Library. The mile-long stretch between the two city centers, was to be a mile of beauty. A curious feature was to be a series of large mansions for foreign ministers, and another curious part of the general plan was to have a great national religious temple, to represent all sects, stand where the Patent Office was afterwards built. The proposed grouping of public buildings along the mile of planned beauty, was to be added to by artistic memorials, and bordered by beautiful mansions with gardens and sloping lawns. This at first empty space explains the woods so often ignorantly jeered at by early writers and travelers: for there was no haste in clearing away the woods even if they could at once have been made to disappear. A monument to President Washington was planned, to be set at right angles to a line drawn southward from the center of the White House, and to stand precisely on the axis. By all this vision splendid Washington and L 'Enfant were on their way attended. They dreamt of the most beautiful city in the world. An odd feature suggested by the Frenchman, was rows of shops, facing upon arcaded sidewalks: an effect attained in some of the old European cities.
America was a young nation and far from rich. With amazing bravery, considering her indebtedness and her lack of resources, her newmess in handling large sums, the Capitol was begun and also the White House; and the street plan was carried into effect; but it was impossible to go on instantly with other public buildings: and before the matter could again be taken in hand, the region between White House and Capitol had largely been occupied by unbeautiful and undesirable structures. Private speculation had been allowed too free a hand.
It was unfortunate, too, that Washington and L 'Enfant could not work long together. L'Enfant saw his plan beginning to fail of complete consummation. A perverse man, he took a high hand with such men as opposed him. When a house was placed by a private builder where it would interfere with the general plan, L'Enfant ordered it torn down. Finding his stand opposed he withdrew within himself, and refused to let his plans be shown or known. Unfortunately, his irritation extended to Washington himself. And Washington, immensely busy as he was, had no time to spend on artistic travail. To him. Major L 'Enfant was an officer who was insubordinate. And the Frenchman's connection with the city planning ceased after a year of enthusiastic work.
The blow crushed L 'Enfant. He could not advantageously return to France, for France was in the fierce stress of her own Revolutionary changes. He stayed on in America, from time to time making claims on Congress, and lived more than a quarter of a century beyond the death of Washington. And he lived in proud and lonely wretchedness. Corcoran, he of the Art Gallery — so closely connected are the first days of the city of Washington and the practically present time — has told of how he used to see L 'Enfant, wearing "a long green coat buttoned up to his throat, a bell-crowned hat: moody and lonely. "
He always bore in his hands a roll of papers, ready to appear, if summoned before a Congressional committee: and he carried a silver-headed hickory cane. That keen-sighted English architect, Latrobe, wrote of him in 1806, with one phrase in particular, of tremendous vividity: " Daily through the city stalks the picture of famine, L' Enfant and his dog." How the dog adds to the grimness of the picture! And how one thinks of man and dog creeping off into the darkness! And how curiously is this story of the bitter closing years of L 'Enfant like the story of the bitter closing years of that other Frenchman also condemned by Washington, Pierre Landais, who stalked in poverty about the streets of New York, carrying the roll of papers which represented his claim against the American Government.
The body of L 'Enfant long lay in obscurity, where, in obscurity, it was buried, but it was taken up a few years ago, and placed in an honorable position in honored Arlington.
Had it been possible for Washington and L 'Enfant to keep constantly within personal touch, the situation would probably have developed differently. But Washington, with the tremendous demands of the new Presidency, was most of the time in New York and Philadelphia in the early nineties: it will be remembered that the Government did not take possession of the Federal City until the administration of Adams.
We find L 'Enfant wanting to Washington: ''From this height, every tower and building would rear with a majestic aspect over all the country round, and might advantageously be seen from twenty miles off, and facing on the grandest prospect to the Potowmack. "
L 'Enfant could not understand needful economy. He it was who drew such expensive plans for the Philadelphia home of Robert Morris that the mighty financier was ruined. And similar unchecked lavishness would have ruined the finances of the United States.
In spite of his genius L'Enfant was impracticable. Washington was a genius who aimed at practical results. It was no time for nursing grievances but to do the best one could. Washington put in another engineer and the work went on. For the building of the Federal City could not be stopped. The name of the city was changed to Washington as soon as it began to be used as the Capital.
Rigid as Washington was in exacting results from others, he was equally rigid with himself. He never relaxed from standards of duty. Yet, with this, he possessed wealth of sympathy and affection. From the time of his marriage until his death he wore upon his breast, suspended, out of sight, by a gold chain, a miniature of his wife. And John Quincy Adams left on record that at a dinner when his mother, Mrs. John Adams, was present, Washington took out all the sugar-plums from a cake and gave them to Mrs. Adams to take home to her son, little John. Yet Washington was capable, on rare occasions, of fierce and blazing anger.
George Washington was indifferent .to his ancestry. He liked to say that he was an American, of English descent; to him, that represented the best of combinations. Doubtless he knew, for he knew his Clarendon, that the most famous of the English Washingtons had particularly distinguished himself on the side of the King against Parliament in the preceding century, and he deemed it not necessary, in the face of American conditions, to bring up comparisons.
First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen: then none more fitting to map and plan and decide upon the outlines of the capital city.
One thinks of him, riding about this city in the making; leaving that little stone house over in Georgetown and going slowly, on horseback, toward the site of the White House and the Capitol: perhaps, sometimes, in the sporting costume whose description has come down to us: blue coat, scarlet waistcoat, buckskin breeches, top boots, velvet cap, whip with one thong. Or he may have ridden about sedately, in plain drab clothes, a broad-brimmed white hat, and with a long-handled umbrella attached to his saddle-bow to keep off the heat of the sun.
In the center of one of the many circles of the city, on Pennsylvania Avenue at the junction of New Hampshire, is an equestrian statue of Washington: and in relation to it there came to Bret Harte a grim conception. For Bret Harte, describing in swinging lines the Grand Review that marked the close of the Civil War, wrote:
" Two hundred thousand men in blue,
I think they said was the number,
Till I seemed to hear their trampling feet,
The bugle blast and the drum's quick beat,
The clatter of hoofs in the stony street,
The cheers of people who came to greet."
Whereupon he goes on to a dream vision of the night hours following the review. He imagines himself standing at the front of the Capitol.
" Then I held my breath with fear and dread;
For into the square, with a brazen tread,
There rode a figure whose stately head,
'erlooked the review that morning.
That never bowed from its firm-set seat
When the living column passed its feet,
Yet now rode steadily up the street
To the phantom bugle 's warning:
" Till it reached the Capitol square, and wheeled,
And there in the moonlight stood revealed
A well-known form that in State and field
Had led our patriot sires." Whereupon
"And I saw a phantom army come,
With never a sound of fife or dram.
But keeping time to a throbbing hum.
Of wailing and lamentation."
And Washington reviews, for hour after hour, the dead soldiers of the Civil War: a strange weird fancy.
Washington made a point of not buying in the new city for speculation, but he bought two ''squares," very difficult now to pick out, a little to the west of the Capitol, between North Capitol Street and New Jersey Avenue. Square 634 cost nine hundred and sixty-three dollars, and with the buildings, three stories high of brick, fifteen thousand dollars. He also bought lots five, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, on the "Eastern Branch," and his own estimate of their value was twelve cents the square foot. He also bought throe so-called water-lots on the ''Eastern Branch," in square 667, containing 34,438 square feet.
It would have been bad form to speculate in lots of a city which he himself laid out, so he bought only enough, for a rich man like himself, for a small, but encouraging investment. To have done otherwise would have been bad form, and Washington was never guilty of that.
That he was a surveyor of skill from the time that he was merely a youth, was the factor which more than any other made him capable of superintending the laying out of a city. He had, recently, at Mount Vernon, laid out approaches and grounds that are still recognized as models of the art of landscaping.
His beginning as a surveyor was for Lord Fairfax: not the Fairfax who was his pleasant neighbor down the Potomac, but the head of the house, an older man, the Lord Fairfax who banished himself, long before the Revolution, to the Shenandoah region, where he owned and laid out many thousands of acres.
When the Revolutionary War came old Lord Fairfax was immensely disturbed, so tradition locally tells, and he could not get over the fact that George Washington was the American leader. One day there came to him sounds of great excitement, and it was with reluctance that his body-servant told him, in answer to imperative demands, that Cornwallis was taken.
''And it is my George Washington!" he murmured; he turned his face to the wall; " It's time for me to die."
IN front of the north face of the White House, is an equestrian statue of General Jackson: a short distance beyond the south front is one of General Sherman; and this is remindful of a time when the two famous leaders almost met. It was in 1836. The future General Sherman, then a lad of sixteen on his way to West Point, to become a cadet, looked for an hour or so through the railing (at that time a wooden railing) watching General Jackson, then President, as he paced back and forth on the gravel walk at the north front of the White House.
That the future general must have been intensely fascinated by the sight and proximity of the soldier-President is certain: the eager-minded youth, about to begin his own soldier career, was tremendously interested in watching the victor of New Orleans: but whatever his thoughts, all that he sets down, when he comes to write his memoirs, is that he noticed that Jackson wore a cap, and that his overcoat was so full that it made him seem smaller than the lad had supposed him to be.
The building in front of which Jackson was pacing was even then often called ''The White House," although it did not officially receive that designation until the time of President Roosevelt. It had been known as the President's House, the Palace, the Great House, the Castle or the Executive Mansion, but the simplicity of the two words ''White House" finally made its permanent appeal.
The name of "White House," delightful and descriptive name that it is, has often been supposed to have its origin from the home of the wealthy and brilliant widow, Martha Custis. For she was owner of a "White House" when she and Washington first met; he being on his way to the capital of the Colony, mounted on the horse that the dying Braddock had given him, and attended (it is Washington's adopted son who tells this, so it must often have been talked over in the family circle) by Braddock 's body-servant, Bishop, an old soldier whom the general, dying, advised not to return to England but to stay on with George Washington. "Never," said Custis, "did a man make more complete acknowledgment of error than did poor brave Braddock in his last hours, when recanting his criticism of the Americans."
It was not, however, because Martha Custis was owner of her "White House" that the White House of the Presidency took that name. For the term came, naturally and simply, after the Presidential home was painted white to cover the marks of smoke and fire, after its partial destruction by the British in the war of 1812. From the first, the name pleasantly attached itself. It is so unpretentious a name, so simple and pleasant a name, a name with, somehow, suggestion of charm even beyond what obviously impresses itself. It is an ideally American name: and it was one of the notable acts of President Roosevelt — the importance of official acts being measured, in final effect, by different standards than those of obviousness at the time — it was one of his important acts to give the name of "White House" officially, it having been for decades thus used unofficially.
Roosevelt, astute politician though he was, or, rather, because he was, was in some respects frankness itself. He enjoyed being President and living in the White House, and felt not the slightest hesitation in saying so. Neither did he hesitate to say that he had always been a lucky man. He was especially lucky when, after most positively refusing to accept the Vice-Presidency, even to the point, at midnight before his nomination, of thundering out his refusal from the depths of his bath-tub, and accenting his words with tremendous poundings upon the tub's edge, he reluctantly accepted. He dreaded the inactivity of presiding over the Senate — as if he could ever have been inactive! — and luck so adjusted matters that he was presiding officer of the Senate for only one week.
A glance at the equestrian generals reminds one again of the close proximity of Jackson and Sherman so many years ago, and it is remindful also that Sherman, had he in his later days so chosen, could himself have been the official occupant of the White House. For the people wanted him as President. But he, loyal to his older brother, would not stand in John's path to the Presidency. John Sherman was unable to win the goal and William Tecumseh's abnegation was therefore of no practical good to either. John, by the way, could never overcome his intense disappointment. I remember having a talk with him in his room at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, in his old age, when he almost violently complained even then of what he termed treachery and bribery used by his rivals to keep him from the White House.
Jackson was one of the Presidents who left an impress. And he was of that class of men who always do what they think at the moment the proper thing to do. As, one bitter day when he was seen carrying a little girl in one arm and her little dog in the other. "The child was crying. They were cold. I'm taking them to a fire." And thus they entered the front door of the White House.
Presidents are remembered for little things for different reasons: some because there were no great things to mark their holding of a great office: others because they were giants whose slightest touch made indentations in history or legend.
Andrew Jackson loved children. When asked for something special to put in the corner-stone of the Treasury Building whose site he had one day marked with peremptory impatience with his cane and which was forever to block any possibility of a view in that direction from the White House, he clipped a lock of hair from the head of the baby of the White House, the tiny daughter of the "wife of his adopted son.
When this same little girl was christened, Jackson deemed the occasion important enough to justify asking both Houses of Congress to be present; and few dared not to go! And the highly self-important and sartorial Martin Van Buren was godfather. Dignifiedly as the name seems to befit a man of fine personal dignity, it is amusing to remember that until well on in life he signed only ''M. V. Buren."
There have been Presidents who are remembered, if at all, through their connection with someone or some event apart from themselves. As, broadly speaking, what was there about either Fillmore or Pierce more important than their going arm in arm, when Fillmore was President and Pierce was President-elect, to a lecture by Thackeray, in Washington, on which occasion, as they met the distinguished Englishman, our own Washington Irving, who was present, murmured to Thackeray, "Two Kings of Brentford smelling at one rose!" And as I write, who can say that the best remembered thing about President Harding, after all his acts of apparent world importance, may in the distant future be that he one day chose to play golf on a public ground of the city — paying the regular fee of twenty-five cents rather than go as guest to some fashionable club!
Hayes, man of excellent intentions and fair abilities, boomeranged into the White House by the Electoral Commission, when the Democrats fully expected to seat Tilden, would be quite forgotten, as a personality, were it not that his wife succeeded in establishing, for the Hayes term, prohibition in the White House, to the amazement of the world. What floods of merciless wit were poured upon them! How Evarts chuckled over his description of a state dinner, when " water flowed like wine! " And now — the entire nation has swung around, to formal acceptance of prohibition.
The ill-natured quietly claimed even under the Hayes regime that wine was now and then inconspicuously served at special dinners at the White House; as, at a dinner to Grand Duke Alexis: and some good Americans grumbled about privileges given to Russians. And it was claimed that at least at some state dinners a certain kind of punch was served that was flavored with Jamaica rum and familiarly known as "the lifesaving station." But Mr. and Mrs. Hayes were probably sincere in their views, and stood for them in spite of ridicule. How incredible it would have seemed had someone prophesied then, that in less than half a century stern laws were to order absolute prohibition!
Among the occupants of the White House, few have been so interesting as Theodore Roosevelt. His mind was always alert, and he especially enjoyed historical correlations; and he writes, after a dinner at which the Prince of Battenberg and Secretary of the Navy Bonaparte sat together among his guests, that Bonaparte was the grand-nephew of the Great Napoleon and grandson of Jerome, King of Westphalia, and that Battenberg, British admiral, was grandson of a Hessian general who had been a subject of the same King Jerome — who, as Roosevelt does not forget to add, deserted Napoleon discreditably, in the midst of the Battle of Leipsic.
Roosevelt traveled a great deal after leaving the White House and found a warm welcome at one court after another. Of course they welcomed him, he declares cheerfully: their official rules so hampered them that they could be but slightly in real touch with men of the world, and so he served as " a relief to the tedium, the dull narrow routine of their lives." Apparently, what is needed in a king, he decided, thus getting back to his pet aversion the vice-presidency, is that the king shall be a kind of sublimated vice-president.
''Please put out the light," murmured Roosevelt, drowsily; and they were his last words in this world. The last words of his immediate predecessor, McKinley, dying in Buffalo and remembering the comfort and beauty of the White House, were something regarding the swaying of the trees outside the White House windows.
The White House has always been, outside and in, a place of charm, except after its burning, and during the period of the unsocial rule of Wilson.
The White House has always been looked upon as representing the social as well as political leadership of the nation. No other political leader, no matter how powerful, has ever been able to equal the power of the man actually in the Presidential chair: Hanna coming nearest to doing this, through his position as unscrupulous head of the group managing McKinley's involved fortunes.
And always, in spite of the power and claims of social leaders, has the position of the President, and "the first lady of the land," given social leadership: because, first, of the Presidential hold upon the great titled ones from abroad and because of the power of the President to appoint to important posts.
Socially and politically there is naturally a national head, and that headship naturally goes to the White House if the White House will assume it.
More prominently and importantly than even the Roosevelts took leadership, did the Madisons do so: and that was because the capabilities of wife and husband fitted and supplemented each other.
Madison was a man of ability and achievement; not a soldier, but an excellent politician, or statesman; an extremely good dresser, a small man, with rather a mild face; a sort of conciliatory man, often and good-naturedly referred to as " Little Jimmy." His wife was taller than he, a good-looking woman, still to this day loved and known as " Dolly" Madison; of remarkable qualities, accustomed to her own way. As wife of Secretary of State Madison, she had been mistress of the White House for the widower Jefferson, and then she was President's wife for eight years more.
Under the Madisons, the White House was a happy place of social gayeties, and the turbaned "Dolly" was a cheerful social despot, often called "the queen," whose rule no one thought of disputing.
Even the broad-brimmed western hat of Roosevelt (a kind of hat I used to notice in the West, that was made in Philadelphia, where still earlier a broad-brimmed hat of another kind was common) was never so well known as the turban of Dolly Madison. It was always of some striking or perhaps even vivid color. Some were crimson, some were spangled with silver. She is said to have spent a thousand dollars a year on her turbans and always had them made to match her gowns. As Washington used to send to London for his clothes, painstakingly writing his measures and demands, so " Dolly" sent to Paris for her grand costumes. She was not above such homely habits as using snuff, and one evening, talking with Henry Clay, she drew a bandana from her pockets saying smilingly, "This is for rough work": then she drew out a filmy square of lace and said, "But this is my polisher." No wonder she was recognized as the leader of polished society!
When one thinks of the White House, it seems inevitable that thoughts should first come of the folk who have inhabited it, with thoughts of the building itself to come only afterwards.
And of all its famous occupants, two more than any others in the long list (there have been twenty-nine Presidents while there have been but six sovereigns of Great Britain) stand out markedly as the possessors of that vivid social personality which combines power and rulership with camaraderie and an immense enjoyment in it all: and those two have been ''Dolly" Madison and ''Teddy" Roosevelt. Debonair, arbitrary, sparkling, human, all-alive, they were natural rulers.
Dolly Madison lived in Washington or in touch with Washington for almost fifty years. Many are still alive who were alive when she died. And she was a social ruler until her death. The Madisons, as with most others of the early leaders of family, lived in a beautiful and stately home, Montpelier, just as Washington lived at beautiful Mount Vernon, and Jefferson at beautiful Monticello: these and other beautiful homes 'giving dignity to the living of the leaders of those days. As to Mrs. Madison, she visited the city of Washington but briefly for the many years between her husband's retirement and his death, but those brief visits kept alive in the city the close knowledge of her personality, and when, in the last years of her life, she once more made her home in Washington, she was again yielded leadership. As a widow in Washington she held actual court: on New Year's and the Fourth the important people, after calling at the White House, went direct to her home.
Grant, though entering the White House a popular idol, and remaining there eight years, was one of those who on the whole made little impression. His inaugural ball, however, held in the Treasury Building, certainly made an impression, of sorts, for fully six thousand people had their wraps and coats checked, and all system was lost, and never was there such muddling and mixing of belongings. It was a cold and stormy night: there was shortage of carriages: many men and many women walked to their homes, without hats or wraps or in the belongings of other people, while many huddled in corners and helplessly wept or swore. There were colds, deaths, loss of clothes and jewels and furs — after all, a not likely to be forgotten administration, one sees!
The great stealings of members of his administration have been almost forgotten, so vastly have expenditures grown huge and unchecked in recent years.
In Grant's time it was still matter of common knowledge that when President Buchanan learned that the expenses of the trip of the Prince of Wales to Mount Vernon were about to be charged to the Government he instantly ordered that they be made a charge to himself. How times have changed! And it was not forgotten that when President John Quincy Adams bought a mirror for the White House, out of a Government appropriation, paying for it thirty-six dollars, there was such an outcry about extravagance that he paid for it himself.
Some years after Grant, the entire country was agitated by the so-called assurance of President Cleveland in using for a modest outing a modest Government light-house tender: but the country was not a particle shocked when, not many years after this, Roosevelt began to use warships with some freedom, even to the extent of ordering one to take one of his children across the Sound from Oyster Bay, to see a boat race. And in only a few years, so swiftly do changes sometimes come, another President personally ordered himself and attendants carried to Europe at immense Government expense, using one of the world's greatest liners as his private yacht. What a change within three decades!
Grover Cleveland is to be counted among the most serious of White House occupants; yet he had his humorous side; and he loved to tell stories of happenings such as the jumping overboard, at the imminent danger of his life, on one of the Presidential fishing trips — Cleveland being a devoted fisherman — of an old darky, who saved a colored youth at the last gasp for breath. Cleveland could not understand it. The darky had never impressed him as cast in heroic mold. "Is the boy a relative? No? Then why did you take such a risk?" "Well, sah, de fack is, sah, dat boy had de bait!" A stern, unsliakable man was Cleveland, who would admit, with close friends, that his frequent apparent ignoring of political considerations was quite likely to be actually planned as good politics.
Fisherman that he was, I remember being told, while in the Berkshires at a place where he loved to stay, that at times he would patiently sit beside his little boy, leaning with him over the porch rail, the boy with dry fishline dangling and the Presidential father instructing him soberly in the art of fishing and the mysteries of bait.
That three Presidents have been murdered within the short space of our national life; that the three tragedies came well within the period of forty years; should be realizingly remembered, as showing the evils possible to even a Republican nation. And to this should be added the fact that still other Presidents were the objects of attempted assassination!
Besides those who were assassinated, while President, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor died while holding the office.
Harrison's wife was too feeble to accompany him to his inauguration. In a month he was taken back home dead: but his widow, unable as she was to make the journey to Washington, survived him to almost the age of ninety. It is told, down in Virginia, that Tyler, succeeding Harrison, was so sartorially unprepared that, when the news of the death of Harrison reached him, he had to make hasty borrowing of the needful clothes.
Tyler had become Governor of Virginia through the death of the one holding that office: he had become Senator by appointment after a death: and he became President through the death of Harrison.
Again and again one sees that in writing of the White House, one turns aside into writing of those who occupied it. It is curious to know for example that Zachary Taylor, when elected President, had never in his life cast a ballot in any election. He had seen so much army service, in Indian Wars, fighting in Mexico, in marching and campaigning and garrison duty, during the greater part of which his wife had accompanied him, that, when nominated for the Presidency, he remarked that for more than a quarter of a century the battle-field had been his home: but I noticed, in the memoirs of Mrs. Logan, the widow of General John, the very different statement that for a quarter of a century General Taylor's home had been his battlefield!
From the words, ''Old Rough and Ready," it would be supposed that New England was right in estimating him as ''an ignorant frontier colonel." Yet his announced platform was one in which even the greatest American of any section could have felt pride. For it was: "I have no private purposes to accomplish, no party projects to build up, no enemies to punish, nothing to serve but my country. "
So far from being one of Hawthorne's "bullet-headed generals," he is described as a gentle-faced, white-haired man; with mild eyes and a soft and pleasant voice. Whenever a group, passing him, bowed respectfully to him as President, he would say, gently, ''Your humble servant, ladies," or " Heaven bless you, gentlemen." In all he was one of the most interesting of the occupants of the White House.
Over and over one notices, what little points are those which mark most of the Presidential careers. Tyler was the first President who was not born a British subject. Even Van Buren could be technically claimed by England as he was born in 1782. But Tyler was born in 1790. And still more odd is the fact that this technically first American President was a member of the Confederate Congress when he died.
Tyler was not a man who shrank from publicity. When he married his second wife, Julia Gardiner, of Gardiner's Island, at the end of Long Island Sound, he was President and fifty-four years of age, and she was scarcely more than a girl. They were married in New York and after the ceremony the couple drove down Broadway in an open coach drawn by four white horses.
Between the death of the first Mrs. Tyler and his marriage to the second, his son's wife was for sometime mistress of the White House. She was the vivacious and charming daughter of an actor named Cooper. Not knowing that fact, one night a Senator said to her, at a ball in an old theater transformed into a ball room, that on the very spot where they now stood, he once saw the best acting he had ever seen in his life: that of Cooper in Macbeth.
And Mrs. Tyler tells of how there came surging over her, thoughts of the changes that had come within the six years through which she and her father, who was the actor. Cooper, had struggled since the appearance spoken of.
One of the ablest and most American of the White House occupants was the first one of all, the choleric John Adams. It is interesting to remember that he was born at what is now Quincy, in a sweet but decidedly humble little house, and that to a similarly humble little place close beside it, he took Abigail as his bride, and there their son John Quincy Adams was born. The sixth President was son of the second and the twenty-third was grandson of the ninth! Special interest lies in the fact that John and the able Abigail Adams came from that humble living to the White House, and that Mrs. Adams was from the first full of complaints. There was shortage of servants, to be written lengthily about, shortage of fuel, shortage of means of getting about in bad weather. No one could suppose from her letters that she had ever lived in that simple home in Quincy!
John Quincy Adams inherited a full measure of irascibility, yet in spite of that became President. Before going to the White House he represented our country abroad, becoming familiar with London, Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg — an unusual acquaintance with cities for an American of that period. He was our first Minister to Russia, and finding it necessary to go to Paris, he left his wife in St. Petersburg. And then he had to send for her to join him. With her child she bravely started off: bravely, for all Europe was in turmoil, as the time was immediately after the Russian disasters of the great Napoleon. She was in Paris when the Emperor returned from Elba, and witnessed the storm of delight with which he was greeted. Many and unusual were the memories that she could carry with her to the White House.
A carious point in connection with White House dwellers is that of the unexpected prominence of Friday.
Monroe, Hayes and Pierce were born on Friday. Pierce was inaugurated on Friday and died on Friday. Both John Quincy Adams and Garfield, as well as Pierce were inaugurated on Friday. Tyler and Polk died on Friday and Lincoln was shot on Friday. Friday indeed, has from the first been important in the history of America. Washington was born on Friday, the battle of Bunker Hill was fought on Friday, but, to go back to the beginning, Columbus sailed, on his first voyage, on Friday, first sighted land on Friday, and on still another Friday discovered the continent of America.
A coincidence of another kind, one of the most remarkable in all history, was that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died, old men, not only on the same day but on July the Fourth, and on not only that, but July the Fourth of the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration. Monroe also died on a Fourth of July: not a Signer, but a participator in the Revolutionary fighting and the author of the Doctrine which for more than a century stood as the symbol of high Americanism.
That Grant was the first President to wear a moustache, that Lincoln was the first to wear a full beard, are among the Presidential facts. And as to Lincoln, it is interesting to remember that he and his rival President, Jefferson Davis, were both born in Kentucky, and within a year of each other, and that one worked out his future through going into the Southwest and the other his through going into the Northwest.
And Lincoln ought not to be blamed, as he often is, for that hat! For the daguerreotypes of the period show that it was quite the vogue.
What may be termed the most picturesque custom in America takes place annually in the grounds of the White House. And the fact that it is an ancient custom, dipping back vaguely into the misty centuries, that in all probability it long antedates the time of Christ, adds to the vast interest of it. It is a celebration of Faster, coming down, vaguely, out of the mistiness of vanished centuries.
It is the annual egg rolling: which became a custom here in the White House grounds perhaps some three-quarters of a century ago. Eggs and Easter time have long been associated and never was so charming an association as this. For all that might be grim in something coming down from the Druids has somehow vanished, and only the picturesque remains. It reminds me of an ancient Druid custom that I came across in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where, in a lonely place in the unsettled northern portion, on one night in the year, the children build a fire and then come rushing down the Druid-haunted hill, each waving a flaming brand.
But in Washington the function of egg-rolling is in daytime and not at night: it consists in the rolling of painted Easter eggs, on Easter Monday, on the grassy slopes of the White House grounds.
The children gather by thousands, boys and girls, and all young. No adults are admitted, except such as are in definite charge of a child. What may be termed the childless fathers of Washington (not the fatherless children) form a long unbroken line, along the stone base of the enclosing iron fence, standing tiptoe and eager to watch the gay scene within. I took my chance with the general public, and was curtly refused admission by a particularly stern policeman whom I had noticed turning back one adult after another. I briefly said a half dozen words to the effect that I was a stranger in the city, who had not brought a child. Apparently he did not hear me. He looked sternly over my shoulder at the Washington Monument, and in a growling undertone responded to "go back a little and adopt a child. " So within five minutes I was within the grounds — and it was astonishing how soon that adopted boy was lost!
The sweeping grounds were thronged. Every moment more were arriving. They came in singles and twos and threes and they came in a succession of little throngs aa street car after street car unloaded; they came, very many, in motor cars. And in the closed cars the little children, gathered half a dozen or so in a car, looked like crowded nests of brightly plumaged birds, for it was a gathering that included every class. The rich and the well-to-do were there; the poor were there, proud of their colored eggs.
There was no formal procedure. Each child carried its eggs, all fancifully decorated, and most of them sat quietly on the grass on knolls where their eggs rolled easily.
There was, oddly, a general appearance as if there were only children, for the elders were practically lost, practically unnoticeable, among the gayly colored throng of little ones. Quite amazingly colorful were the children and their accessories: their parasols, their many-colored toy balloons, held by strings, the bright baskets, the eggs themselves, the hair ribbons, the jackets and hats and skirts, in reds and blues and lavenders, in mustards and pinks — there were children like lilies, all in white, children in pale linen, children like yellow daffodils, seated on the pale green grass.
Some were moving about in gentle happiness. A great fountain was gloriously playing and all the lilacs were in delicate flower. Intermittently came the music of the Marine Band; and always was the softly chirring sound of children's voices.
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