Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Seat of Empire 1861 to 1881

The Seat of Empire
A History of Washington DC
Chapter Five
by Bob Arnebeck
Freedom, Loyalty and Sewers
1861 to 1881


The Washington Monument in 1860


Seeded with monumental buildings, after 60 years, Washington still didn't amount to much. Plus a civil war cracked along the Potomac suggesting that the Nation's Capital failed in its very purpose, to hold the federal union together. Then with the war, the city filled up with people from 50,000 in 1850 to 130,000 in 1870, and future development in the outlying hills and dales of the District of Columbia beckoned. The city reached a critical mass. What an opportunity! a chance to make a modern city and one where the races live in harmony. But first there was a war to win.

To trace the contribution of the 15,181 men from the District of Columbia, including 3,269 African Americans, who served in the Union army during the war somewhat misses the point of the Nation's Capital. All Union soldiers had some sense of  Washington. They fought for Washington and they died for Washington. So did the enemy, though only a handful died just outside the city's ramparts.

No born and bred Washingtonians went off to war to return and lead the city. Once minted generals, two Ohio lawyers were sent by their constituents to the halls of congress, Garfield in 1863 and Hayes in 1865 and eventually led the city from the White House. (Capt. William McKinley was a third of that sort.) For ambitious locals like 26 year old plumber Alex Shepherd, the better part of valor was to join a local unit for local guard duty. Shepherd got himself elected to the city council in 1863 well knowing that a capital city on the front lines was bound to prosper.

Or was it? Congress had declared war in 1812, gambling the fate of the capital, and then  failed to properly arrange for its defense. In 1814,  congress returned to a burned out Capitol. General Winfield Scott, commanding general of the army in 1861 remembered, not that he had anything to do with that 1814 embarrassment. He had fought bravely on the Niagara frontier, rose through the ranks and conquered another capital, Mexico City, in 1847, a feat glorious enough to win the Whig Party nomination for president in 1852.

Losing the election did not force his retirement as commanding general of the army. President Pierce  raised him in rank. That's glory. However, Scott stationed himself in New York City, buying a house on West 12th Street for $26,000. He knew what the Metropolis of a world dominating Empire should look like. Politicians might feel that in Washington they gained leverage over the wide world, but military men gravitated to that world where the action was. Washington did present some nice engineering problems but its politics were best avoided. So it was from New York City that the latter day Cincinnatus was called defend the latter day Rome.


General Scott was a bit too superannuated for yet another rendezvous with destiny

Scott came to the city in time for Lincoln's Inauguration and planned the defenses of the city, 35 miles of roads and breast work linking 68 forts. To defeat the rebellion he told the president to use the navy to blockade all Southern ports and control the Mississippi. Then on November 1, 1861, the 74 year old giant of man (he was taller than Lincoln) retired to West Point.

So somewhat to its surprise, given the examples of Madison and Polk, the city found its guiding star for this war in the White House. Certainly historians do. The fate of 52 year old President Abraham Lincoln makes the story of the city at war irresistible. The rebels bombarded Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, 39 days after his Inauguration. Lee surrendered on April 11, 1865, and Lincoln died from an assassin's bullet 4 days later.


Few historians can resist putting Lincoln in the center of every sketch of the city at war. He saw the unfinished Capitol dome and ordered that work continue until the Statue of Freedom graced its peak! But he didn't; no record of it. When congress decided to continue construction, a year after he took office, he didn't object. When the head of Freedom was hoisted to the top of the dome, he was sick in bed in the White House.

Even if he had time for them, Lincoln wasn't the type for architectural dreams and engineering problems, not as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Millard Fillmore were. He never caught Potomac fever. He had been a one term anti-war Whig congressman at the end of Polk's one term. He was comfortable boarding with but did not quite embrace the high principles of the early Abolitionist congressmen. Loafing on Capitol Square one day, he eyed the problems a colleague had with his mulatto mistress, not the national glory as expressed by the modest dome of that day.

The Capitol in 1846 finished, to the best of everyone's knowledge, just as the Founders wanted it

In 1861 once he secretly made his way through the pro-Southern Plug-Uglies of Baltimore, he was home free. The buzzing classes of the day, and echoing historians, over drew the threat to Lincoln. The fighting had not started. Killing the president straight away made no sense. A few days before the Inauguration a group of locals serenaded him. In the four candidate presidential election, Lincoln got 2.5% of the votes in neighboring Maryland so he supposed to the crowd that he had few supporters among them. Several voices cried out ``No, no.'' and another added ``Go on, sir; you are mistaken in that, indeed you are.'' 

By 1861 two decades of exposure to growing Southern wealth and arrogance had perhaps eroded the good sense of some residents of the capital but at heart the majority who followed politics were old school Whigs, little Henry Clays, imbued with the same congenial equivocation that even Lincoln displayed when he was a Whig congressman. Free the slaves of Washington, but only if the voters of Washington approve.

On Inauguration Day, General Scott lined Pennsylvania Avenue with troops and then Lincoln ran the gauntlet of  politicians eager for offices, or rather the gauntlet came running to him. This was the first time for the Republican party to play the patronage game. Then the war started. He embraced the role of Commander-in-Chief. Telegraph wires tied his soul to every where else in the troubled country. Often his day in Washington was no more than walking across the lawn to the War Department where all the important wires ended and then back to the White House.

Well, that makes it sound too simple. Wars are usually fought in the summer. Like Buchanan, and some say Pierce, before him, Lincoln spent summer nights in the cottage at Soldiers Home, a site picked with special care by General Scott after the Mexican war.

White House, War Department and Soldiers Home, that left out the rest of the city, and what did being Commander-in-Chief mean when every member of his cabinet had his own war strategy?

The War Department, a convenient stroll from the White House

It bears remembering that Washington had not had a dominating president since Jackson left office in 1837. Lincoln's secretary of State, William Seward had bona fides that the president lacked. He was an ex-senator and ex-governor who ruled New York State. Treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase was  an ex-senator and ex-governor of Ohio  Ex-senator and Secretary of War Simon Cameron ruled Pennsylvania and was rich off of railroads to boot.

Secretary Seward rented a spacious house on Lafayette Square next door to the White House, a short stroll to offer the president advice. Seemingly noticing that the Department of State had nothing much to do with the South, he shared the inspired idea of starting a war with the ancient enemy, Britain, thus uniting all states and all races to defend freedom. Nothing came of that but it did mark Seward as a man of vision and no Seat of Empire should be without one.

War secretary Cameron lived on 15th Street closer to the hotels. With the Pennsylvania Railroad's Tom Scott as his assistant he narrowed his vision to a surprising oversight in the grand scheme of things. There was only one railroad serving the great emporium on the Potomac, and canal boats coming down the C & O Canal wouldn't do. Cameron was a practiced operator who frequently reviewed his stock portfolio and he understood how main lines depended on feeders in resource rich Pennsylvania. He accepted the war time truth that behind the lines some people would get rich. He decided not to get any poorer.

But Treasury secretary Chase was the man to watch. Unlike New York and Pennsylvania, Ohio hummed along without a political machine making it easier for its pols to pose as statesmen. He worked next to the White House, but decided not to sleep a stroll away. He rented and then bought a house at 6th and E St. NW closest cabinet member to the Capitol and with a large room for entertaining guests. The widowed secretary's hostess was Katie, his 21 year old daughter. The auburn haired beauty played her role perfectly.

Kate Chase

In late 1863, 33 year old William Sprague IV, "boy" governor and then junior senator from Rhode Island, worth millions, won her hand in marriage. He was the first governor to raise a regiment of African Americans which the Abolitionist Chase's must have liked. That Chase had to sell a farm in Ohio to pay for the wedding was sweet news to Washington. Chase altered his house so the newly weds could move in. (The Sprague millions were held in reserve in case Chase ran for president in '64.)

So there were campaigns that got as much attention as  troop movements. The president came to the wedding but not the First Lady. Mary Todd Lincoln came to the capital expecting to be hailed a queen and play second to no other woman. (Despite the war, Mrs. Sprague impressed with a $50,000 necklace, Mrs. Lincoln with a $2,000 shawl.)

Mary Todd Lincoln

The president did try, in vain, to correct his wife's extravagant ways. But in time of war society gossip took a back seat to what came over the telegraph wires.

Those wires that connected the president to the war spread from the right spot. One cannot conceive of a city better situated from which to direct a war against an enemy lurking just across the river. Yes, the enemy was threatening and being that close made being a Rebel spy easy, but how easy it was to sense the success of Scott's Anaconda Plan to squeeze the South. Just look over and above the south lawn of the White House and see Robert E. Lee's mansion grounds turn into a home for freed slaves.

Union soldiers coming to the city were supercharged with patriotism at the midway point between their journey from peace to war. Some of the first troops to arrive at the nearby train station were given the symbolic honor of making camp in the Capitol Rotunda.


Others detoured through the south lawn of the White House, a presidential review!, on their way to camp grounds surrounding the city. Throughout the war the beat of re-enforcements kept up the city's morale and the monuments enthused the men in arms. An artist comfortably seated halfway up Capitol Hill captured the wave of New York troops marching in smart files out of the railroad depot. Was this the day of eclat that George Washington dreamed of for the city that bears his name?

1861 drawing of New York troops arriving at depot

Not exactly. The troops after all aimed to invade Washington's home state of Virginia. And there was something ho-hum about the excitement. The city was inured to its population swelling. That had happened with every opening of a session of congress. So here was the usual annual swelling of rhetoric but in march time with the "Ayes!" winning every vote.

Despite the greater hullabaloo reality set in quickly. It was easier feeding congressmen and lobbyists, and no shortage of liquor. Troops swelled the District of Columbia's population by 80,000 but authorities asked regimental commanders to only give liberty to 1/8th of their troops at a time. In the summer of 1861 there was one case a scurvy. Salt pork was plentiful, but vegetables weren't. Booze for the boys was discouraged except for German American troops who thrived on lager with their lunch.

There were seeds of disaster everywhere especially after the retreat from Bull Run just 25 miles away. Could the open fields of Washington, those magnificent distance, conceal the chaos of  a small bureaucracy in a backwater town overwhelmed by events? Then the 37th congress, after a short session in July, rode back into town in December to get down to work.

In a sense, the civil war was already over in the Capitol. The overlords of the city, the members of congress, reveled in the blessings of a new found congeniality, a liberating congeniality. The inveterate states rights opposition had left. A handful of border state Democratic congressmen and Chief Justice Taney, who wrote the decision denying Negroes citizenship, remained to cavil at Federal power. Liberty is Power, once the opposition marches out of town. Plus none of the Republican senators wanted to be the next president, yet. They could work together.

But first impressions are important and not a few new members and cabinet officers who had not been in the city for years did not find the patriotic fervor they left at home. When he came to the city in 1861, Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy, Massachusetts born but representing Kansas, thought that  every white he met on the streets was for the rebellion. Only "the colored people," as evidenced by their loud prayers in a church he passed, proclaimed their support for the Union.

So to make sure that everyone else in government was loyal to the cause of liberty, the cabinet required every government employee to retake the oath, required since 1789, to support the Constitution. Did that mean when the rebels invaded they had to shoot back? Thirty-four clerks resigned on the first day of oath taking. Because he served on a government commission, James Berret, the elected mayor of Washington, a Democrat, had to swear loyalty. He refused and was sent north to prison. Richard Wallach, the Republican candidate he beat by a few votes, took over.

Republican Richard Wallach became mayor when the Democrat was jailed for not swearing loyalty to the Constitution

The press sounded an alarm (the mayor's brother owned and edited the Washington Star) and cheered on Rep. John F. Potter of Wisconsin who led a five man House committee to find disloyal employees. The committee accepted testimony from loyal  citizens including fellow employees about the disloyalty of department clerks, workers at the Washington Arsenal, Navy Yard, Capitol and White House, carpenters and laborers building the Treasury extension, and members of the the District of Columbia militia, auxiliary guard, the new Metropolitan police, and justices of the peace. The accused could not appear before the committee. The committee identified 500 disloyal government workers including the White House gardener. The Loyalty Committee and the newspapers were certain there were many more.

 Newspaper Row along 14th Street

The published committee report listed the accused and their accusers which included a couple of police detectives. Suspicious behavior ranged from disparaging Lincoln and the "black republicans", as Abolitionists were called, to cheering Southern victories. A boy who assembled cartridges at the Arsenal on the point a mile south of Capitol used the phrase "home of the slaves" when singing the National Anthem. That wives were "bitter" or "rabid" secessionists convicted their husbands. Being on the wrong side when church congregations split over the war did not help either, nor being kicked out of your boarding house by a loyal landlady. Not that Congress could fire anybody, That was up to the departments. None fully cooperated. The White House gardener got a commission as a lieutenant in the Union Army.

Given such evidence of its ability to smoke out traitors, the oath was beefed up and government employees had to "support, protect and defend the Constitution and the Government." The loyalty oath took fire and was soon required of city office holders, teachers, any loud mouth picked off the streets, even John Wilkes Booth signed it when he was looked on with suspicion in St. Louis.

But Congress tired of the campaign in Washington. Politicians did not appreciate it when the loose talk of those they helped get jobs might impugn their own loyalty to the Union. The real traitor was outed by Allan Pinkerton, the Chicago detective who came from Chicago with Lincoln. Sen. Henry Wilson's love letters to the spy Rose Greenhow showed how tight Washington could be. She was the aunt of the late Sen. Douglas's Mississippi born wife who owned 1000 slaves and most of Douglas' colleagues knew Greenhow socially. By the way, Douglas was not killed by Washington's unhealthy air. After pledging to support Lincoln he went back to Chicago and died just as the war started.

Perhaps it was good that the champion of "popular sovereignty" was no longer around. In 1862 Sen. Charles Sumner and other anti-slavery radicals made the emancipation of the 3000 slaves in the District of Columbia first step in the march of Freedom without, as Lincoln proposed in 1849, any say for local voters. By every other means the citizens of Washington expressed their displeasure at the prospect of more free blacks. The District of Columbia already had 12,000.

Sumner's support for black civil rights was attacked for neglecting whites

Mercifully, in speeches on the issue there were few echoes from four decades of debates about slavery, no Southern cant extolling loyal slaves and kindly masters. Instead merciless racism ran rampantly from the mouths of the Democratic party rump. Not that they could point to any crime waves or riots in the city. The poorer blacks lived north of K Street or on the Island, the southwest section cut off from the rest of the city by the canal. The Island hosted Murder Row where an army inspector found blacks and whites mingling in a shanty jungle.

"The  Island" between the canal and river

When Sen. James A. Bayard of Delaware stood a last stand against the bill, ranting about the shiftless depravity of the race, he had no local evidence. He listed all the legislation enacted by northern states proving their hatred of free blacks. Bayard warned that no white resident of the city looked forward to Sen. John Sherman's  prediction that with passage of the law "Washington is to be the paradise of negroes."

That got the Ohio senator off his feet for an explanation: "My friend did not hear me exactly or understand me aright. I said that Washington is already the paradise of free negroes in this country; for here they now enjoy more social rights and privileges than they do in any portion of the United States. I don't suppose it will be any more a paradise hereafter than it has been heretofore." Another senator insisted that their true paradise was the "gorgeous tropics" where they would thrive.

Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts extolled the achievements of Washington's 12,000 free blacks. They had 12 churches and 8 schools, even though their taxes went to pay only for white schools. Many had intelligence and business capacity. Two senators and their wives co-signed a $12,000 mortgage for Alfred Lee. No need for Wilson to describe the business and social career of Lee. Evidently he assumed his colleagues knew of the flour merchant with a store in Georgetown who bought a house on 12th Street Northwest.
 
1866 drawing of parade celebrating April 16 as Emancipation Day in Washington

Thanks to secession, Republicans had the votes, and congress did more than free the slaves. The emancipation bill compensated their masters. Not out of regard for masters but to show rebelling states that they could be compensated for freeing slaves if they stopped fighting.

Such congressional liberality with money was uncharacteristic, and the Southerners who controlled the Buchanan administration had  emptied the Treasury before they seceded made no difference. When the war began Northern banks immediately shipped $40 million in gold to the Federal government's sub-Treasury in New York. Treasury notes backed by that gold were issued to pay troops. Perhaps that was enough, everyone thought the war would end quickly.

But in early 1862 the war continued. William Wilson Corcoran, the usual government bond packager who waxed wealthy during the Mexican War, turned out to be a Southern sympathizer. He left his mansion off Lafayette Square and almost finished art gallery across the street from the White House and joined his daughter Louise in Paris where her husband, a former Louisiana congressman, was secretary of the Confederate legation.

Banker James Gallatin led a delegation of money-men from New York, Boston and Philadelphia that presented Treasury secretary Chase with a program of bond issues. Although he had had no career in Washington, Gallatin was the son of Jefferson and Madison's Treasury secretary who adroitly worked with money-men to finance the War of 1812. Chase knew one of the Philadelphia bankers. Jay Cooke hailed from Ohio and had been supporting Chase's political career with money. Brother H. D. Cooke, an Ohio newspaper editor, supplied the publicity. (After the latter covered Lincoln's Inauguration, the former wrote from Philadelphia to this effect: it's time for us to make some money.)

Jay Cooke: after getting Lincoln elected thought it time to make some money

Then the same old war financing was stopped in its tracks by a lawyer who thanks to making a fortune bringing gaslight to Buffalo had more clout than the usual minor league pol. Rep. Elbridge Gerry Spaulding and other congressmen were invited to Chase's meeting with the bankers and then ushered out so Chase could get down to business with the bankers. Spaulding had no great political reputation but he had money. He didn't just live in the National Hotel, he rented a large room and hosted a dinner for the president-elect. He wasn't about to be snubbed by Chase. He and his Ways and Means subcommittee wrote a bill to issue greenbacks to pay for the war, non-negotiable currency, simply decreed to be "legal tender" secured by the patriotism and loyalty of the North, and taxes on everything including income.

The bill showed a split in American politics that would grip the nation for the next 40 years as much as slavery gripped it in the previous 40. But in 1862 there was no talk of a "Cross of Gold." Excused as a "war measure" enough congressmen threw the ideal of sound currency to the wind (anyway the country had been riddled with dodgy bills of exchange from state banks since Jackson's days) and narrowly passed the measure. Washington bankers helped, by discounting the pay given to troops in Washington causing a pro-greenback congressman to wail: "soldiers were shaved by the money shavers of this District from 4 to 20% on the demand Treasury notes they had received from the Government."

The Senate allowed greenbacks but added bond issues to please bankers. H. D. Cooke rapidly became an effective lobbyist as well as head of Cooke & Co. Washington. Jay Cooke soon handled a $500 million offering of 6% bonds with interest payed in gold. He sent agents across the country to persuade anybody wondering how to both help and profit from the war effort. To sell bonds, the first step was good publicity. In Washington Jay's brother H. D. welcomed reporters to his Georgetown house "filled full to the brim not only with edibles and bibibles, but with the glorious financial prospects of the future," as he put it in a letter to his brother. Soon the only thing stopping Cooke's bond sales was not getting the bonds printed fast enough. He wanted small denominations so everybody could buy them.

The American Bank Note Company in New York City offered its services to print the greenbacks and the bonds, but the old Whig dream that Tyler thwarted, of the Nation's Capital as the money capital, had never died. Treasury secretary Chase was an old Whig. Printing presses began to hum in the Treasury building.

The Civil War Greenback

Greenbacks and bonds made it easy for congress to appropriate $1 million to be shared by District slave owners. After the bill passed into law on April 16, 1862,  three special commissioners sat in City Hall giving masters 90 days to be compensated. (Lincoln offered that job to the since freed ex-democrat mayor of Washington James Berret but he refused.) 966 owners came forward with claims for 3101 slaves. Oh yes, the masters had to bring testimonials as to their loyalty.

Seventeen hundred slaves lived in the city, mostly house servants. The Adjutant General of the army, Lorenzo Thomas, a native of Delaware and soon to organize freed slaves to join the Union army, asked for $1000 for his three slaves, a 43 year old cook and her two children, but only got $262.80; J. Madison Cutts, Dolley Madison's nephew, Rose Greenhow's brother-in-law and second comptroller at the Treasury, asked for $3400 for his 7 slaves, a house servant and her 6 children, and got $1439. Showing how respectable it was to own slaves, the Georgetown Sisters of the Visitation got for $3775 for their 12 slaves.

Venerable pro-slavery Catholic institutions were spread on the hill above the Port of Georgetown

The convent, where not a few senators' daughters were educated and General Scott's daughter became a nun, acquired the slaves of women who joined the order. For example, when a daughter of the city's largest slave owner Notley Young took her vows, the 4 slaves willed to her by her father came to the convent too.

The owners of many slaves used them on farms. A grandson of Notley Young sought the largest claim, $38,000 for 69 slaves. The commissioners gave him $17,553. Big pay day for Young and he was already renting his farm on Gieseboro Point at southern extreme of the city to the government. The army lined the farm with horse barns.

The Union cavalry horse barns south of the city

The sculptor Clark Mills was born in central New York, but a commission to do the bust of John C. Calhoun may have made Southerner out of him. He owned a 42 year old mulatto Philip Reid who he bought in Charleston years ago because he showed a talent for foundry work. Mills asked for $1500 but had to settle for $350.40. Evidently he didn't brag on the indispensable aid Reid gave to disassemble Crawford's sculpture of Freedom shipped over from Rome so it could be cast in bronze and perch atop the Capitol Dome. Clark also freed 33 year old Letty Howard and her six children. He got $372 for Letty and from $175 to $22 for the children aged 10 to 3 months.  

Compensated emancipation impressed neither border states nor rebelling states and begged the question, why didn't the freed slaves get some of the money?

The Emancipation Act also offered $300 to reimburse any freed slave who moved to Liberia or Haiti or Central America. Lincoln cherished the idea and told a delegation of local black preachers that he could buy a district on the Pacific Coast of Central America called Chiriqui where freed slaves would thrive: "You may believe you can live in Washington or elsewhere in the United States the remainder of your life [as easily], perhaps more so than you can in any foreign country, and hence you may come to the conclusion that you have nothing to do with the idea of going to a foreign country. This is (I speak in no unkind sense) an extremely selfish view of the case." None of the preachers nor any of the freed slaves took Lincoln up on his offer.

As for that "paradise for negroes," since Maryland slaves were not free, "slave catchers" still found work to do in Washington.  Lincoln appointed his body guard who accompanied him from Illinois, Ward Hill Lamon, marshal of the District of Columbia. The Virginia born lawyer decided he had to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and even ordered the jailing of blacks who had passes attesting to their free status written by the army.

Ward Hill Lamon Came to Washington with Lincoln and wound up enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law

Lamon and the entrenched judicial apparatus that had managed slaves in the city since the 1820s defied the admonitions of Abolitionist senators to stop. A young Army officer from the North investigated and found that even some long time black residents wished many of the impoverished newcomers out of the way. The Army soon built a Freedmen's Village on the Custis-Lee estate just across the Potomac. Despite promises of a room and a garden many freed slaves balked at going back to Virginia.


To be sure, most of the $450,000,000 of greenbacks eventually issued were spent to fight the war. Washington's own armament industry, the Navy Yard and Arsenal, couldn't do it alone. Tapping the resources of the rest of the nation energized legions of agents who took their cut. Cornelius Vanderbilt tried to give one of his ships to the government, but Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles refused it. His brother-in-law was getting a commission on all navy contracts in New York. There was no commission on a patriotic gift.

Nothing proved your loyalty like making money off the war. But appearances were important. Keep it legal. Supplying the navy was small time compared to supplying the army, and Secretary Cameron didn't quite last a year at the War Department. Anticipating corruption a congressional committee investigated army contracts.

Perhaps to Cameron's credit, the egregious scandals occurred in the West. That his younger brother James was killed leading a charge at Bull Run didn't animate a thirst for revenge. Lincoln sent the political boss to the Czar's court which excused a rich man's ramblings in Europe far from the war. Edward Stanton, a former attorney general, replaced him. Vanderbilt parlayed with him and the government accepted Vanderbilt's gift. Lobbyist Sam Ward shuddered. He knew Stanton from his days cleaning up corruption in California. Stanton was a "tomahawk" who would attack the innocent along with the guilty.

On the stairs of Quartermaster's office

Others came down from New York to give advice. They came with overwhelming moral superiority.
The United States Sanitary Commission organized by prominent New Yorkers set up shop on F Street and immediately looked askance. "Slovenliness is our most characteristic national vice."  The national capital exemplified it: "The city of Washington illustrates the vice and the penalty that is paid for it. Structures designed in themselves to be commensurate with and typical of the moral grandeur of a great republic are offences against good taste like precious stones on dirty hands when seen from out of the unmitigated shabbiness and filth of the unsewered, unpaved, unpoliced streets of a collocation of the houses of citizens who cannot remedy the evil." 

"Precious stones on dirty hands"

The Commission's general secretary, Frederick Law Olmsted, who had just set the jewel of Central Park in New York City, lived on B Street south of the Smithsonian and had to cross the canal to get to his office on F Street.  The city had never really tamed the F Street ridge nor the unkempt skirts of Capitol Hill. Drainage from both fed the flats around the canal prone to tidal floods, but that at least flushed the sewage in the canal.

Like everyone else volunteers didn't expect the war to last long. Then the wounded overwhelmed Washington's one hospital. Soon there were 18 hospitals. The most pleasant was the new insane asylum built before the war in the hills across the Anacostia River. A ride out to converse with convalescing generals became an outing for restless politicians. Chase took Katie along for the ride. Meanwhile Louisa May Alcott answered Dorothea Dix's call and volunteered at Georgetown's Union hospital and was soon appalled by the filth and food. She got typhoid fever and her father took her back North. Civil War era medicine debilitated her for life.

Nurses volunteered or worked for low pay. But there was money to made. James C. McGuire a long time resident of Washington was already rich off the printing in the city. Moving from binding to bandage, he began to supply the hospitals to the shock of the Loyalty Committee who heard reports that he spoke kindly of the Rebels. Then a few months later he petitioned for compensation for his 5 slaves and those commissioners certified his loyalty and gave him almost half of the $3500 he asked for. (McGuire was also an auctioneer who owned a chunk of James Madison's papers. Wisconsin congressmen had to be careful who they wanted jailed.)

Some new hospitals broke new ground. The government built General Hospital on a flat area called Mount Pleasant on the higher ground just north of the city proper, out of the way of everything but the city's future. The new hospital was the Sanitary Commission's solution to one problem that it had damned: "the scaly walls and cracked wood work of old buildings [that] present innumerable lurking places for foul air, and patients occupying such buildings are too frequently attacked by erysipelas, or scourged by Hospital gangrene."

Above: An artist's vision of the Mount Pleasant hospital
Below: a photograph of same

Moral fervor did not guarantee a permanent improvement. The hospital was too far away. After the war, wood from the dismantled hospital was used to build houses for government clerks. Well, others said it was used to build shanties for freed slaves coming to the city. A barracks at Camp Barker at 13th and R stayed in business as a hospital treating not soldiers but the freed slaves who flocked to the city from Virginia.

The Freedmen's Hospital until a new one was built in 1869 near Howard University

The new Capitol Dome captured airy space too, but was in shape only to "briefly" serve as a hospital. After seven million dollar and counting, the Capitol "extension" project provided new chambers for the Senate and House but the sides of its new unfinished dome rose only a few feet higher than the old dome it was replacing. The war stalled construction (or was it a disinclination to pay higher prices for iron.)  The building superintendent, Gen. Montgomery Meigs, had to do his other job as quartermaster general of the Union Army. He recommended that work be stopped but leaky roofs especially where the new buildings met the old threatened permanent damage. There were patriotic murals under that old dome.

"A humiliating confession, to the country and to the world of a national weakness and imbecility,"

In 1862 with war debt in the offing, congress had to decide whether to continue building. Congressmen could see that the cranes were in place over both wings and ready to raise the iron for the dome. They were  told that all the iron needed was spread across the Capitol grounds rusting away. The cranes were wooden and rotting away.

Lincoln had nothing to do with it. In a desultory debate overshadowed by the evil genius of Jefferson Davis who most blamed for construction delays to his lust for ornamentation and gratuitous grandeur, deep voiced Senator Solomon Foot of Vermont, chairman of the Committee on  Public Buildings, raised the dome.

For one thing work was continuing on expansion of the Treasury building though he had to allow that was a sensible building (soon to be filled clerks keeping track of government taxes and expenditures.) But the Capitol "stands today, after twelve years, an unsightly and unfinished pile, at once a confession, a humiliating confession, to the country and to the world of a national weakness and imbecility, of a national impoverishment and bankruptcy..." Colleagues knew where this oration was going. Show the true grit of the Land of Liberty: Fight the war and "put up this Capitol at the same time." Defeat the Rebellion and "celebrate that welcome event by crowning the American Capitol with the Goddess of Freedom."

Work resumed on the building. By the way more iron from had to be shipped down from New York as well as more granite from New Hampshire. Despite the war, congress kept to its traditional schedule. In 1863 it was not in session from March 4 to December 7. The statue on top of the dome was put up in sections and on December 2, 1863, its head and shoulders took a 20 minute ride up on a steam crane.

The army fired cannons but no cheering throng massed around the Capitol. Most congressmen weren't in town yet. The president was in the White House still recovering from a bout with a mild form of smallpox. That left maybe 120,000 souls from which to organize a throng. But the architect, Thomas Walters, a Democrat who with Jefferson Davis gilded the insides of the building, told  the engineer in charge to raise the statue with no speeches.

Lincoln at the Capitol works?

So engineer Charles F. Thomas, who invented the way to get the statue up there, didn't deliver the  speech he wrote linking his unchaining the statue Freedom from its hoist to the Emancipation Proclamation. Architect Walter had a point. There was still much work left to do on the building.

Freedom rose at the Capitol with roar of cannon but no rhetoric. Three days later on Saturday December 5, there was a picnic and speeches at the Cabin John Bridge near the western border of the District. Gen. Meigs who tired of the Capitol was there and army engineers turned the valve bringing water from the Potomac to the city. The 16 mile aqueduct system designed by Meigs had taken water to the Capitol in 1859 but war delayed the completion of the project in all its glory: able to supply 67,596,400 gallons of water a day. New York City engineers only provided 30,000,000 gallons. The Washington bound flood coursed through a nine foot wide masonry conduit, much of it underground and affording a level road. It also spanned 220 feet of ravine on an arch of granite,"the largest masonry arch in the world. The famous Grosvenor Bridge of Chester, in Great Britain, being at twenty feet less span."

 

The 19th century American mind stretched in curious ways, even in Washington, even during the war. The Dome had its place, but the west remained the grand obsession.What better for the war weary in Washington to commune with the borderlands of civilization a thousand of miles away then to celebrate a civilizing feat just five miles across the foreboding hills and chasms northwest of Georgetown.

Kate Chase was not too occupied with generals who wanted to be her beau to miss the chance to get in the photograph with six Indian chiefs taking a break from a powwow with the president to see the  White House greenhouse.

Ladies join an Indian delegation in the White House conservatory. Within 18 months the four chiefs in the front line would be dead, only one of illness

Even Lincoln forgot his war in the presence of the Indians. He told the chiefs that the Indians had to change their ways, and be peaceful. "We [white people] are not, as a race, so much disposed to fight and kill one another as our red brethren." (The Dakota Sioux uprising in the Minnesota Territory was not mentioned in that friendly powwow. After Indians killed 800 whites. Lincoln sent troops. That war ended with the hanging of 38 Indians.)

The war against the South did not stop work on the trans-continental railroad, nor trying to settle the West with the Homestead Act passed in 1862. The war drove Western settlement. The Republicans were desperate to people the lands between the Mississippi and the Gold Rush. Lincoln foresaw 50 million people in the Great Prairie (formerly the Great Desert). The trouble with the war from the Republican Party's perspective was that once the vanquished South returned to the Union, Republicans could be out voted. Only Mississippi and South Carolina had more slaves than whites. The new state of Nevada with a population of 30,000 whites could be trusted to send two Republican senators to Washington.

What did such domestic empire building mean for the still relatively modest capital on the Potomac a river which now everyone could see was not destined to be the gateway to the west? Fortunately for the city, Senator William Stewart of Nevada was very rich. More on him soon. Plus the bonds and land grants the federal government provided for Western railroad construction had a way of making not a few agents and lawyers in Washington rich. But not as rich as the brokers and lawyers in New York and Philadelphia.

Behind the front lines war usually creates problems that only money can solve. But the District of Columbia was blessed with too much vacant land. People coming to the city to work mostly filled in between Georgetown and the White House, the Capitol and the Navy Yard, the Capitol and the Long Bridge, the Island, and clustering around Pennsylvania Avenue, 14th Street and East Capitol Street.

1863 view from the Dome looking southwest over the "Island"


On July 12, 1864, the defenses were tested. Old Abe himself was on the ramparts at Fort Stevens to see the Rebels scatter. Here was an attack on a city that had no resemblance to urban warfare. Instead of the city's defenders high in building raining bullets on the invading enemy, the retreating enemy put snipers in trees to harass the defenders trying to drive them away

Fort Stevens

What invading Rebels would have done to roundup all their enemies in the city is anybody's guess. Maybe capture that area around 7th and K Streets NW that people began calling Northern Liberty in imitation of the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. Or there was the Old Capitol Prison to liberate. The Old Capitol built for congress in 1815 became a boarding house for Southerners. Calhoun died there. Then it became the prison, which affords some perspective on crowding on Capitol Hill -- not that much demand for boarding houses.

Old Capitol Prison across from Capitol Square

A real estate speculator faced the same problem as an invading army. How do you make any sense of a city with too few people in too great a space?

So the first speculation had to be on conquering that space. A stock company chartered by congress in 1862, the Washington and Georgetown Railroad, ran horse drawn cars on rails laid in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and other major streets, a ride far smoother than provided by omnibuses and hacks. The rails defeated the dust and mud that made a ride on the Washington and Georgetown necessary for even short trips.



New York capitalists were entertaining the idea before the war but as it manifested itself in 1862, it more or less had a Washington face. Of 6000 shares in the company sold, 1327 were bought in Washington, the rest in Philadelphia and New York. Jay Cooke, the Philadelphia banker, sold shares as did his brother H.D. who became president of the railroad. Local directors included Rhode Island born Eliab Kingman, "one of the Nestors of Washington journalism," J. J. Coombs, a prominent claims lawyer with Ohio roots whose tentacles spread into Washington real estate,  Charles H. Upton from Salem, Massachusetts who moved to Alexandria Virginia where he won election to Congress only to see the state secede, and Hallett Kilbourn, Indiana born but then chief clerk at the Interior Department and soon to be a real estate broker. (In 1876 House committee jailed him for 45 days because he wouldn't reveal 5 members of the a Cooke real estate pool investing in Washington.) Another Washington and Georgetown director, Sayles Bowen, became mayor of Washington and a hero of the Radical Republicans.

The city soon had statistics, by July 1865 the line's 60 cars had carried 8,651,223 passengers. By then it had a line from Georgetown to the Navy Yard and on 7th Street Northwest. The company grossed $450,000 which is not really why H. D. Cooke's Georgetown house became a mansion and  a showcase of paintings, etchings, and fine books. By 1865 the Washington and Philadelphia branches of Jay Cooke Co. had made together almost $1.7 million profit, and the real estate boom in Washington had not even begun.

Meanwhile the "paradise for negroes" was having some growing pains as more freed slaves crossed the Long Bridge to freedom. The Quartermaster's Corp put several thousand freedmen to work, affording them their first paycheck. But what about those who couldn't work? The Army decided to tax the black workers even though they were working for the lowest possible wage and use that tax to support those who couldn't work. Most whites couldn't conceive of a black man saving money let alone buying a house.
 
 Freedmen ready to work at what looks like the Virginia end of the Long Bridge

Abolitionists and churches stepped up to raise money to support the freed slaves. Masses of blacks living off charity was not the best argument for their becoming citizen. Organizing regiments of black soldiers was better. At least black churchmen in Washington no longer had to listen to the president lecture on going to Chiriqui, they could help fill the ranks. Twenty-eight year old Rev. Henry McNeal Turner newly installed in the Capitol AME church had left the 1862 meeting with Lincoln afire for colonization. Corrected by his parishioners, and new friends including Sumner, he recruited soldiers and left the church to be a chaplain for the United States Colored Troops. He soon found himself in Georgia.
 
Yet in a city awash with money, care was taken that black soldiers and workers not get pay equal to white soldiers and workers. That prompted Frederick Douglass to come from Rochester for a meeting with Lincoln to insist that freedom must mean equality. Lincoln said it would come but in the meanwhile please show some loyalty to those who did free the slaves.

In the Senate, Sumner understood. He embraced congressional control of District of Columbia and through laws and congressional chartering of District corporations and charities tried to enforce a policy on race relations which he hoped would be an example "not only strictly for the District of Columbia, but in some sense for the country at large."

For most in Washington the end of slavery did not mean an end to the traditional relationship between the races. One congressman noted that even in Massachusetts there was a battle against what were already called Jim Crow laws and rules. In February 1864 Dr. Alexander Augusta, a Toronto trained physician working in Washington as an Army surgeon, was kicked off a car on 14th St. when he insisted on sitting with other passengers rather than with the driver outside the car.

Augusta made an issue of it, and Sumner shared his complaining letter with the senate. In a city so underpopulated for its size, whites demonstrated their supremacy on the rail lines not in neighborhoods. Augusta's case showed that the city was no paradise for blacks, but it also showed that blacks' grievances were heard, even debated by the US Senate.

In hindsight good and evil is clear in this case, but Washington remained attractive to blacks. By and large blacks submitted to sitting in cars for "colored." Walking in the city was that inconvenient and congress made sure fares were cheap for all. Sumner kept pushing for civil rights guarantees in charters for new lines. Finally in March 1865 a law stopped discrimination on all local railroads, which didn't keep whites from throwing black riders off especially at night.

After organizing a Freedmen's Bureau hospital in Savannah, Augusta spent the rest of his career in Washington. In 1868 he was the first black appointed to the medical faculty of Howard University.

 
Two of the eight professors were African American, Dr. Augusta, far left, and Dr. C. B. Purvis, second from the left

Sumner got a black woman a job in Chase's Treasury building as a door keeper. She soon found herself greeting more women employees than men. With 15,181 men from the District joining the Union army, there was plenty of work for women, and girls.  Women had to work. How else were families to survive with fathers, husbands and sons off fighting?

Most women government workers were paid better than black laborers, many got twice as much. But could that stabilize the city with new homeowners? Certainly not in an election year. Democrat raised the alarm: the morals of working women in Washington were imperiled.

Treasury "girls" folding and cutting money

In 1864, to save his department, and his possible campaign for president, from scandal over stolen money, Treasury Secretary Chase brought in the man who helped Secretary of War Stanton catch spies and corrupt contractors. New York born Lafayette C. Baker honed skills for ferreting out bad from good as a vigilante in Gold-Rush California. Washington was more complex. Secretary of War Stanton appreciated his nabbing bad guys, but only temporarily tolerated closing down gambling establishments ditto for temporarily closing house of ill fame. Remember congressmen also enjoyed city life.

At the Treasury, Baker promptly jailed a clerk who didn't burn old bills but kept them. He just as quickly put the inventor of a new printing method in the Old Capitol Prison.  Baker called the new methods, hydraulic presses using membrane paper, a scam to get government contracts. The inventor languished in jail for a few months, until Baker's report proved a dud and the inventor eventually won a libel suit. That only goaded Baker to confirm a suspicion being passed around in New York that an incompetent, the inventor's boss, supervised printing the currency. And Washington had juicier suspicions. The supervisor had corrupted many of the 300 female employees under him, virtually running a whore house in the Treasury.

Spencer Clark, hard working Treasury bureaucrat or whoremaster?

Aided by an actress who lived in the same building, Baker broke into the rooms in a Pennsylvania Avenue tenement rented by two of those employees and copied a diary and took letters. He then confronted the young women one after the other who signed an affidavit because they were told the other had. Baker wrote their almost identical confessions which revealed threats and rewards from the supervisor for sexual favors and exotic escapades including a train trip to Philadelphia and dressing the "girls" as "boys" so they could get into a Washington "Canterbury" where only men could watch risque shows. Needless to say, such ripe stuff found its way into the newspapers.

A congressional committee chaired by 34 year old Major General, retired, James A. Garfield, investigated. Young Garfield was a protege of his fellow Ohioan Treasury secretary Chase. The committee supposed that military law allowed Baker to break into the ladies' rooms, but the committee's Republican majority found his threatening to take the ladies to the old Capitol Prison if they did not cooperate was coercion. The committee also heard evidence that New York printers were offering $50,000 for someone to wreck the Treasury operations so the printing had to done in New York.

The death of a Treasury "girl" gave Baker a chance to prove his charges. Suspecting she died after an abortion, he stopped her funeral train and had her body examined under a judge's supervision. The doctor found that she died of pulmonary consumption and had never had sexual intercourse. Baker suddenly found it more congenial working in New York.

The committee's Republican majority cleared the Treasury and its employees, save for two "bad women." The committee held some hearings at the Treasury,  shied away from letting them testify but heard evidence that they stuck to their stories. One African American woman was implicated. Baker and the Democrats described her as a procuress offering up to $500 for Treasury girls willing to be debauched. The committee had her testify and she proved to be the soft spoken, intelligent door keeper recommended by Sen. Sumner.

The reputations of the 300 women employees who dried, cut, folded and counted the currency, plus their women supervisors, were ruined for a generation. (On June 19, 1864, just as the Treasury girl scandal played out, an explosion and fire at the Washington Arsenal made angels of 19 women and girls working there.)

Could the women working at the Treasury have really looked so elegant?

The diary that Baker pinched did reveal an 18 year old girl whose world for that brief time stretched from the Treasury building at Pennsylvania and 15th Street, the tenement where she live a few blocks down the avenue was next to a hotel named the Kirkwood which was patronized by politicians and supplicants, and shops, eateries and theaters nearby. (Between the Capitol and Treasury, Pennsylvania Avenue was an entertainment district, including the hotel suites of senators, not a line of office buildings.)

In her rented room she entertained men, including three army officers, and kept ruing her fallen state, while adding "I cannot live without excitement." With the $60 a month she made, she bought herself kid gloves, a shawl, coral necklace and shoes.  Dare we say that Washington was no longer a sleepy Southern village?

She did confide that she had ale with her notorious supervisor. He testified that 150 women were in his office that day after work. They  gave him a plate and he gave them all cake and wine. Who to believe? The first notice of Ella Jackson in Washington was in 1862. She acted in a play called the Hunchback.

After hours ale in the Treasury building did not help the Democrats. Led by Lincoln, the Republicans were gloomy about their prospects. They had an early convention in Baltimore (Maryland was in the process of emancipating its slaves), changed the name of their ticket to National Union, cut Abolitionist Hannibal Hamlin off the ticket and added the pro-war Democratic governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson. After that Chase left the cabinet and as long as the war news remained indecisive, Chase and others thought it likely that Lincoln would withdraw and at least give the ticket a nobler brow than care worn Father Abraham could present.

Salmon P. Chase

The long war made changing generals somewhat of a parlor game. Indeed the Democrats nominated General McClellan who never got close enough to Richmond and lost command. The Democratic platform advocated surrender and then Sherman took Atlanta. All in Washington who could  went to a home where they could vote. Lincoln won in a landslide, then appointed Chase Chief Justice.

And yet, congress's first order of business during the short session before Lincoln's second Inauguration was to set up a committee to determine whether everyone in the District of Columbia, not just government employees, should be required to swear their loyalty to the government. A Democrat asked: Did that include swearing loyalty to the Republican party?

Only that old worry about local loyalties and Andy Johnson's being drunk at the inauguration and belaboring his "Plebeian" roots in a his short speech foreshadowed troubles. Johnson later explained that he was recovering from a bout with typhoid fever. (He stayed at the Kirkwood Hotel across from the National Hotel and may have been channeling the fever that decimated attendees at the last Democrat's inauguration in 1857.) He needed a couple belts of whiskey to make it through the historic day. After the ceremony he dried out and recovered at the Blair family's estate in Silver Spring. (Montgomery Blair who had been Lincoln's postmaster general would soon have an idea to share with Johnson: solve the race problem by using the colored troop to invade and colonize Mexico.)

On April 3, 1865, all Washington was out in the streets "about half crazy" with news of the fall of Richmond except "women were on balconies waving flags and at windows waving handkerchiefs." Bands played "Yankee Doodle" and the 65 year old Commissioner of Public Buildings B.B. French, master of ceremonies of most Washington celebrations, found himself "involuntarily marching to the music."

Twelve days later Lincoln was dead. (Atzerrot, the young German immigrant who was supposed to have simultaneously killed the vice president, lingered over some beers while Johnson slept.)

The Great Plebeian and Accidental President Andrew Johnson

Plebian as Johnson was, he knew the ways of Washington. He had been in the House for 10 years and the Senate for almost 5 years, briefly chairman of the committee on the District of Columbia. He knew the art of more or less affably agreeing with everyone and then in due time succumbing to the call of High Principle and doing what he wanted. Senators who lingered around the city waiting for the war to end sounded Johnson out on Reconstruction and went away convinced Johnson saw matters their way.

Johnson sat in the grandstand outside the White House reviewing the Army of the Potomac on May 23, 1865, and the Army of the West on the 24th. The taller and grubbier soldiers from the West won the laurels for looking like they did indeed beat the damn Rebel army that had been touted as having the better soldiers since April 1861. Ben Perley Poore the Massachusetts newspaperman who had become a Washington fixture marveled at the South the Army of the West brought with them.  At the end of each corps came "mules, asses, horses, colts, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, raccoons, chickens and dogs led by negroes blacker than Erebus."


With the war over, Johnson began readmitting southern states once citizens swore loyalty to the Union. There was no one in town to object. Congress would not be in session until December. Good thing for the Johnsons. Mrs. Lincoln stripped everything she could out of the White House. (She went way over budget to buy it so she thought it was hers.) The Commissioner B.B. French had to buy table settings, and other amenities. But the First Family didn't need to entertain until congressmen came back. Johnson's wife was an invalid but one of their daughters, Mrs. Martha Johnson Paterson, had spent time with the Polks in the White House during vacations from her schooling at the Georgetown Visitation Academy. While not as regal as Mrs. Lincoln, she pleased and without any odor of corrupting opulence.

Educated by the nuns in Georgetown, Mrs. Patterson was hostess in the White House for her unholy father and invalid mother

When congress returned it thwarted Johnson by refusing to seat representatives from Rebel states unless they passed constitutions guaranteeing the freed slaves the right to vote. At the same time they pushed legislation to give black men in Washington the vote. Johnson called the clique controlling congress rebels. After lending support to a rally to get going on building the Washington Monument, Johnson spoke at another rally and more or less wished Sumner and Rep. Thad Stevens hung.

The city and its white citizens became a political prop. Johnson understood how the Radicals meant to use congress's control of the city: "the agitation of the Negro franchise question in the District of Columbia at this time was the mere entering-wedge to the agitation of the question throughout the States, and was ill-timed, uncalled for and calculated to do great harm." He knew the city well enough to know that most whites opposed black equality. An unofficial referendum in December 1865 proved that the white voters were almost unanimously against blacks getting the vote and/or Congress making that decision without their consent. That slowed Congress for almost a year.

Once a slave owner, Johnson didn't shy from blacks. Local blacks were not allowed into the White House during Lincoln's last New Year's reception, save for Frederick Douglass. They could shake hands with Johnson during the last 15 minutes of his reception. Johnson twice vetoed bills continuing the Freedmen's Bureau, which Congress overrode but he did sign the charter for Howard University in March 1867. That was almost two miles from the White House. But Johnson didn't object when the headquarters of the Freedmen's Bank moved from New York to a handsome building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Freedmen's Bank Building on Pennsylvania Avenue

Frederick Douglass gloried in it: "I often peeped into its spacious windows and looked down the row of its gentlemanly and elegantly dressed colored clerks, with their pens behind their ears and button-hole bouquets in their coat-front, and felt my eyes very enriched. It was sight I had never expected to see."


Johnson did not mistake any advancement by local blacks as a strike against him. He didn't hide in the White House and knew local whites loved him. He spoke at the opening of the city fair, paraded with the masons to the lay the cornerstone of a new lodge, and he watched the Washington Nationals lose a ballgame 40 to 16 in the new field at the end of 14th Street. (The railroad cars from city were packed coming and going.)  On December 3, 1866, in his annual message, he urged Congress to let the District send a delegate to Congress just as the territories did.

He also tried a charm offensive on the nation with a swing through the Midwest. He had kept the man Lincoln appointed to talk up colonization and heard from him that states facing black demands for the vote were more interested in sending them elsewhere. But despite the racist ranting Democrats lost seats in congress. On December 14th congress passed a law letting black males in the District vote. Johnson vetoed the law on January 5, 1867. Congress failed to remove Johnson through the impeachment process but congress promptly overrode his vetoes.

Young Samuel Clemens capped his Nevada adventures by coming to Washington as Senator William Stewart's secretary. As Mark Twain he would soon lampoon Washington lobbyist and politicians in his first novel The Gilded Age. In the book Col. Sellers coaxes congress to buy far off lands, for the advancement of the Negro. H. D. Cooke, bank president and lobbyist for his brother Jay, would never be mistaken for a Col. Sellers, much too generous. And Sellers' faked the good cause. Cooke was a true believer.

The Freedmen's Bank had branches throughout the South and with evangelical fervor taught freed slaves the virtues of saving. Its original charter required it to invest deposits in government securities and distribute the interest on same to depositors. But H. D. Cooke was on the bank's board and persuaded both his colleagues and congress to let the bank invest in real estate and local stocks like the mining company along Seneca Creek about 20 miles up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Twenty years ago brownstone for the Smithsonian came from there. The new company was prepared to supply stone for the coming building boom in Washington, including brownstone for the facade of the bank, and planned to employ 300 "colored workers."

 
 H. D. Cooke got wealthy selling government bonds but thought the Freedmen's Bank could do better investing in real estate and his companies

Twain's burlesque was a hit, but in reality most lobbyists who came to the city were shrewd realists. The King of the Lobby, Sam Ward, known to be intimate with Baring Brothers Bank in London where the real money was, had a house near Wall Street and a house on E Street near the White House. Treasury secretary Hugh McCullough covered his expenses for delicacies served from his own kitchen and at Welckers restaurant on condition that Uncle Sam persuade rube congressmen to vote for retiring greenbacks. (Charles Dickens made Welckers his headquarters and left a signed testimony that he kept the best restaurant in the world.)

Despite being related to Julia Ward Howe, Sam Ward did nothing for the Negro. He was in Washington to open congressmen's eyes to the real world of money. The mad men in and of the city, government clerks who moonlighted as claims agents, local contractors, and H. D. Cooke, tried to open the eyes of congressmen or anybody else with money to the city itself and indeed, in a way, the cause was the Negro and much beyond merely promoting the Freedmen's bank.

The city itself despite the oversized public buildings had been long enslaved as much as it had been enthralled by the national adventure. Now it was time for the city to become a city. Freedom and equal rights for the black men in the city were an imposition only for the sorry racists. Every white man on the ball could see that with black voters and black workers unchained, the city could finally break its chains, stop being a federal plantation and be free, a spanking new white city like all the rest.

Even with the vote, blacks could not rule. White voters outnumbered blacks 17,757 to 10,772. In 1871 when the District was divided into 22 districts, only four had a black majority. Two were north K Street NW; the other two southwest along the canal and the far northeast. But 7000 new voters almost all loyal to the Republican Party changed local politic. The last time the city faced a close election, in 1857, Know-Nothing Plug Uglies from Baltimore came down on the B & O to intimidate the pro-Democratic Party Irish vote, a riot ensued, 14 died, and the Democrat won the election.

A strange twist to the 1868 election was the stationing of soldiers in the city which many residents thought was for no apparent reason. When the Radical Republican candidate Sayles Bowen won 9170 votes to 9087. The soldiers petitioned congress bitterly complaining that they were denied a ballot even though they had been stationed in the city longer than many black voters had lived there. Both parties declared themselves winner but Bowen took possession of the mayor's office and, having served as police chief under Lincoln, knew the current chief.

Sayles Bowen had come to Washington from rural New York and wound up working in the Polk administration at the Treasury. Then he got the abolition fervor which got him fired by the Democratic administration. He became wealthy helping people with claims against the government. Bowen was somewhat of an odd duck, irritating  and contentious yet idealistic and free with his money for the cause of black liberation.

But he didn't run on that. He grabbed onto a larger cause, the very survival of the city as the nation's capital. Despite finally finishing the Capitol extension to the tune of just over $10 million, the discombobulation of the city made St. Louis bold enough to suggest that it, the Gateway to the West with almost three times as many people and truly an industrial and transportation hub as George Washington once dreamed would be on the Potomac, should be the Nation's Capital.

Washington politicians took advantage of that boasting. In his campaign for mayor Sayles Bowen resolved that "the Corporation of Washington will use every effort in their power and spare no reasonable expense of themselves or by co-operation with Congress to improve and beautify the city in every possible manner that it may become the model city of the Union and thereby defeat the constant agitation for the removal of the Capital."

But Bowen got distracted. His idealism got in his way. Swept to victory by the black vote, he pushed the envelope of the Washington as a paradise for race relations and advocated that the District's schools be integrated.

That was jumping the gun for many blacks. Sumner got a law passed so that blacks could be appointed to city offices. Despite the law there was no way a black would be made head of the city's school system, but William Syphax became the head of the trustees for the city's colored schools.  The Syphaxes had been freed by the Custis family not long after Martha Washington died.

Six feet tall and ramrod straight, William Syphax thought he belonged in Washington's elite. His phrenologist agreed

Apart from hired staff for white and colored schools, 30 to 40 men oversaw schools after their day jobs. Since 1851 Syphax was a copyist at the Interior department.

Four years of war did not impress the virtues of a chain of command on Washington. Congress threw money around at the end of sessions in mysterious but provident ways. So none were more surprised at the $20,000 spent to build the Thaddeus Stephens School than the trustees of colored schools.

West of the White House on marginal ground at 20th Street, the school was evidently sited to serve the freedmen crowded in the low ground of Foggy Bottom. Students found their classrooms were upstairs and they had to climb outside stairs to get to them. Teachers didn't know what to make of the large hall on the main floor. The trustees began planning another colored school on M Street closer to the Capitol and long time residents. Local alderman Alexander Shepherd saw virtues in low land west of the White House and snapped some up cheap.


Thaddeus Stephens School

For white children the city built Franklin School at 13th and K Streets NW for a quarter million dollars designed by German emigrant Adolph Cluss who came to the city in the 1840s and chaffed at being a draftsman at the Navy Yard and Treasury.

Franklin School

William Prosser, a Pennsylvania born Republican congressman from Tennessee (who eventually died in Washington State,) cast aspersions over the whole school system. He had been a school teacher and was appalled at the money spent on the Franklin School when a third of school aged children had no schools to go to and most schools were "in small, dingy, and unhealthy rooms, in unwholesome localities, in the stable of a ex-President, in the loft of a livery stable, or in rooms equally unhealthy or deleterious...."

Prosser, who only served one term, didn't understand Washington. It exists for the convenience of its rulers, congressmen, and for the glory of the nation. Franklin School quickly became a desirable neighbor for the up and coming. Congressman James A. Garfield lived in a house on the same square.


Mayor Bowen hoped the lack of schools in less desirable neighborhoods might justify one school for both races. He got a report that "an entire square laid out in small building lots has been disposed of mainly to employees in the Government Printing House who have already commenced the erection of dwellings for their own occupation." The square was not far from Freedmen's Bureau tenements. Petitions came from the area, signed almost by an equal number of white and black parents, asking for a integrated school. Upon investigation Mayor Bowen's assistant found a number of whites in the area dead set against.

So children in the outskirts had make-shift schools. Just as after other wars, congress was slow to cut taxes and tariffs. Congress had money to spend, but it didn't need a model school system. It needed a model school like Franklin with an auditorium that could seat a 1000. With the rise of Prussia, Germans rivaled British dukes and French counts in popularity and the new German style building became a tourist stop.

What defeated the idea of moving to St. Louis was that people started flocking to the city that won the war, the martyred Lincoln's city. Newspapermen churned out guide books and thick tomes historical and topical. A principal attraction was Ford's Theater where Lincoln was shot, but in a preemptive strike to prevent bad taste, the government bought the building and put the Army Medical Museum upstairs in the theater. The government also tore down the portion of the Washington Arsenal on Buzzard's Point where the assassination conspirators were  hung.

July 7, 1865, the conspirators hung; September 1867 Stanton orders most of the Arsenal torn down

No one made a tourist site of the Old Capitol Prison across the street from Capitol Square where the spy Rose Greenhow had sulked and Wirz the Rebel warden of Andersonville Prison was hung. The government sold it to the Senate sergeant-at-arms for $18,000. The new buyer tore down the prison yard and gutted the interior aiming to turn it into townhouses.

Most guidebooks catalogued interiors of the public buildings especially the Capitol. Bermudi's  the Apotheosis of Washington in the eye of the Dome needed explaining.

Washington in the Eye of the Dome

But the artistic talk of the town was the congressional commission given to Vinnie Ream, an 18 year old artist from Wisconsin, to do a full size sculpture of Lincoln for the Capitol. She had left her job in the GPO and apprenticed with Robert Mills. Lincoln sat for her many mornings as she essayed a bust of him. She was easy to look at. Public opinion could not decide if other talents developed while helping lobbyist won her the commission or she was a genius. She moved to Rome where most American artists worked out their destiny away from the Philistines. She unveiled her statue in the Capitol (Washington's not Rome's) in 1871 (The Italian Bermudi became an American citizen.)



Vinnie Ream

Not for nothing did guide books spend chapters describing the paintings and sculptures of the Capitol. The Botanical garden at the foot of Capitol Hill added nature to a tour. But in an era when promenading from point A to point B was in fashion, Washington was a gallery not a garden. The new Agriculture Bureau with its garden added the possibility of another diversion but it was across the canal on the other side of the Mall beyond the Smithsonian, a dusty or muddy mile, depending on the weather, from the Capitol.

The Agriculture Bureau
The more exciting diversion after seeing the Capitol was to walk down to the Navy Yard to watch "the big trip hammer forging sheet anchors" and go on board one of the monitors, which a small iron ship with a turret was called.

A monitor at the Navy Yard  
Given L'Enfant's spacious design there was and is always a touristic solution to the city's problems. Congress took the a step in that direction by firing old B.B. French. He wrote a poem lauding Andy Johnson and had no particular talent apart from being a Freemason. The men of vision Congress appointed to address the problems of the public grounds and buildings were army engineers. An obvious improvement was to put statues of Civil War heroes both in the city's public squares and circles formed by merging avenues.

The topographical staff at the War Department mapped an area around Rock Creek for an urban park to rival those in New York and world capitals and they found a more suitable place for a Presidential summer retreat, perhaps a permanent home. Soon there was talk that Grant didn't want to lived in the White House. The topographers advised that W.W. Corcoran's Harewood Park estate, in the hills west of the Soldiers Home, was just the place for the President.

Just as army is prone to fight the old war when it plans the next war, the topographers couldn't see the scramble for housing engulfing the retreats of the city's antebellum rich. Politicians had a earthier approach to improving the city. Sen. John Sherman suggested that the expanse of K Street in front of his house between 13th and 14th NW, broader than some avenues, be broken up with parking "to reclaim for trees and verdure about one half the space now in dusty barren badly made streets and avenues." The city council, board of aldermen and mayor passed a resolution to do that bit of improvement just the way Sherman outlined.

Sherman house after improvements on K Street


The city government had all the legal authority needed to make improvement, assess homeowners for them and authority to borrow money. But one man's improvement was another man's nightmare. John Carroll Brent, a name that rolled with old time religion and old city pomposity, demanded that Delaware Avenue south of the Capitol where he lived not be paved. The city's new local political establishment which numbered some 30 elected officials spent most of its meetings sorting out where to put sewers, curbs, footpaths, pavement and constant leveling. A dispute over a $1000 contract to level a few blocks of four neighboring streets tied up the mayor and a city court for two months.

Ever the Radical mayor Bowen tried to make a cause out of improvements by seeing that laboring jobs were divvied out in all the city's ward, especially mindful of the needs of freedmen. But at first they only paid laborers just as the Army Quartermaster did, $20 paid out every 30 days, except that when pay day arrived there was usually not enough money in the city's till. The scavengers the city hired insisted on being paid in advance, and the laborers' wage rose to $1.50 a day.

These "improvements" did get a rise out of President Johnson. He asked an aide "if all the white men had been discharged." The Freedmen's Bureau laid water pipes from the Capitol to the tenements built for freedmen down East Capitol to 14th Street. Democrats mocked the freedmen being offered the right to vote as "pipe layers."

Some black laborers had class consciousness, a notion Karl Marx was making popular in Europe, and formed Workingmen's Associations. Their parade in November 1865 briefly jammed the Avenue, but their one strike for $2 for an 8 hour day fizzled as laborers by twos and threes went back to work for $1.50. The trend of American history has been to make Marx as irrelevant as possible but the powers in Washington understood the import of his message. The Board of Aldermen and Common Council prefaced a joint resolution, "That whereas the laboring man is the bone and sinew of the land and should be recognized as our general benefactor for many reasons therefore be it..." May have helped. As one black preacher/politician put it, men in his district "got into the habit of working."

For all his high purpose Bowen ran up the bond indebtedness to $800,000 with little to show for it. His successor Mayor Emery, who had made his career doing stone work for several of the public buildings, issued $900,000 in bonds with little to show for it.

With its legislature controlled by Republicans including some blacks, pro-Democratic party newspapers attacking blacks and carpetbag Republicans in Southern legislature cast their net of ridicule over Washington's local government. One legislator warned his colleagues: "The newspapers of this city and the newspapers of other cities represent this hall as frequently presenting scenes of vulgarity and violence and as constantly resounding with bitter denunciations and gross and degrading epithets and the flippant commentary is very general that the Republican majority in Washington has so degraded its legislation that the necessity is apparent of abolishing the City Government and placing the whole District in charge of a Commission appointed by the National Government." 

Local men with vision were not fooled by Sumner's cause of making the city a model for the South. Why was democracy necessary for development? Alexander Shepherd got out of legislature and had his political friends prevail on President Grant to appoint him to the Levy Court of Washington county. Born in 1835 the Washington native and plumbing contractor won election to the City Council in 1863 but was impatient to get things done. The Levy Court directed improvements in the District north of Boundary Street, which became Florida Avenue when the boundary with Washington City no longer made a difference. Shepherd bought a farm north of the city that he called "Bleak House" perhaps because Charles Dickens visited the city again about the same time.

It is fair to say that Shepherd undermined Bowen and Emery and local democracy. He pushed a bill in Congress to replace the elected mayor with a governor and aldermen appointed by the president. Emery acquiesced because he thought he would be appointed the governor. Voters would only elect a lower House of Delegates. Other than pay for grandiose buildings, congress had long been bored if not annoyed by District affairs. On "District Day" laws were past that were hardly digested. Even Garfield, sometime chair of the District Committee, didn't notice that Shepherd's bill put street and sewer improvements completely in charge of a five man Board of Public Works also appointed by the President.

Those Washingtonians who knew how to influence congressmen favored the changes. The bill became the Organic Act of 1871 and Washington would not elect a mayor for another 95 years. Electing delegates was enough meat for any with a tender regard for hearing the voice of the District's people and the 8 wards became 22 districts with blacks having a majority only in four of them. Not that marginalizing blacks was the sole intent of the re-organization. Since the mayoral election of 1857 local voting had been too tumultuous. Congress did not like being upstaged. Plus the voice of the people was pretty well united: the city was a mess. The problem was getting things done so let the General appoint the Governor.

Grant had a fair measure of the city, and, at first, he was its god. There was a sense that after the war the nation had to rise to greatness and a sense that the man who won the war was the man to do just that. Even Henry of the cynical family of Adams thought that. After the war, friends put Grant in the Douglas house at New Jersey and I Street. Congress raised him from Lieutenant General to General of the Army and President Johnson put him in command. Most days, in an unassuming manner that delighted all, he rode cross town to the War Department.

Grant was the first West Point graduate to become president. Hence, there was an engineer in the White House. He made another West Point engineer, Gen. Orville Babcock, the Commissioner of Public Buildings, and also his private secretary in the White House.

Babcock, with wife and niece, and Grant, with wife and her friend, on vacation
Congress expected the new government to push improvements and it allowed a $4 million bond issue to finance them. Congress asked army engineers to study and suggest broadly what the new city government should do. Not Babcock, though, he went to Santa Domingo to scout out the US government buying the country as a safety valve for freedmen. Obviously a man of vision. The engineers raised three priorities: "The first thing taken into consideration was to provide a thorough plan of sewerage not only for the present but for the future of the city. In the second place it was to establish a uniform and definite system of drainage. The third was to improve the city in the way of parking and beautifying."

With Shepherd, Bowen and Emery expecting to be governor, Grant appointed his sometime riding buddy H. D. Cooke who had so graciously given him shares and subsequent dividends in the brownstone rich Seneca Creek mine. Cooke expected the stock to return a dividend of 30%. Many politicians beat a path to H. D. Cooke's offices on 15th Street to get notes carried over and other favors either at the Washington office of Jay Cooke's investment bank downstairs or the First National Bank of Washington upstairs. H. D. was president of the latter. More important Cooke treated Washington journalists to an annual Potomac cruise with all they could eat and drink.

Although he was just the man to sell bonds to raise $4 million, H. D. was less a man of action and vision than one who took care of people. Brother Jay, by then the most famous banker in the US thanks to his selling the civil war bonds, advised H. D. to take the job because having "Governor" in front of his name would impress Europeans whom Jay hoped would buy up his Northern Pacific Railroad bonds. H. D. had to stay in Washington until the railroad got all it needed from Congress, then go off to Europe.

Governor Cooke sold the bonds for a great price, but young, manly, and dynamic Alex Shepherd running the Board of Public did all the work.

 

Every contractor began calling him "Boss" because he approved all contracts. In just 16 months those contractors laid "ninety-three miles of brick and concrete sidewalks, and 115 miles of concrete, wood, round-block, graveled, cobblestone, Macadam, or Belgium block streets."

Actually he didn't boss all the work. Congress had authorized the mayor to build a new Center Market improving that essential service that had been on 7th Street NW just below Pennsylvania Avenue since 1801. But with the new government making bonds supporting city improvements marketable even in Europe, local businessmen sold bonds to raise the money to build the new market.

Center Market

Center Market took 7 years to build. Gilded Age is probably not the label to apply to Washington at this time. Perhaps "over built". The architect Cluss claimed it was the largest market in the country.

Shepherd did all his work in far less than 7 years. He did away with time consuming bidding. He knew what things should cost. He soon had a team of engineers, not from the army, to show contractors where to level and pave. He soon had over 500 clerks to keep track of the money and the work.

He understood the town he grew up in and knew where congressmen came from. He gave contracts to pavers from Brooklyn and Chicago. But in the main, he encouraged local men to get most of the business. Michael Shiner had been one of the slave's hired to work at the Navy Yard. (He left a diary of those days, from 1820 to 1865,) After he got his freedom he remained at the Navy Yard, a painter for $1.50 a day. He knew Alex Shepherd's father and knew Alex well. The Boss encouraged him to take one of the contracts for leveling a portion of 11th Street. In one neighborhood, black laborers organized to be the contractor for their own leveling work and split $450 in profit.   

Shepherd also had a larger sense of what was happening. He bought some of the cheapest lots, even bought a "skating rink" along and around F Street which divided the low grounds west of the White House. He then leveled F Street so that his houses were more or less level with the street while earlier builders who had wisely built on high ground found their houses separated from the street by a four foot cliff. When a congressional committee looked askance, Shepherd answered: all the property west of the White House, once "perfectly dead... increased in value 50 per cent I have no doubt about it."

The Organic Act loosed the new government on the whole District of Columbia including standoffish Georgetown. Shepherd minted $190,000 worth of contracts to improve the 7th Street road past Bleak House and all the way to Silver Spring, Maryland. Old Francis P. Blair who discovered the mica laced waters just north of the District Line and built his mansion there applauded the bold plans: they "fill up the outline which nature seems to have destined for the site of the capital of our country. The city and its surrounding district will then become one vast amphitheater mounting by grades from the Potomac to the hills five miles beyond its northern boundary and 500 feet above the tides. The first terrace arises from the circle of Boundary street making that beautiful coronet of wooded heights that crowns the brow and looks down upon the city and the expanse of its river as far as Mount Vernon and Fort Washington. The next grade brings us to the circuit of forts that protected the city during the late war.... The third elevation is that which makes the dividing line between the District of Columbia and Montgomery County Maryland. Seventh street road ... meets all the country roads that converge at Silver Spring.... all macadamized are brought on the District line at this spot.... It is to be the greatest city in the world and the wards of the Government are doing the work, the negroes. We are paying them but I think the Congress will pay us back some day."

Such was the calm view from miles away. In the city leveling roads and digging sewers tried everyone's patience. Then on a warm night in September 1872 Shepherd perpetrated his most remembered outrage. While he wined and dined the only men who could stop work, the city's judges, in far away Bleak House, an orderly gang of workers demolished the Northern Liberty Market.  Young Millard Fillmore Bates was chasing the fleeing rats with his terrier when a shed roof tumbled down and killed him. A market dealer died when a sign his clerks were taking down fell on him.

The Board had letters complaining about the dilapidated condition of the market dating back a decade, but owners of stalls valued them at a $1,000 a shed. No one forgave Shepherd but hundreds had the prestige and talking point of a claim against the government. The Board bought a neighboring square and a new Northern Liberty Market slowly grew.


One thousand residents petitioned congress to have all the "improvements" stopped and petitioners professed to have evidence of corruption and fraud. His attackers couldn't resist attacking everything Shepherd did. Despite years of congress demanding a solution to the problem, petitioners and Democrat allies railed against Shepherd for covering the canal and turning it and Tiber Creek into an underground sewer. Democrats, that is, except old Frank Blair who told the committee that Andy Jackson himself thought a canal in the the middle of a city on tide water was foolish.

 
Tiber Creek sewer at 17th Street in its prime and uncovered

Republicans controlled both houses but it allowed minority members a thorough months long airing of the petitioners' grievances. Democrats couldn't resist turning the tables on Republicans who had long boasted of their fights against Boss Tweed and the Democrats' Tammany Hall political machine in New York City.

After Shepherd denied he had ever met Tweed, the Democrats on the committee produced a letter from Tweed saying he had met a committee from Washington that included Shepherd. And wasn't it strange that the paving contracts in Washington used the exact same form as Tweed did?

Republicans had also long accused Democrats in cities of buying votes by hiring workers. Governor Cooke and "Boss" Shepherd oversaw one election for delegates and a referendum endorsing the $4 million bond issue. One petitioner produced evidence that 14,000 men worked for the city on election day and the referendum got 13,000 votes. Then after the election most laborers were fired. R.D. Ruffin, a Howard student hired as a time keeper, testified that he was fired for organizing voters against Shepherd's candidate. Shepherd always had answers. The early on-set of winter required the road work stop. In the election which Shepherd reputedly fixed, the two candidates were both Republicans. The difference was their race. The "colored" man won. Shepherd had backed the white man.

Shepherd touched all the chords of righteousness when he defended himself before the committee: "Who does not know that this city, whether justly or unjustly does not change the fact, has the reputation of being a century behind others of a like population in all that relates to public improvements and progress, when as the capital of the Republic the resort of people of all nations we should be foremost in these things. To effect this object money is required.... Besides all this we have thousands of mechanics and laborers unemployed many of whose families are suffering for bread. We should strive to give these employment as far as possible to make them and their families comfortable and contented, by doing which much that tends to vice and crime will be destroyed and the morals of the people improved."

But the myth of the all powerful Boss Shepherd was born and the Boss didn't seem to mind. He bragged to the committee that he was worth $300,000 and had every intention to continue buying and building houses throughout the district. The architect Cluss soon joined him on the Board and in a few years Shepherd's row of elegant town houses graced K Street not far from Senator (soon to be Treasury secretary) Sherman's house.

Shepherd's Row

Few historians can resist the florid tones with which the press framed Shepherd as another Boss Tweed. Shepherd bossed contractors and controlled officers in the city bureaucracy, but unlike Tweed did not take kickbacks and rule through the ballot box. Shepherd did not need loyal voters the way Tweed did to cement his power. Unlike in New York City,  voters in Washington had absolutely no influence on national politics.

Shepherd did not hire "colored men" to control their vote. Most blacks were loyal Republicans. Sumner who had done so much to guarantee rights for blacks couldn't persuade black congressmen to dump Grant who was too corrupt for Sumner. Blacks all backed Grant for re-election. They knew who really freed the slaves.


Politics was not Shepherd's problem. He faced a complex engineering puzzle. Comparing Shepherd's improvement to Baron Haussmann's in Paris in the 1850s is somewhat off the mark. They are similar in that both men were given extraordinary powers, but Haussmann destroyed the Medieval city, widening avenues, opening vistas. L'Enfant had already provided that. Shepherd made streets and avenues narrower which made paving less expensive and by parking trees made grand dusty streets residential. Except for the markets, his improvements did not displace people, only inconvenienced them for the supposed greater good.

But what was good in 1872? Even though most other major cities were paved, none were paved consistently. Streets had to accommodate horses with horseshoes dragging carts with narrow iron wheels. "Ironized" wood block pavement was popular  because it was quieter than concrete or macadam. Asphalt was still in development, and reserved for special sections of streets where it menaced people on hot summer days. Briefly put, an expert engineer could be found to challenge every contract Shepherd made, and engineers could be found to defend them. In the large map below, the beige streets were paved with wood.

A map showing the different new pavements: wood in beige, red for concrete, blue for stone pavements

But at least this was unlike all the monument building which did precious little to build a comfortable city. The improvements invited an influx of northern money. One reporter estimated that 500 elegant homes were built in 1872. Why did the wealthy want a seat in Washington? Now that one could better navigate the distances, the city provided a good show during the winter and the weather was better than northern snows.
 
How President Grant related to all this is an interesting question. Like Lincoln and the war, Grant was and is framed in every scandal that touched his administration. Even though Republicans controlled both houses, they could not resist investigating not Grant but the men, especially old friends and relatives, working for him. Grant faced opposition not only from the Democratic newspapers but from reform minded Republican newspapers. But H.D. Cooke's blandishments and generous paid public notices kept local newspaper cool on Shepherd. And the national press was distracted by a bigger scandal.

Getting up a steam of righteousness over congressmen favored with Union Pacific railroad bonds, much of the Washington press helped engineer the nomination of newspaper publisher Horace Greeley to run against Grantism in 1872, but he lost to the unflappable man who beat the Rebels.


Grantism was not that bad especially in Washington which was pretty much as close to paradise as Washington ever got, for whites as well as blacks. Money ruled and the "drippings" got down to the lower sort. Trying to trace what happened to an unaccounted $10,000 that an investigating committee thought a shady agent used as a down payment on the Harewood Estate, that worthy replied: "clothiers, dress makers, milliners, hotel men. It is easy enough to spend that amount of money here."

Even Julie Dent Grant, perhaps the plainest of first ladies, with a slightly weird "one eye in the pot the other up the chimney" face, fascinated the wives of other great men. Like many army wives, she was both independent and loyal, and by reputation got her share of the spoils for the benefit of her family. She did not act the queen like Mary Todd Lincoln. She was an American woman. Grant tried to sell the Douglas house to Mayor Bowen, but Julia refused to sign the deed. But once in the White House she made herself at home and proved indefatigable in entertaining the swirl anxious to see her famous but usually silent husband.

Julia Dent Grant
The Grants lack of pretensions and respect for success made Washington society easier: if you had money you were in  and regardless of race. They were as comfortable with respectable blacks as they were with whites. The Lincolns liked to be seen socially with Charles Sumner. The Grants hated Sumner and embraced the Senator Roscoe Conkling. The New Yorker best known to history for tightly controlling federal officials in New Yorker, the consummate spoilsman, also had a golden tongue and was exquisitely educated and coifed. After the General, he was Julia Dent Grant's man. Kate Chase Sprague couldn't take his eyes off him either. Her husband was still in Senate, a convenient excuse for her sitting in the Ladies Gallery.

 
Senator Roscoe Conkling, worth a trip to Washington to hear and see
Looking back from an age saturated with images of beautiful, it is beyond belief that the elite of the 1870s were drawn to Washington by the portraits in the illustrated newspapers of the General and Senator Conkling and his ilk.

Not President Grant, per se, because the gathering of rich began when Johnson was still in office. In 1873 a letter written by real estate agent Hallet Kilbourn found its way to an investigating committee. It described a "concrete ring" and a "real estate pool." Governor H. D. Cooke seeded the latter with $25,000. Local contractors were in the "ring" that tried to monopolize paving in part by getting and sharing the best machinery for the job in New York. Other than Cooke, investors from Philadelphia and New York joined the "pool. " Kilbourn refused to reveal their names. Otherwise he was a friendly enough witness explaining how he bought a lot from an avowed opponent of improvements for 30 cents a square foot and sold it to a senator for 90 cents.

Corcoran and Riggs unloaded much of their unimproved land in part to get out of paying the tax assessments for street leveling and paving Their unpaid taxes almost topped $20,000 each. But in Kilbourn's opinion, the old fashion speculators were the losers as land values rose.

The boom in property values was primarily in the northwest section of the city. Kilbourn did not take credit for that. For the last 10 years it was evident that "the tide" of the city headed that way. Property values increased east of the Capitol but in one instance only from 5 cents and square foot to 25 cents. A Philadelphia developed built "Philadelphia row" on 11th Street SE where a new bridge crossed the Anacostia River near the Navy Yard, but otherwise the tide from the Capitol was decidedly blocked with the canal and Mall to the southwest, printing plant and railroad depot to the northeast.

To the south across from the Carroll mansion near where the Washington administration was stunned in 1791 as L'Enfant tore down the first iteration of the mansion, officials thought the lots across the street where condemned stone was stored would be a good site for the new jail. The Freedmen's Bureau tenements spread out along East Capitol Street.


Kilbourn explained that outsiders fueled the boom and the nation's wealthy wanted a seat in Washington north of the White House. Rich senators like John Sherman were the pilot fish. (Senators got rich because they all did legal work and railroads paid senators handsomely.) At the first "the tide" in that direction beyond K Street came for the wrong reason. Senators Edmunds and Bayard built homes on little hills on Massachusetts Avenue just west of 14th Street. They appreciated the gentle hills for affording a healthy place for their family.

Across and just up the avenue, W. W. Corcoran also made his mark for the wrong reason. He followed the tradition set by Washington's first philanthropist Amos Kendell who built a school for the deaf in the first hills northeast of the Capitol. In 1871 Corcoran built Louis House "for the support and maintenance of a limited number of gentlewomen, who have been reduced by misfortune" mostly due to the War.  The site Corcoran choose for the building was the entire city block bounded on the north by Massachusetts Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets, NW. It cost $200,000 to build in the  popular French Mansard or Second Empire style, 


 
Corcoran's charity Louise Home was named in honor of both his dead wife and daughter

Well, Corcoran's impulse was in the right direction but eventually the relics of senators, admirals, generals and judges would be housed in the luxury apartment buildings going up Connecticut Avenue.

Then to the chagrin of Edmunds and Bayard, the Board leveled the avenue through the hills. Babcock was preparing the circle at 14th and Massachusetts for the statue of Gen. Thomas and Shepherd decided to flatter Corcoran by improving the view of Louise House. (It was said most of the widows were Southerners and so may have blanched at seeing the Yankee general,"The Rock of Chickamauga," on his horse.)

Senators Edmund and Bayard were in Europe when their little bit of paradise was left on the edge of a 20 foot cliff. In Shepherd's city, to maximize property values those who could afford them would live in rows of three or four story townhouses, the rest in tenements. Unless you wanted to live out in "Clerksville," up at the end of the train lines in Mount Pleasant where house were made out of the planks salvaged from the hospital.

Finally L'Enfants plan began to make sense. In the northwest section of the city one could be positioned on or near an avenue cutting directly to the Capitol and also be on an avenue convenient to the White House and Treasury. That the area north of K Street housed more blacks than whites made no difference. Every black man could get a laboring job and soon buy into their rightful place in the new city.

Grantism gave blacks every indication that they were wanted. By and large the city that lined up with Johnson's racism accepted Grant's tolerance. During Grant's administration leading black men dined with white men, Republicans to be sure. For a Democrat to socialize with a black could be the kiss of death.

The city government banned discrimination in hotels, restaurants, even barbershops. Blacks had begun annually celebrating Emancipation Day, April 16. On July 5, 1870, blacks swarmed the Capitol grounds to celebrate the graduations at colored schools. At Grant's 2nd inaugural they freely participated. Douglass's  National Era newspaper proclaimed that "the genius of liberty was epitomized." "Colored cadets marching side by side with white cadets, colored marshals, colored militia, colored Congressmen -- all took part in a ceremony in which only a few short years ago none but white persons were allowed to participate....no white person left the inaugural ball.... There seemed to be a general acquiescence to the new order of things."

To the disgust of the diplomatic corps Grant shook hands with the black president of Haiti at the White House. He balked at receiving 19 year old Prince Arthur from Britain. Grant was far more interested in buying Santa Domingo than settling Civil War claims against Britain.

Meanwhile Sumner finally gave the nation a righteous legal pattern. The Civil Rights Act of 1874 did not confer on all blacks the rights they had in the "Paradise for Negroes" but it was a big start. That said, Washington proved no pattern for the rest of the county. Pitchfork Ben Tillman continued leading a reign of terror against black voters in South Carolina. Federal attorneys might indict but no Southern jury would convict.

But Americans never admit defeat and adjusted to the civil war in an odd way: both sides won. As it dawned on Washington that they had not reformed the South, its statesmen renewed their faith in lighting the world with American freedom. By buying little Santa Domingo Grant thought freedmen could plant freedom in the tropics. After his house in Rochester, NY, burned down Frederick Douglass moved to Washington. After a life of escaping to freedom and fighting for justice, he breathed a new air. At Grant's request he went with a committee to Santa Domingo to verify its suitability for black American. His new Capitol Hill neighbor Gen. Babcock shared his dahlias with the Douglasses.

Sumner broke with Grant over the issue, but not the principal of expansion. He insisted that the government demand over a billion dollars in damages from Britain and use that as leverage to get Canada instead. Upon retirement, Secretary of State Seward who survived an assassination attempt and the Johnson administration decided to tour the American West and then the world, though not all the way up to Alaska which he bought from the Russians. He also survived his wife and daughter so he made the tour accompanied by a friend of his daughter's, a budding writer named Olive Risley whom Seward adopted so there would be no scandal. She turned the tour into a best selling book. They began by accompanying a government commission, protected by US troops, that inspected Jay Cooke's Northern Pacific Railroad then built as far as the Dakota country.

In the wilderness Seward and his ward had big ideas, that both Canada and Mexico would join the superior republic thriving between them. Jay Cooke agreed and thought western Canada would simply be taken over by more enterprising Americans moving north and Britain would accept facts on the ground and give the country up. Overseas, in the cities of the older world, Seward and Risley made a measuring stick of the Capitol: "Government House which was built during the administration of the Marquis of Wellesley has dimensions perhaps one fourth less than the Capitol at Washington." In China they got a warm welcome. The US diplomat Seward had sent to China returned to Washington to represent China in negotiations for a treaty between the two countries.

Anson Burlingame presents his credentials as Chinese envoy to President Johnson, kind of an Indian agent for the world's oldest civilization

Such large thinking usually inflates Washington, and justifies every improvement in the Seat of Empire, but not on September 18, 1873. At the dinner marking Governor Cooke's retirement ostensibly for a well earned rest but actually because his brother needed all hands on deck to save the Northern Pacific, the House of Cooke suspended payment. Everything in Washington stopped, even jury trials, and there was a run to Fifteenth Street. Grant was not in the crowd. He took a train north with his Treasury secretary to confer with Wall Street bankers. The failure of Jay Cooke closed the First National Bank of Washington immediately and six months later the Freedmen's Bank.

Not a little politicians' capital was invested in the First National so even its more profound collapse was not pried into, and remember all those parties H.D. Cooke had for newspapermen, that annual Potomac cruise. But congress investigated the failure of the Freedmen's Bank and the press rallied to ridicule blacks. The colored bank tellers did not know how to add. The head cashier and his assistant, also his son-in-law, were obviously corrupt. They lived in "a magnificent four story house in G street of pressed brick and brown stone Seneca trimmings and with all the modern ornaments. In this palatial residence Daddy fares sumptuously every day displays the choicest furniture and gives entertainments to the aristocracy of his own people for whose amusement Boston drums on a grand piano. Love of truth constrains me to add that these assemblies are at times somewhat mixed, a number of persons who look to the bank for favors making a show of bleached faces." 

Wilson got a job in the Treasury Department and he excused himself to depositors by explaining that he thought, like most everybody else, that the Treasury backed the Freedmen Bank's deposits. It didn't.

The failure diminished some icons. The trustees made Frederick Douglass president but he failed to save it, and lost $10,000 of his own money trying to do so. (James Wormley, a trustee of the bank, took heed of inside information and withdrew his money just before the bank suspended payment for 60 days, its last effort to save itself. At least Wormley, never a slave but many years a caterer, saved his elegant hotel at 15th and H Streets which had opened in 1871. It was said by one reporter to be "the best place for an ice or a quiet supper.")

Wormley's Hotel

The bank eventually lost $2 million for depositors half of them black. To help ease the pain, the federal government bought the bank building for the home of the newly formed Department of Justice.

A large contractor for the Board of Public Works, a former bureau official, owed the most money to the bank, around $220,000. He used "sewer notes", scrip issued by the Board promising future payment, as collateral for loans. The scandal could be linked to Boss Shepherd.

Because of the Panic of 1873, the District government also failed as much as a government can fail. When congress investigated Shepherd again in early 1874, District employees including teachers had not been paid for five months. The Boss, who Grant appointed governor when Cooke retired, tried to explain: "Shortly after this the financial crisis came on and money has been worth more than nine per cent a year to almost everybody and the payment of taxes has been deferred. There is no penalty for nonpayment. They do not fall due until July and there has been no way therefore of meeting the demands of the government.... If all our taxes had been collected we would have means enough to pay every dollar that the District owes to schoolteachers, firemen and all its employés and if the assessments were in such shape that the money on them could be collected the board of public works would not be short over $1,000,000 or $1,500,000."

Another long congressional investigation was probably not needed to get the District government changed again. Congress closed down the Board of Public Works. The District delegate to congress pleaded for congress not to increase the rate of taxation on city residents to pay down the $26 million debt. The city owed only $10 million of that. The Board of Public Works made the remainder of the debt and it was created by congress and appointed by the president, not the voters of Washington.

Congress passed a law reprising the way the immortal George Washington set up the city government: three commissioners and no legislature. Grant thought that was fine. He didn't think of making Shepherd a commissioner. Shepherd's wealth of real estate evidently didn't make enough to support a wife and 10 kids. He declared bankruptcy in 1876 and then headed off to prospect in Mexico and recoup his fortune.

Congressional investigators were miffed that they couldn't pin an indictable offense on Shepherd. They were obsessed with "rings" and kickbacks. Why did Shepherd start buying bricks from Baltimore and Philadelphia when Washington, with the help of Alexandria, Virginia, had never had trouble making enough bricks? Shepherd explained that local brick makers conspired to raise the price. He had to buy bricks elsewhere.

Despite all contractors from outside the city being placed under suspicion, outsiders had to clean up the mess. Grant appointed three former congressmen including one from St. Louis, the city that had demonstrated such an interest in becoming the new nation's capital. Evidently not that busy cleaning up the mess in Washington, that St. Louis pol died within the year in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Newspapers consoled themselves for the future lack of local election coverage by accusing and ridiculing black delegates for taking ink stands and feather dusters from the legislative chamber no longer needed. One can conclude that white residents gave up their own vote with hardly a murmur as the price they had to pay to put blacks back in their proper place.

But after just over 70 years of voting in local elections, Washington property owners had never gotten what they wanted: a clear commitment from congress to help finance the creation and maintenance of a credible city. Having blacks vote was no help in that project. In debate northern and western congressmen warned that disenfranchising Washington's blacks was not the example the resurgent racists in the South needed. But Shepherd's energy monetized by an enormous debt raised the ante so high that the long game between the prudent congress and stingy locals had to end.

(However, racists in Washington would forever ridicule the behavior of blacks during their brief period of enfranchisement. William Tindall was Mayor Bowen's secretary and some 45 years later read a paper about him before the Columbia Historial Society. After duly noting Bowen's zeal for civil rights, Tindall mused that "when one reflects upon the dense ignorance, and utter absence of ethical apprehension, of a vast portion of the voting material of the time, it is a wonder that the outcome was not more humiliating to enlightened civic sensibility."

He related what must have been a notorious story in the 1870s that Tom Bowie a "notorious Negro politician of that regime" died after he fell off a boat bringing illegal black voters from Southern Maryland. A friend told Tindall of "an instance of the grotesque notion of partisan fealty which prevailed to a great extent among the newly enfranchised negroes." A black polician suggested he shouldn't have to pay his rent on time because he was a Republican. Tindall personal dig at the race, 45 years later, was his recollection of a black street superintendent, who objected to being called "mister" and not "esquire.")

Losing the vote didn't keep blacks from moving to the city. Their population increased from 43,404 in 1870 to 59,596 in 1880. No one came to the Seat of Empire to vote in local elections. Democracy was beside the point where the leaders of the world's greatest democracy congregated.

Sen. Stewart of Nevada represented fewer people than the number of  blacks living in the District of Columbia. No one counted. Stewart invested some of the money he made off silver mines into a stately house to be called "Stewart's Castle" just off what was then known as Pacific circle in honor of the three west coast developers, Hillyer, Sunderland and Stewart. The statue of Admiral Dupont hadn't found its seat yet.

Stewart's Castle
For locals, seeing such a wash of outside money took the sting off having no more voting.

There was another great wind stirring in the country that made losing the vote in Washington opportune if not a victory for good. Civil Service Reform took root in New York City and good government advocates began preaching that public servants should not be corrupted by politics. The dunning of government workers by political parties prior to every election had to stop, as well as doing party work on government time.

Since the fount of all federal appointments was Washington, Civil Service Reform mattered to just about every stiff able to climb stairs and dodge Greek columns. To raise the level of fear, congress had the unnerving habit of always combining the word "Reform" with the word "Retrenchment." There was no better way for Washington bureaucrats to show reforming zeal and avoid politics than to not be tempted to vote.

At first the new city government seemed a prime example of retrenchment. Yes, three commissioners replaced one governor and a board auditors tried to make sense of the city treasurer's books, but congress put Lieutenant Richard Hoxie, an army engineer, in charge of the Board's contracts, and ordered him to economize. Under the Shepherd there were over 500 clerks doing the paper work; under the three commissioners and Hoxie, there were only 84.

 
The Boss's replacement, army engineer Richard Hoxey
But it soon became apparent that the removal of Shepherd did not retrench, if you will, the spirit of the staff he had hired or the contractors he bossed. While the rest of the country sank into a economic depression after the Panic of 1873 that even a Centennial celebration couldn't perk up, building continued apace in Washington. The logic of Shepherd's improvements, including how powerful senators coming back after the long recess had to snap to them, gave confidence to developers. Hoxie spent an inordinate amount of time getting gravel on top of the holes in rotten wooden paving blocks and patching leaky sewers, but he was full of ideas for more improvements along the lines of . Shepherd's thinking. If people building houses built to codes, didn't opt for a country style house to avoid assessments for gas and sewer hook ups, paving and trees then the city would continue to grow into something special.

Hoxie called for a plan for the rest of the District "based upon a careful study of the topographical features of the county. Such an assurance of the permanency of improvements in real estate as would be by the ratification by Congress of such a plan would probably secure the investment of much timid capital which the changing grades of the last few years have driven from the District. This is more than probable because it is difficult to imagine a more desirable place of residence than Washington and its vicinity must eventually become. With a mild healthful climate and a picturesque surrounding country the capital of the nation should be with the accumulation of wealth the of refinement and culture." 

Here was a man in love, as indeed he was. He married the artist Vinnie Ream, who was busy making more marks in the city. She lobbied successfully to get the commission for a statue of Adm. Farragut destined for a square just south of K Street. She beat out 12 male artists. Mrs. Farragut and General Sherman championed Vinnie. She caught the Admiral perfectly.

Congress forgot to abolish the Board of Health and having the local legislature abolished energized  those doctors and lawyers. No one could block their drive to end the tradition of letting cattle, pigs, goats, etc., loose in the city. Such nuisances thought impossible to end came to an end, so the doctor chairing the board somewhat prematurely proclaimed. An energetic homeopathic physician born in Italy, Tullio Verdi, considered nothing beyond inspection and reform especially markets, sewers, privies, fish, abattoirs, etc.

The Board compiled complete health statistics providing valuable epidemiology like names and addresses  of the mostly black victims of a smallpox epidemic, and some discussions of morality. Of  104 still-births, only 8 white: "In this city into which the war has suddenly thrown thirty thousand negroes pauperism has greatly increased and virtue among them at a discount not having been greatly fostered on the old plantations. Hence concubinage with all its dire consequences is quite prevalent. It happens therefore that still births are often the result of doubtful causes requiring the vigilance of the board of health. Many die also in such a state of destitution as to need burial at public expense in which case." 


 Dr. Tullio Verdi of the Board of Health

Shepherd had let the genie out of the bottle and congress could not put it back in. The old Washington was gone for good.

Meanwhile congress recognized that the federal government had to respond to the growth of the country. Every such response since 1803 had been grandiose and it continued to be. In 1871 construction began on the Executive Office building, what would become the largest office building in the world, just to the left of the White House, if you looked at it from the stump that was the Washington Monument..

The first of four sides of the Executive Office Building

The new office building dwarfed the war department nearby and when all four sides of the complex were completed, the artistry of the building designed by James Renwick at 17th and Pennsylvania would be affronted. The government used the it during the war. When owner W.W. Corcoran got back to Washington, he had the building turned into  the art gallery it was designed to be. Renwick left niches on the outer walls for statues. Corcoran had Southern sympathies and commissioned a Confederate war veteran named Moses Ezekiel who was studying art in Rome to make eleven statues of artists. Thomas Crawford was of that number. When the EOB was complete, Raphaels, Da Vinci, Titian, etc, got a depressing eyeful.The cognoscenti like Henry Adams who moved to the neighborhood in 1877 were not please either.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art in the mid-1880s

It took 17 years to build the EOB. Congress couldn't cool its obsession with investigating government building and pestered architect Alfred Mullet to reveal the machinations of the "Granite Ring."

The creep of grand buildings down the slight 17th Street hill brought future problems in focus. No serious boats could get up to the 17th Street wharf west of the monument grounds. And, as Lt. Hoxie put it, "squatters have usurped the rights of the General Government unopposed and occupy the line." Worse still "a belt of poisonous marshes stretche[d]" almost from Georgetown to Buzzard's Point where the Arsenal was.

This was neither an old or new problem. L'Enfant didn't have to deal with it because the marshes arose well after he made his plan. The Potomac River silted up below Little Falls thanks to land upstream being cleared and cultivated. Ribbons of reality though they are, rivers can tease. Most years spring floods would make the river whole again and then....

Army engineers had already submitted a plan to congress, but first things first. Congress hired Frederick Law Olmsted to landscape the Capitol Grounds.

Curiously absent from the continued press by military engineers for improvements were the two military engineers in the White House, President Grant and, more to the point, Gen. Babcock, Commissioner of Public Buildings, which included public grounds. The President did stir when he ordered a squatter off one the lower and shadier reaches of the White House grounds. But Washington was on the back burner. Grant and Babcock had problems in the West.


The Whiskey Ring burst on the Washington scene in 1875, but all the legal action was in St. Louis.  Babcock facilitated cronies, his and the president's profiting from not collecting the whiskey tax but Babcock did not seem to profit himself. To the detriment of his future reputation, Shepherd did all he could for Babcock which in the eyes of reform minded Republicans made the Boss even more notorious though he no longer had anything to boss. Grant wrote a letter absolving Babcock as he faced charges in St. Louis, kind of a pre-verdict pardon of his trusted aid. The tears he put in Grant's eyes were punishment enough.

What made Grant angry was that his own Treasury secretary Benjamin Bristow, a lawyer and former senator and from Kentucky, turned out to be a reformer. He went after the Whiskey Ring after he broke up the Granite Ring, reining in architect Mullett. Scandals seemed to always cloud the future physical improvement of the city, but a price had to be paid for democrary. A Bristow-for-president boomlet began. Meanwhile, Grant's longest serving cabinet member Secretary of War William Belknap wound up being impeached in 1876.

The burly bearded Princeton grad and Civil War general (Iowa militia) passed for one of most attractive men in the city.

Women fell for, men flocked to and congress impeached William Belknap

His wives, Carrie and then when she died in 1870 her sister Amanda, were stunning though no one seems to have taken a photograph of them. The Belknaps moved into a Lafayette Square mansion as Seward moved out and turned it into a party house, for the rich and famous to be sure but also for many of the increasingly bored army officers in town. He was Secretary of War after all.

News of Belknap's allowing his wife to take kickbacks from a corrupt arrangement to control supplies to Indians and frontier soldiers sparked a memory in the New York Time society reporter: "I well remember having seen her one night wearing one of Worth's gowns of alternate stripes of white satin embroidered with ivy leaves and green satin embroidered with golden leaves of wheat. A cluster of these, in gold and enamel, were in her black hair and she wore a full set of large emeralds set in etruscan gold." So much from a trading scam that gleaned $6000 a year for the Belknaps.

Grant was not forgotten. Investigation of Washington gambling houses produced the shocker that the president bet on horses. Grant revealed that he had been to the track twice in 8 years, once with his family. Anyway nobody bet on Grant going for a third term and he didn't. 

Preening for the election of 1876 began in 1873 and promised to be an Eastern affair with the Democratic governor of the New York running against either Conkling or House speaker James G. Blaine of Maine. But the crescendo of scandals doomed the candidacy of those two Republican worthies. The party had to stand tall for Civil Service Reform. A reformer like Bristow would have insulted Grant. So Rutherford B. Hayes, war hero, municipal lawyer, governor of Ohio, and a moderate reformer with a charming diffidence got the Republican nomination.

Governor James Tilden won the popular vote handily and after terrorizing black voters, the whites in four Southern states presented enough electoral votes for the Yankee lawyer. Grant thought Tilden won but Republican leaders saw a path to the White House. Once assured that Hayes had nothing to do with Bristow, Grant backed an electoral commission to sort out the election results. Republican governors in those four Southern states, carpetbaggers all, threw out enough illegal votes to form a solid Republican South.

Voting along party lines, the commissioners made Hayes president.

 The 15 men who decided the 1876 election. Senators Bayard and Edmunds, together on the top row, were neighbors on Massachusetts Avenue

It was a bitter pill, even for some Republicans like Conkling. Hayes was, well, a bore with a war record. Tilden was loved by politicians just as much as a millionaire bachelor in the male game of politics could be loved at the height of the Victorian Era. But all Republicans rallied behind Hayes. Remember the War was their rallying cry and, as Hayes' wife Lucy put it, if Democrats won what would happen to "the poor colored people?" Given the reign of terror against blacks in the South, she worried for good reason.

Hayes reiterated his pledge to only serve one term and while he supported equal rights, he also supported "intelligent" state governments in the South. Supremely confidant in their intellectual superiority to blacks, white Southerners took that as tacit support for white controlled state governments. When Hayes said he didn't want to send federal troops to enforce federal laws, he might just mean it. That and a pledge by Republican congressmen to build a southern railroad to the Pacific made Hayes palatable to the South.

In one of his early appointments Hayes managed to reward a black man with not at the same time offending the South. He appointed Frederick Douglass as the federal marshal of the District of Columbia. That sparked outrage from the judges and lawyers associated with the many courts in Washington. Federal marshals could pick juries. Blacks were not that happy with the appointment either. Hayes' relieved Douglass of the ceremonial duty of the marshal. He wouldn't introduce all who called on the president during his White House receptions.

From being a nag for equality in Lincoln's day, to an object of fear in Johnson's (that president told an aide he thought Douglass was "just like any nigger, and he would sooner cut a white man's throat than not,") to an avatar of Santa Domingo colonization in Grant's, Douglass became the icon for the advancement of his race. Two local white men, one even a Democrat, put up the $20,000 needed as a bond before he took his office. The Senate almost refused to confirm his appointment but Sen. Conkling reportedly used all the flights of oratory to get him confirmed.

Of the great senators whose oratory most moved contemporaries, Conkling has fared the worst in history books. He is dismissed as a corrupt and power hungry. He battled Hayes over the prerogatives of senators vis-a-vis appointments in their state, but he also spoke against reconciliation with Southern whites at the expense of blacks which in the eyes of most whitewashing historians put him on the wrong side of history.

Frederick Douglass who criticized and cooperated with the White Race

By trade, Douglass was an orator and journalist. As with most Washington offices, there was an assistant experienced in doing what the marshal had to do. So Douglass was free to give a lecture in Baltimore. He chose to give it on the Nation's Capital and not as an icon, but as a Radical. He managed to combine and refine 40 years of anti-slavery rhetoric with 20 years of newspaper scandal mongering to deliver a biting critique of the city's history with all blame on slavery and celebrate its recent deliverance thanks in part to the freedmen leveling the hills of the city.

He couldn't resist some delicious attacks on the native Washingtonians of 1877: Even where there is much culture and refinement, there is often in their speech a tinge of the Negro's slovenly pronunciation. Born and reared among Negro slaves, learning their first songs and stories from their lips, they have naturally enough adopted the Negro's manner of using his vocal organs.

He was as sharp when upbraiding newcomers to the city:  Nowhere will you find a greater show of insincere politeness. The very air is vexed with clumsy compliments and obsequious hatlifting. Everybody wants favor; everybody expects favor; everybody is looking for favor; everybody is afraid of losing favor; hence everybody knows the full value and quality of this general self-abasement. You will seldom hear an honest, square, upright, and downright no.

Hayes turned a deaf ear to cries that Douglass be removed as marshal. In a letter to the Washington Star that demanded his removal, Hayes quoted other passages from his lecture on Washington: "It is our national center. It belongs to us; and whether it is mean or majestic, whether arrayed in glory or covered with shame, we cannot but share its character and its destiny. In the remotest section of the republic, in the most distant parts of the globe, amid the splendors of Europe or the wilds of Africa, we are still held and firmly bound to this common center."

Much can be excused in the Seat of an Empire of Freedom. Douglass didn't even allude to losing the vote in Washington. He had the ear of presidents and senators. Making more money, Douglas moved out of his little house on Capitol Hill but not out to join the rich senators on Massachusetts Avenue NW. He moved to a house high on a hill across the Anacostia River. Developers there had conspired to keep blacks and Irish out.

That left Sen. Blanche Bruce of Mississippi the most prominent black living in the city itself. Douglass was a great man, but its hard to compete with an ebullient, graceful, college educated, 300 pounder. Bruce didn't hide himself either. The townhouse he rented at 9th and M Streets was built in 1865 during the residential expansion along 7th Street. Yes he represented Mississippi, but senators ruled Washington.


Sen. Blanche Bruce of Mississippi


However, presidents could cause a deal of trouble. Fortunately, Hayes decided the civil service in Washington needed little reform after all. He removed no man from office save for incompetency. Getting rid of Chester Arthur as port collector in New York City and not letting Conkling approve his replacement would sufficiently show the way for Civil Service Reform.

Hayes only set one high bar, very hard to swallow for most of Washington. He banned liquor from the White House. He said he did that to placate his wife Lucy who was Temperance but it was also an attack on the way business was done in Washington. He was rewarded with a march of the Women's Christian Temperance Union that he reviewed from the portico of the White House.

Lucy and Rutherford Hayes

Like any new covert, Hayes saw liquor everywhere. In 1878 when he parked himself in the Capitol to sign bills into law as congress adjourned he found that Joseph Rainey the black congressman from South Carolina was the only man sober and marveled as he managed an $18 million catch all appropriation as the rowdy session ended.

Well, that's congress. Washington did have islands of sobriety.

Douglass's critique of Washington missed one trait that had nothing to do with slavery or its absence. Army engineers were not the only men wearing their education on their sleeve. The true white man's burden is to make flattering assessments of the uncivilized world and publish invitations for its exploitation both as a matter of business and morals. Journalists of the day enjoyed writing admiring puffs of such men found in the departments and bureaus of Agriculture, Interior, War and Navy, not to mention the Smithsonian. Balanced Washington reporting then meant finding good bureaucrats to offset stories about bad politicians. For example, the new trees beautifying Washington streets and circles were picked by the head of the Bureau of Agriculture.

As much as Grant gravitated to men like Conkling who worked politics to make something of themselves and their friends, and Lincoln gravitated to men like Sumner who charted the future greatness of America, Hayes gravitated to the second string of civic awareness, avatars of "intelligent" government. The white bearded historian George Bancroft, an old Polk Democrat, became a fixture at the White House. Hayes wanted to be surrounded by the civil service. He came up with the idea of a building for the Interior Department and other offices on three sides of Lafayette Square, quite an upbeat way to dim memories of the Belknap's party house. Bureaucratic virtue would face the White House. Fortunately, nothing came of it.

Even in congress there were evidently men of sober precision. In late 1874 a special committee of two senators and two ex-representatives came up with a report and bill on the debt ridden capital. The report urged that the federal government pay for half the municipal expenses. Amen to that, said the city. But the bill was perplexing. In its 186 pages the three commissioners became regents appointed by the president and those regents would create all offices, bureaus and boards the city needed, including a board of education with 3 of 7 members elected. The bill went on to elucidate a system of liquor licenses, gambling controls, health inspections etc. etc. Somebody associated with that small committee, history does not know who, wrought The City on a Bill.

The length of the bill stunned members. It meticulously defined terms and behavior. The old tradition of glancing at and passing District legislation stopped dead in it tracks as senators couldn't resist animadverting on booze and betting. Meanwhile the three commissioners and Lt. Hoxie seemed to do all right. Yet another congressional investigation absolved them from the usual charges of corruption, and the investigating committee suggested the commission system be permanent.

An eccentric New York born senator from Alabama, George Spencer, whose term ended in 1879, with no hope of re-election, presented a "minority report" calling for election of the District's commissioners. (Then Spencer went to New York City, married a 25 year old actress in the dead letter office. They honeymooned in Deadwood. She wrote a book about Calamity Jane and they moved back to Washington and he opened a law office. Even a carpetbagger senator turned heads.)


Finally in June 1878 congress and Hayes settled on an intelligent form of government for the District. Three commissioners, resident in the city for three years, one Republican, one Democrat, one of them designated chairman and, as the third commissioner, an active duty army engineer.

Priding himself on few removals from office, Hayes made a sitting commissioner, Seth Ledyard Phelps, the President of the Board. He was also from Ohio and a retired naval officer, though not a Naval Academy graduate. Then he appointed a local Democrat, Josiah Dent, who thanks to his father-in-law's legacy, had done charitable work. The army provided and paid for the engineer commissioner, Maj. William J. Twining, only 38 years old, but 4 years older than Hoxie. Phelps and Dent were 54 and 61 respectively. Congress urged the commissioners to abolish other city offices and "consolidate two or more offices." The patronage game in the District government was crippled. A major replaced the police board, a health officer replaced the board of health. Hoxie did hang on as Twining's assistant.

The pity of it was that when a politician led each ward (22 districts reverted to 8 wards) with petty officials under him minding city services and even hiring laborers the illusion grew that the city government had some power. With ward-healers gone, the reality of congressional power became apparent. Just as congress set jobs and pay for the Interior Department so it did for the District.

The Major of Police sent recommendations to the Commissioners: "what in 1866 was but a barren waste is now covered with buildings of great value.... Some of the beats in the outer portions of the city are fifteen miles and upwards in length. Again while the number of privates or patrolmen on the force is numerically 200 that is by no means the number available for street or patrol duty. Large details are required for public receptions of government officials, foreign representatives &c, in attendance on the courts as witnesses complainants, and in charge of prisoners, permanent details for post duty at police court, police headquarters, Baltimore and Ohio, and Baltimore and Potomac Railroad depots, steamboat wharves, health office, Executive Mansion, District government buildings &c. To these must be added the absences from sickness and leaves of absence. The average residue for patrol duty will not exceed 125 men. An increase of 200 patrolmen is respectfully recommended." 

That recommendation was duly passed on to congress, as well as a litany of observations on the difficulties of policing the city. While Shepherd did improve many of the alleys in the interior of huge residential squares, there were no street lights there. Fleeing criminals simply disappeared among the dark shanties and sheds.

Tullio Verdi was out at the Health Office. No more directing attention to local morals. His replacement, Dr. Smith Townshend, still went through the trouble of compiling pages of health statistics, epidemiology was gaining steam worldwide, but he also captured the essence of the predicament of a local official in the federal city. Knowing that bad air is the cause of many diseases, indeed, congress continually investigated the ventilation in the windowless House and Senate chambers, he inspected all the rooms of the Treasury building where 2000 people worked. The 446 workers in the press room only had 217 cubic feet of "airspace to each person." The Government Printing Office where 1468 people worked was almost as bad. Talk about civil service reform, not that anything was done about it.

As for other city offices, the commissioners pruned relentlessly. No more Sealer of Weights and Measures for Georgetown and another man for Washington, just one man to cover the whole District. Ditto for the inspectors and measurers of wood. Pruned, just as congress ordered.

In essence the city became a federal agency. All taxes, assessments, fees and fines collected went into the federal treasury. As it did for other federal departments, congress paid for salaries and all other expenses. That didn't end the old struggle for money. But since congress in effect paid its share of property taxes for street repairs etc., advocates for the city needed a new twist on the congressional arm. Two segments of the population were the direct responsibility of the federal government.  Because 30,000 people in the city were government employees and their families and 30,000 were poor freed slaves who came from elsewhere and didn't pay taxes, the federal government owed the city big time. (A million acres of western land was one suggested solution to the DC schools problems.)

Also in the equation was the expense the city went to keep up with the magnificent federal buildings. A better solution may have been for the city to make its poverty apparent, but that grand Dome set a tone. The solution was grand designs built slowly. It took several years to build and change from wood to bricks, but in the end the Northern Liberty Market was not shabby at all.

 
The Northern Liberty Market
The District had an Eastern Market and a Western Market, but 7th Street NW that began at Center Market and passed near Northern Liberty Market became the Meridian of the city, as Shepherd wanted it. Not North Capitol Street as Andrew Ellicott wanted it nor the Naval Observatory as the scientists wanted it.

The Northern market was a square away from 7th. The school board urged that the old market square would be perfect for new schools in the most densely populated part of the city. But it was up to congress to decide.

 
Seventh Street NW

Seventh Street was where President Hayes would never take a walk, but where most who called the city home did.

That said, Hayes had much to see on a walk convenient to his temporary residence. In his last message Grant reminded congress of  an idea beyond his usual platitudes: take the exhibits from the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition and put them in a museum, that is The United States National Museum, in Washington. A year later once again men of national affairs, the Smithsonian regents, framed themselves in brick to guide an architect's reiteration of national greatness.

Having been so close to the Cookes, the Seneca mine, which provided brownstone for the first Smithsonian building, was not in a good way. So the committee chose bricks. Adolph Cluss had proved his mastery of that. It's easy to pick him out from the Smithsonian regents standing in the unfinished main entrance to the museum.


Hayes embraced the new vision of Washington south of the Mall. He trotted up the truncated Washington monument and laid a corner stone as building resumed. Before being built higher the foundation had to be redone.

He inquired and got hold of Downing's plans for the Mall wondering how to work that into the Olmsted's landscaping of the Capitol Grounds. But in the meantime the edge of the Mall could do with the hum of printing presses. The new Bureau of Engraving and Printing would also free up more space for auditors in the Treasury building next to the White House which wasn't designed to handle large printing presses. (The health officer inspected that new building and found all four stories deficient in breathable air.)

 
Bureau of Engraving and Printing

The government had to buy the land along 14th Street. The government had sold it to Corcoran when he was planning to build houses for cabinet officers to surround Downing's landscaped Mall.

The Smithsonian's conception of the Mall  was more as a school yard than a park. Its original building which stuck out like a Gothic thumb wasn't the hit it was expected to be. It principally displayed the fruits of the many military explorations foreign and domestic. Set out for perusal in glass cases were the critters and accoutrements of Manifest Destiny, the American rush through the west, fanning out across the Pacific and lapping onto China and the nether end of the British Empire. Our consul to Nicaragua brought "several idols," call them fruits of the Monroe Doctrine.

One exception proving the rule: a sarcophagus brought from Beirut on the Old Ironsides that had held the mortal remain of Alexander Severus, Roman Emperor. The idea was to bury Old Hickory in it but it wound up in the Smithsonian.

One could argue that the old display of patented inventions was more inspiring that the original Smithsonian. No more. The US National Museum would exhibit American genius brought down from Philadelphia in 60 train loads.

 
West side of the National Museum almost finished

By 1880 Washington had gone through almost 90 building seasons and yet in the drawings, paintings and even photographs of the buildings rarely do you see the men doing the work. The Seat of Empires magnificence must seem self generated, the idea of Freedom unfolding, no flesh and blood needed.

Did it have anything to do with the race of the workers? Were whites ashamed because first slaves and then freedmen did all the work? Perhaps, blacks always had a hand in the work, but almost always in a subservient position as laborers. Not a few men were trained in the building trades while working in Washington but virtually none were black.

In 1880 the health office compiled a curious statistic: the occupations of grooms, fathers and "decedents" of both races. In that compilation there were far more black laborers (1169 to 273), servants (306 to 27), dressmakers (22 to 7) and washer ironers (29 to 1). There were far more white carpenters (144 to 22), painters (63 to 9), masons (43 to 4), stone cutters (18 to 1) and even plasterers (32 to 8.)

The bias against portraying workers was borne of class, not race. The bourgeoisie who looked at art and photographs did not want to see workers.

Likewise in writing about Washington, as much as Dickens was lionized, there was an avoidance of street scenes, save for the perennial "greatest crowd" ever watching a ceremony. This was so much the better for senators and congressmen.

We can thank Hayes for a street scene. In his relatively spare diary Hayes traced the Gilded Age on the street. There was a long line outside the Treasury building, mostly black women and children. He noted the government was selling bonds in low denominations and he hoped some of those poor people were buying some but he learned that the children especially held space in the line for other people for ten or twenty cents.

Two famous novels about the city, Twain's and Warner's The Gilded Age (1873) and Henry Adams' Democracy (1879) specialized in social scenes indoors. The earlier novel caught the city in the flush of post-war corruption and was a burlesque on men and its heroine coming to the city to make money. Henry Adams had experienced the Johnson years, then taught at Harvard to avoid Grant and returned in 1877. He rented at house just off Lafayette Square from WW Corcoran. His novel was about the already rich moving to the city for the season, if not the whole session of congress, to become acquainted with power.

Twain lined up the Negro with Temperance and Observing the Sabbath as those Good things politicians, lobbyist and claimants best be mindful of. Adams had no use for blacks at all. Yet there is ample evidence that the progress of Sen. Bruce was noticed by Washington society. In the fall of 1878 he brought back the belle of Cleveland's African American society, Josephine Willson, an Oberlin graduate like the senator. Perhaps it was the connection with Ohio that brought Lucy Hayes to Mrs. Bruce's reception, but she went twice and other Republican women followed.



Lucy Hayes befriended Josephine Willson Bruce .

Lucy Hayes deserves much credit, but the Bruce's still named their first child after Roscoe Conkling. In March 1875, he alone greeted the black senator from Mississippi on his first day in the senate and escorted him to the well for his swearing in. (On that same day few rushed over to greet Senator Andrew Johnson from Tennessee. He was back! but died a few months later during recess.)

But as beautiful as Mrs. Senator Bruce was she did not turn heads like the niece of Treasury secretary John Sherman and commanding general of army William Sherman. Twenty year old Elizabeth Sherman roiled the men of Washington including Henry Adams who was married to a witty but somewhat dour New Englander. Sen. Donald Cameron, a widower, was the richest man on the make and many suspected with the help of her not unambitious uncles he landed Lizzie.

Elizabeth Sherman Cameron

Don Cameron had just "inherited" his father Simon's seat in the senate. The latter had recovered from his Civil War funk and had just been accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, a problem he had plenty of money to adjust.

It wasn't quite the Kate Chase story all over again, though both senators Sprague and Cameron had drinking problems. There was an aura of higher purpose around the Chases, even around Sprague who advocated women's suffrage. The Cameron father and son were just about money and power, without the style of Conkling, though even Henry Adams, tied in knots by his own virtue, bowed down to their ability to get things done.

Senator Don Cameron

That said, during the long recess of 1879, Kate Chase Sprague showed she did necessarily grace a higher plane than Lizzie Cameron. It was all over the newspapers: her senator husband had to run the tom-catting Sen. Conkling out of the Newport mansion where Kate sulked. By the way, Conkling was Temperate.

In Washington the Spragues still lived on 6th Street which too close to the business of 7th Street never became a true social scene. The Camerons lived on K Street near the Shermans in that fan of wealth spreading from Lafayette Park north to Shepherd's Row and Stewart's Castle. Washington always had its society but this arrangement was a unique concentration of wealth and power. And don't forget Vinnie Ream Hoxie's salon on soon to be Farragut Square, of course, nor Olive Risley Seward's literary club.

Yet one does not find much substance, no solid threads leading to the future of the nation and city there. As much as Henry Adams longed to educate her, Lizzie was a trophy wife. The real story at the Cameron house was the senator's poker parties, not the hostess's reception during the January to Lent social season.

Credit the narrow minded Hayes for seeing the warp and woof of the future. One night he had both Rep. Garfield and Rep. William McKinley over for  a sober family dinner. Both were from Ohio, war veterans, lawyers with a knack for numbers and handling appropriations and tariff schedules. Both were new politicians being groomed to replace the Conklings and Camerons of Washington.

Like all presidents Hayes got mindful of his legacy, a scandal free administration and Garfield and McKinley in the offing were not enough. Hayes won the battle against congressional patronage. He got Chester Arthur dismissed for attending Republican party meetings while holding the federal office of Port Collector. (The man usually came to work a noon!) Hayes also appointed a replacement not approved by Conkling or his tool, the other senator from New York.

But Hayes somewhat lost the war with congress. The city commissioners guided by the engineer among them came up with a plan to reclaim the flats of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. The health officer proved that Shepherd's sewers didn't make Washington's summers that much healthier. In his annual message Hayes asked for money to reclaim the flats not only to make the city as whole healthier but to provide more public land for embellishing the nation's capital. Congress shrugged. Hayes made the same request in his last annual message.

That left foreign affair for a capstone on a legacy. Hayes addressed the relative lack of American power on the world stage. Did General Sherman's stories after another dinner about the adventures of the British army in Afghanistan stir Hayes' Anglo-Saxon pride? (His White House diary has an embarrassing lot about his family genealogy.) Anyway, with both France and Britain talking about a canal through  Panama, Hayes reiterated the American demand that it control any canal there. He sent naval ships to mark US claims on the Chiriqui side of the isthmus.

Hayes didn't station troops in Panama not that his being shy about using them in the South contributed to that timidity. He used troops to bust strikes of railroad workers in the North. The constant "skirmishes" with Indians in the west to check "uprisings" and "occurences" continued. Genocidal wars were soft pedaled so as not to deter Western migration even more dear to Republicans now that the Democrats controlled the South. Despite posterity investing much moral capital in the them, Americans from Hayes on down had no doubts that the Vanishing Race was indeed vanishing -- didn't even need the historian Bancroft (who also haunted the Johnson White House) to tell him that.

Indian chiefs still came to Washington for presents and moral guidance. The latter prompted most chiefs to demand to be housed by the Beveridge family, first in their Washington House on 3rd and Pennsylvania NW and then when mother Amanda died son Benjamin turned their house up 3rd St. into a boarding house for Indians. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was leery of Benjamin because he tried to get Bureau to reimburse some chiefs' payments to prostitutes. Perhaps the Beveridges lived too close to congress.

Indians in front of the Beveridge boarding house

Hayes correctly assumed that he couldn't have any part in picking his successor. James G. Blaine, the so-called "Plumed Knight" now a senator, recovered from the post-Panic dip in his fortunes and moved into a magnificent house expanding the fan of wealth and power to 20th and Massachusetts Avenue

Where the "Plumed Knight" rested and entertained on Massachusetts Avenue

Conkling was in no shape to run himself so his Republican pro-patronage "Stalwarts" went to the convention planning to get Grant nominated for a third term. Scandals or not, especially as on his World Tour he met the crowned heads of Europe in his forthright American way and both Europeans and Americans were charmed.

By its original design Washington had spaces to honor heroes. But the tradition took hold that the money for monuments and statues had to come from the people, the Washington monument for example. Just so veterans of the Army of the Cumberland raised money for a statue of Gen. George Thomas. Beginning with General Meigs and continuing with General Babcock, army engineers working in the city, were mindful of the needs of monumental statues and tailored sites to receive them. Not sullied by congressional bickering the process seemed almost religious, though congress appropriate $20,000 for the pedestal. On November 19, 1879, the city had a holiday, a long military parade from the Capitol passed the White House and to what would become Thomas Circle, 14th and Massachusetts NW. There 50,000 spectator paid tribute. President Hayes represented the nation. General Garfield led the veterans. Occasions like this, reported across the nation, did not hurt the Republican Party.

Dedication of the statue of General Thomas

In 1880, the Democrats nominated the Hero of Gettysburg, Winfield Scott Hancock, for president. What else could they do?.

To make a long story short, people in Washington saw an eagle land on the 13th Street house of James A. Garfield just as he won the Republican nomination in Chicago after several days of balloting. Would the city soar under a man who had chaired the District Committee and then an Appropriations Committee generous to the city? Hayes was so charmed by that omen that he forgot his anger at Garfield making Chester Arthur his running mate.

None of the scandals of Washington touched Hancock who never served in the city. The Democrats attacked Garfield as the corrupt Washington candidate and not just his brush with the Credit Mobilier scandal (he gave the railroad stock back when first alerted to the impropriety.)

He was also associated with "The District of Columbia Ring [which] in the zenith of its power was the most perfectly organized the strongest entrenched corrupt combination this country ever saw It not only included all the corrupt men in Congress but all the principal representatives of the great rings in the country were either directly interested or were anxious to secure the assistance and friendship of its leaders It was primarily the conception of a few unscrupulous plotters in 1870...."

Yes, Garfield did indeed pop up in investigations of the Boss. At the end of the session in 1873, a Ohio lawyer friend approach Rep. Garfield to ask a favor. He had to go out of town but had promised a client to certify to the Board of Public Works that a wood paving process as effective. Garfield took the lawyer's paperwork and tidied it up into a report. Shepherd accepted the report with the understanding that Garfield was asking for help for some "Western interests." Garfield's friend passed along the $500 fee from the client to the congressman. (By the way, a rather small fee for a congressmen. Most were used to doing legal work for the railroads.)

By I880 the country had become a electoral wonder save for the South where the black vote had been severely repressed. All other states were battlegrounds split 50-50 by passionate party loyalties, except where obsessions with the currency spawned the Greenback Party and the like. Garfield only won by a few thousand votes but he won the Electoral College count handily.

Garfield resigned his House seat on November 8 and stayed in Ohio while preparing for his Inauguration. So he missed a winter so cold in Washington that Hayes had great fun riding around in a horse drawn sleigh. Snow had been on the ground since December 20 and the river had thick ice when the thaw began in February. The spring flooding on the Potomac was a familiar inconvenience, hardest on Georgetown. On February 12, 1881, it wasn't so much the volume of water as the damming of water by an ice gorge that knocked down part of the Long Bridge. Water swept over the wharves and over the covered canal up almost to the White House, over the Smithsonian grounds and almost to Pennsylvania Avenue to the foot of Capitol Hill, well over 250 acres flooded. Poor and ignorant as they appeared to be, the denizens of the Island only shantied the high ground and survived.

Nature did for the flats what the gumption of Shepherd did for the rest of city, got congress to take notice. On March 3 money to raise the flats and tame the waterfront was in the Rivers and Harbors Act.

No president had spent as much time in Washington prior to taking office as Garfield, 1863 to 1880 and no slice of the city's history was more eventful. But like his predecessors he did not mention the city in his Inaugural address. In a sense he did better, he raised the issue of voting rights in the South and although he spoke in the high tones of a presidential address, he shared an insight he must have gained by observing the black residents of Washington:


"The emancipated race has already made remarkable progress. With unquestioning devotion to the Union, with a patience and gentleness not born of fear, they have "followed the light as God gave them to see the light." They are rapidly laying the material foundations of self-support, widening their circle of intelligence, and beginning to enjoy the blessings that gather around the homes of the industrious poor. They deserve the generous encouragement of all good men. So far as my authority can lawfully extend they shall enjoy the full and equal protection of the Constitution and the laws."


The Smithsonian quickly recovered from the flood and the first exhibit, so to speak, in the new United States National Museum was Garfield's Inaugural ball. The future stole the show, for there she stood, the Statue of America holding an electric lamp on high. 

The Statue of America, sculptor remains nameless

Prone to translating Latin verse, Garfield was perhaps the most studious president, and so probably got a charge out of the electrified lady.

Vice President Arthur was there too, probably the least qualified vice president in history, having never run for elective office before 1880. At least he was rich, Collector of the Port of New York until Hayes sacked him, and a lawyer alert to any corporation's bidding. Conkling would tell him how to preside over the Senate. Doing Conkling's bidding over the years, he was not unfamiliar with the Capitol, Treasury and hotels in between. His late wife's kin were in Virginia. During the war, when he was sent down by Governor Seymour on New York State militia business, he'd get a pass and cross the Potomac and go over to Culpepper Court House to check up on them.