Washington DC - White House Restoration
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
CONGRESS authorized the restoration of the White House in 1815, and Hoban, its architect, had it ready for occupancy in the early part of James Monroe's administration. When it was re-opened in 1818 it was more beautiful than before the British conflagration, and the fifth President, in a short time, made it quite a splendid court. Washington society at that period was exceedingly brilliant with lavish displays of wealth. The South sent its beauty and its culture to adorn the capital, and the great sugar and cotton planters, who had obtained opulence in a few years, used their means freely, during their residence in Washington, in entertaining and living in a gay and costly manner. The State of Virginia was proud of the fact that four of the five Presidents were from her people, and claimed the rare distinction of being " the mother of Presidents." Her lovely women and distinguished men thronged the city, and invested its society with a refined and courtly tone. The Northern element was also large, and some of the most intellectual people of the prominent cities were among the leaders of the social life.
President Monroe was a stately Virginian, nearly six feet in height. He was polished in manner, and was always carefully dressed in a dark blue coat, buff vest, small-clothes, and top-boots. He wore a cocked hat of Revolutionary style, and he has been called " the last of the cocked hats," for he was the last of the Presidents to adhere to the fashions of the past century. His face was mild and grave, and, although he was very courteous, he was never familiar in his inter-course with men, and was given to a liking for the strict observance of official ceremony. He had been in public life from youth, and was highly esteemed for his true, gentle nature, and it has been recorded of him that he was " one of the purest public servants that ever lived."
His wife, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, was a highly accomplished lady of New York. She had a beautiful face, a tall, graceful per-son, and elegant manners. She was familiar with fashionable life abroad, and introduced into the White House many English forms of etiquette. Her receptions were numerous, and were attended by the highest and most exclusive classes of the city. She held them in the East Room, which was also used for the state dinners, and full dress was always required. The fetes were given in a style of unusual splendor, and the most ceremonious usages were prescribed. Mrs. Monroe inaugurated the custom of the President's wife returning no calls, which custom has been very generally followed to the present time. She had several children, and her oldest daughter, Maria Monroe, was married in the White House in 1820, to Samuel L. Gouverneur, of New York. Monroe's administration was marked by harmony, his domestic life was happy, and he retired from office in 1825 with the respect of his countrymen.
When John Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts, became President the sum of $14,000 was appropriated by Congress to refurnish the White House, and the East Room in particular was fitted up in a superb manner. President Adams was a perfect host. His long and varied experience of men and affairs, at home and abroad, enabled him to preside at the state dinners and to conduct the official ceremonies with infinite grace. To people outside of the highest circles he was apt to be cold and forbidding, and his repellant manner often created hard feeling. No more precise and methodical man ever occupied the White House. His life was regulated by the clock. He rose at four in summer and at six in winter. After a cold bath he would take a long walk, generally to the Capitol and around the Capitol park and back, a distance of nearly four miles. Then he would read precisely two chapters in the Bible, and then look at the newspapers until breakfast, at nine. He went into the executive office at ten, and remained there absorbed in work until four; then would come another walk, and then dinner, at six. In the evening he attended to public business, unless social duties intervened. He was an untiring worker, and was ever acquiring information from all sources, which he carefully stored away for future use. In person he was short and inclined to corpulency ; his eyes were bright and expressive ; he always had good health, and his face was full of whole-some color. At times, with those he dearly loved, he would display a surprising playfulness, laughing merrily, uttering odd jokes, and even singing snatches of old songs learned in his youth; but these sunny moments were too infrequent. His manner of living was marked by a certain degree of elegance, but it was not ostentatious. In 1826 his son, John Quincy Adams, Jr., was married in the White House to his cousin, Miss Johnson.
It has been declared that the fashionable circle Mrs. Louisa Katharine Adams drew around her was far superior in elegance, refinement, beauty, and worth " to that which has appeared at any period since." She greatly aided her husband, by her fine manners, kindliness, and varied accomplishments, in meeting the requirements of his position, and often displayed consummate tact in her efforts to make his administration popular.
A great crowd attended the inauguration of Gen. Andrew Jack-son, of Tennessee, on the 4th of March, 1829, and the gallant soldier was lustily cheered as he rode up Pennsylvania Avenue on a spirited horse after the inaugural ceremony. The people followed the President into the White House, filling the state parlors to overflowing. In the East Room a banquet had been spread, and the tables were laden with choice viands, but no one appearing to serve the guests, there were many clamors of impatience, and, finally, the crowd, without ceremony, surrounded the tables and began a tumultuous attack on the food. In the struggle ice cream was scattered over the costly carpet, glass and china dishes were broken, coffee was spilled on the satin furniture, and a great deal of damage was done. The President at one time was violently pressed against the wall by the surging mob striving to reach the tables, and was only saved from injury by some officials who linked their arms, and in this way formed a living barrier around him. Surely it was a strange scene to witness in the White House.
After this occurrence the practice of serving refreshments at public receptions, introduced in Monroe's administration, was speedily discontinued. Although Jackson was profuse in his hospitality, and quite willing the public should enjoy good food in the White House, yet the throngs at his receptions were so great, and generally so unmannerly, that he was compelled, after providing refreshments several times and seeing his guests " rush at and strip the salvers in the corridor long before they reached the banquet-room," to cease the practice, and it never has been resumed.
Jackson opened the doors of the White House to everybody, and visitors of all sorts poured in and roamed through the rooms at will. The hearty old soldier disliked ceremony even more than Jefferson, and saw no reason why the presidential abode should be hedged about with formal etiquette. He was a man of the people, and it has been said that " all his vices were of the popular sort." He went about the house and grounds smoking a corn-cob pipe, and, as may be supposed, others availed themselves of the privilege of smoking, even in the state parlors. He called his friends by their christian names, and they invariably addressed him as " General" ; he slapped people on the back familiarly, joked about his position, and would say, " By the Eternal," whenever he desired to emphasize a sentence. His hospitality was so bountiful that the proceeds of his " Hermitage " farm in Tennessee had to be constantly used to pay the expenses of his entertainments. At his dinners there was no special ceremony, and guests were simply expected to be social and merry, and have a good time. After dinner they did not immediately depart, as had been customary in Adams' time, but remained to dance or otherwise enjoy themselves.
Many of his dinners to intimate friends were notable for fun and frolic at the table. On one occasion Webster and Van Buren were present, and the latter proposed that Webster should favor the company with a song. To this he agreed, if the President would sing one first. Nothing loath, Jackson immediately began, in quaint, discordant notes, his favorite song of " Auld Lang Syne," singing for a few minutes without interruption ; but the strange discord was too much for the company, and he was forced to stop by reason of the uproarious laughter that went round the board, and in which he heartily joined. Webster and Van Buren then attempted to sing, but their efforts produced so much merriment that they ceased, and grace-fully acknowledged that Jackson was the better vocalist.
Jackson was more than six feet in height, but was very slim, not weighing over one hundred and forty pounds during the time he was President. He had strongly marked features, bushy, iron-gray hair, brushed high above his forehead, and dark blue eyes, which would snap and sparkle with peculiar lustre whenever he was excited. He was usually plainly and rather negligently dressed, and when out of doors carried a stout cane, with which he would strike the ground incessantly when engaged in earnest conversation. He went about unattended, and liked to talk freely with every one he met. When saluted by the highest or the humblest a winning smile would light up his strong face, and he would say in cordial tones, How do you do, sir ; glad to see you." He was fond of children, and would stop them on the street and chat familiarly, patting their heads and taking great delight in their innocent prattle. One day a friend met him entering the White House grounds carrying a little girl on one arm and a dog on the other. In explanation he said that the child was crying because her dog was cold, and he was taking them into the house to the fire.
His wife, Rachel Donelson Jackson, with whom he had lived happily for nearly forty years, died shortly before he became President, and was laid to rest in the dress she had made to wear at his inauguration. It is related that " he wore her miniature next his heart day and night until his death." Her place in the White House was filled by Mrs. Emily Donelson, the general's niece, who was assisted by the wife of his adopted son, Mrs. Andrew Jackson, Jr. They were charming women, and performed their duties in a manner winning universal praise.
When Jackson held his farewell reception, Feb. 22, 1837, he presented his visitors with a parting gift. Friends and admirers in New York had sent him a monster cheese, larger than a hogshead in circumference, and nearly a yard thick. This cheese was cut by two men with huge knives manufactured from saw-blades, and distributed in an ante-room, each person receiving a piece weighing about three pounds. Everybody was very merry over the cheese, and most of the visitors carried home this remarkable presidential souvenir.
Martin Van Buren, of New York, who succeeded Jackson as President, had almost lived in the White House before he went there in 1837 as master for four years. He had been Jackson's Secretary of State, and was always believed to be " the power behind the throne." e had been constantly at Jackson's elbow, and as a reward for his valuable services, the gallant commander had worked hard to make him his successor. Van Buren was a little, dapper gentleman, elegant and refined, the pink of fashion and politeness, but withal remarkably shrewd as a politician, and full of tact and practical business capacity in dealing with public affairs. It was customary to call him the American Talleyrand, and his cleverness in political management was much discussed in those days. He was a widower, having lost his wife nearly twenty years before he became President, and his household affairs were directed by his son's wife, Angelica Single-ton Van Buren, a sweet young Southern beauty, whose grace and amiability won the hearts of all who met her in the White House. Her social duties were performed in such a pleasant manner that she gained extensive popularity. No more gracious woman ever has been at the head of a President's household.
Gen. William Henry Harrison, of Ohio, " the hero of Tippecanoe," was only one month in office. He became President in 1841, with John Tyler as Vice-President. " Old Tip," as he was affectionately called, it is believed, " was worried to death " by importunate office-seekers, not having the faculty of repressing them possessed by some of the latter-day Presidents. e died on the 4th of April, and his funeral was the first to occur in the White House.
He was tall and graceful, and had keen black eyes and a face beaming with good nature. Like Jackson, he was thoroughly conscious that the White House was the property of the Nation, and one day when a servant showed a plain, humble caller into a room without a fire, he took him to task for it. " Why did you not show the man into the other room, where it is warm and comfortable? " he asked. The servant thought the man might soil the carpet with his muddy boots. " Never mind the carpet another time," said Harrison ; " the man is one of the people, and the carpet, and the house, too, belong to the people."
John Tyler, who succeeded Harrison, was a Virginian—an intellectual, high-bred gentleman, tall and slender, with a light complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and prominent features. He was very courteous to all classes, but particularly favored men of learning and polite letters, and the Executive Mansion was much frequented by this class during his administration. He appointed Ed-ward Everett Minister to England, Washington Irving to Spain, Caleb Cushing to China, and made John Howard Payne consul to Tunis. His tastes were polished, and he had the urbanity of refined culture and association. His first wife, Letitia Christian Tyler, appeared at but one reception, and that was on the occasion of the marriage of her daughter. She died in Washington in 1842, and Tyler lived in retirement for some time. Eight months before the expiration of his official term he married Miss Julia Gardiner, of New York, and the wedding reception was held in the White House. Mrs. Julia Tyler was the first woman who ever entered the house as a President's bride. Her receptions were notable for elegance and refinement, and her short career as the "first lady of the land" was a very brilliant one.
James K. Polk, of Tennessee, the eleventh President, was inaugurated in 1845. He was rather below the medium height, and excessively thin. He had a large, angular brow, and sharp gray eyes. His face was grave and sad, and his hair was nearly white. In regard to his thinness a writer of that date said, If his clothes were made to fit he would be but the merest tangible fraction of a President. He has them, therefore, especially his coat, made two or three sizes too large in order to hide his spareness." His wife, Sarah Childress Polk, was an agreeable hostess. Her dress was al-ways magnificent, and her presence commanding. A gentleman said to her one day, " Madam, there is a woe pronounced against you in the Bible ; for it is written there, ' Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.'"
In 1849 Gen. Zachary Taylor, of Louisiana, was inaugurated, but he remained in office only sixteen months and five days. He died July 9, 1850, of cholera morbus, after a few days' illness. He was a portly gentleman, with a pleasant face and a well developed head crowned with pure white hair. He had mild, beautiful eyes, and a soft, pleasing voice. His manner was kind, and whenever he appeared in public and was greeted by applause he would wave his hand and say, " Your humble servant, ladies ; Heaven bless you, gentlemen." His wife, Margaret Taylor, took scarcely any part in the round of ceremonies pertaining to official life, but left everything to the direction of her daughter, Betty Taylor Bliss, a bright, dainty little lady, who won golden opinions for her performance of the role of hostess, and the White House was a very attractive place during her reign.
The Vice-President, Millard Fillmore, became President after the death of General Taylor, taking the oath of office on the 10th of July, 1850. Fillmore was an eminent lawyer of Buffalo, and had worked his way to prominence from poverty and obscurity. He was tall and finely proportioned, and was considered a very handsome man. He was agreeable in manner, and made friends readily by his charming simplicity and frankness, and his manifest desire to do what was right. During his administration he gave many grand entertainments, and in the congressional season always had weekly morning and evening receptions. His wife, Abigail Powers Fillmore, had a fine erect figure, a delicate, intellectual face, and silky auburn hair hanging in ringlets about her head. She was an exemplary wife and mother, and had been a strong support to her husband when he was a young lawyer, to fortune and to fame unknown." She was rather shy of society, much preferring the companionship of a few friends and the solace of her books to the ceremonious social practices of the White House. At President Fillmore's request Congress appropriated considerable money to furnish the oval sitting-room in the second story of the mansion as a library, and Mrs. Fill-more selected the books to fill the cases. She was a reader and a student, and in the library spent many happy hours.
Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire, became President in 1853. He came to Washington in very simple style, and when his baggage was carried into the White House it was found to consist of " a couple of old hair trunks, which might have been the property of a veteran of 1812, and two portmanteaus scarcely less venerable in appearance." At his first reception a great throng of office-seekers appeared and pressed their claims on him. " One ambitious fellow stepped up with the prefatory remark : ' I'm an applicant for office.'
Glad to see you, sir,' was the reply ; ' good morning,' and off glided the President. One applicant managed to thrust his memorial into the President's hands, but it was dropped like a hot coal."
Pierce was nearly six feet in height, and a man of fine presence. There was a keen, bright expression to his face, and his eyes were dark and penetrating. He delighted in horseback riding, and nearly every day rode long distances in the country unattended. Mrs. Jane Appleton Pierce was an invalid, but she faithfully endeavored to per-form her social duties as the lady of the White House. She was a highly cultivated woman, and was ardently beloved by her husband.
The fifteenth President was James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania, a large, muscular man, six feet in height, with light complexion, hair and eyes, and a serious face. He was a bachelor, and the first one to occupy the Executive chair. During his administration, which began in 1857 and continued to the commencement of the Civil War, the social life of the White House was very brilliant under the inspiration of his niece, Miss Harriet Lane. The city was exceedingly gay, although the black and angry clouds of war were gathering in the political sky. As one has said, " people danced on the edge of a volcano, with the crust heaving under their feet." Miss Lane made the White House more nearly like a Republican court than it had been since the ancient regime—the days of powdered wigs, embroidered satins, and aristocratic foppery." The President was very ceremonious, and largely retained the form and color of his life among the English nobility while Minister to England. He exacted strict, formal etiquette, and was displeased at familiarity. Miss Lane was a beautiful woman, and finely educated and accomplished. She has been described as " tall and commanding, with a perfectly molded shape, with a faultless head, finely poised and crowned with a mass of golden-brown hair, with large dark blue eyes, handsome features, the mouth particularly lovely, and a skin of milk and roses." Her taste in dress was exquisite, and in all social observances she was perfectly schooled.
Buchanan's last reception was given on the 12th of February, 1861, and was attended by a large number of people. The President received his guests in a very amiable manner, and Miss Lane, elegantly arrayed in pure white satin, charmed everybody by her graciousness. The state parlors were decked with fragrant flowers, the ladies present made a lavish display of magnificent toilets, bright uniforms of the army and navy were to be seen, the band played patriotic airs, and apparently every one was joyous.
In a short time after this night of pleasure the lurid flames of civil war burst forth, and Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, the sixteenth President of the United States, was compelled to enter Washington secretly, like a thief in the night, to assume his place as the head of the Nation.
At the first evening reception held by President Lincoln there was a notable gathering. It took place on March 8, 1861, and long be-fore the doors of the White House were opened, the grounds were filled with ladies and gentlemen patiently waiting for the hour of the reception to arrive. From eight until eleven o'clock the state apartments were crowded to overflowing with a brilliant assemblage, comprising all the prominent officials of the new administration, the diplomatic corps, the leading officers of the as my and navy, the elite of Washington society, and hundreds of people who had come from distant states expressly for this occasion. The tall, grave President, towering above the majority of his guests, was incessantly engaged in shaking hands and acknowledging the congratulations and promises of support, and his countenance would brighten now and then with pleasure as he greeted old friends and heard their fervent God bless you, Mr. President." Mrs. Lincoln stood at the side of her husband, a proud and happy woman, cheerful, smiling, and attractive to all who sought her acquaintance.
No man was ever more courteous, sympathetic, and considerate in high office than President Lincoln, and the humblest persons could approach him with the feeling that he would sympathize with their troubles, and relieve them if it was possible. The years of war caused him to have an anxious face, save when he was telling a story or en-gaged in a frolic " to get the kinks out," as he used to say. He liked all innocent pleasures, and was occasionally very jolly when he had dropped his cares for an hour or two and was enjoying himself with his family and friends. He was never known to speak harshly of any one, not even of those who were supposed to give him much annoyance, and when it was absolutely necessary for him to give a reprimand he would do so in a sort of serio-comic way, bat effectively. As everybody knows, he was very fond of a good story, and possessed an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and apt illustrations, which he was in the habit of using on many occasions to make his meaning plain to those who were rather dull of comprehension, or when he was in a sportive mood among friends. A little story from him would sometimes have a volume of significance. He was a diligent worker, spending many hours of the day at his desk, and often-times half the night. Frequently he would sit in profound thought, completely abstracted from outward things, or he would rise from his chair and slowly pace the floor while meditating, his lips moving, and his long, bony hands pointing here and there as his thoughts prompted. No one was permitted to disturb him, and back and forth he would walk, back and forth, until suddenly he would seem to wake from his abstraction, his sombre, rugged face would become almost beautiful by a tender smile, and he would turn to the person nearest to him and begin to relate a humorous anecdote.
An old resident of Washington who was an intimate friend of Lincoln, in speaking of the proclamation of emancipation, has said :
"It is hard to believe now that very nearly half of the Republicans were opposed to the issue of that proclamation, and that half em-braced the most active politicians. A strong effort was made to in-duce the President to withdraw the proclamation. It was issued in the summer of 1862, and was to take effect on the 1st of January, 1863, provided the rebels did not in the mean time lay down their arms. I never felt more anxious during the war than at that time, for fear that Lincoln would be induced to recall the proclamation. About Christmas time, 1862, a week or so before the proclamation was to take effect, if not recalled, I called on the President's private secretary in his room adjoining the President's room. We were sitting conversing before the fire, when Lincoln's door opened, he walked into the room and took a seat before the fire at my right hand. He slapped me on the shoulder and said, ' Well, my friend, the import-ant day draws near.' ' Yes,' I replied, ' and I hope there will be no backing out or backing down.' ' Well,' he said, ' I don't know about that. Peter thought he would not deny his master, but he did.' I replied, ' I think you will do better than Peter did.' And he did."
Lincoln took great delight in theatricals, and said they rested and refreshed him more than anything else. Whenever he could leave his harassing business he would visit the theatre for an hour or two of recreation. He occasionally went behind the scenes and watched the actors at their work, and would seem to greatly enjoy all he saw in that curious mimic world. He had a box at Ford's old theatre, and on many evenings sat in it alone, hidden by the curtains, the audience having no suspicion that he was present. On one evening " Tad " Lincoln, the President's jolly little boy, whom everybody loved, accompanied his father to the theatre and went in among the actors. One of them dressed him in a ragged suit and sent him on the stage in a certain scene. The President, who was in his box, looked at the boy in astonishment for a few moments, and then threw up his hands, leaned back in his chair, and burst into a roar of laughter which was heard all over the theatre, thus revealing his presence to the audience. Instantly there was a round of applause, and he was compelled to acknowledge it. Tad ran off the stage when the applause began, changed his dress and went to his father's box, and the President put his arms around him and lovingly kissed him over and over again.
The mighty concerns of the war interfered with the social life of the White House, but there were some magnificent fetes, and the occasional public receptions were very agreeable. There was always a proper amount of etiquette, but none of the " court ceremony " introduced by the former President. At all the entertainments Lincoln endeavored to make everything pleasant for his guests, and was quite successful as a host, his manner having a quaint simplicity which was very charming. He was six feet four inches in height, and his strong, sinewy body was capable of great endurance. His arms and legs were very long, and he was awkward in his movements. His face was thin and sallow, his forehead high and well developed, and his hair black and abundant. Usually his dark gray eyes had a sad ex pression, but now and then they would sparkle with roguish fun.
A sagacious critic of Lincoln's administration has said that " during all the perilous years of civil war he managed the Ship of State with remarkable skill, prudence, and wisdom." Second only to Washington in the hearts of his countrymen, his great name will flow on with broadening time forever."
Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln shared the anxieties of the war with her husband, rejoiced in every success, and was a loving companion to the great-hearted President. She was a frequent visitor to the hospitals in which scores of wounded soldiers were lying in pain and distress, and gladdened their lonely hours by her presence and ten-der solicitude for their comfort. The conservatory of the White House was stripped of its flowers, that the " poor sick boys " might have them by their bedsides, and delicacies of all sorts were taken from the White House kitchen to many a hospital, to tempt the appetites of the soldiers. Day by day the President's carriage, filled with flowers, fruits, and baskets of delicacies, conveyed the sympathetic, devoted woman to the scenes of suffering. She affectionately bathed the brows of the hapless ones stricken clown in battle, con-soled them as best she could, wrote letters to parents and friends in far-off states, and was indeed a blessed ministering angel at many a sorrowful couch. For this, if for nothing more, she should be held in loving remembrance : gentle, compassionate one, whose own bit-ter sorrows made her after years dark and comfortless.
Vice-President Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee, became President at the death of Lincoln, and was sworn into office by Chief Justice Chase on Saturday morning, April 15, 1865, at the Kirkwood House, in Washington. After a proper period of mourning President John-son opened the White House to society, and made constant efforts to dispel the gloom arising from Lincoln's death, believing that " the new glad days of peace" should be joyously celebrated. During the greater part of his administration he entertained liberally, and introduced the pleasing feature of children's parties. The White House was often filled with little ones enjoying " a real party," with pretty flowers, fine music, and refreshments, and with the President to do them honor. Their young, gleeful voices rang through the ancient halls, and their blithesome games and frolics greatly de-lighted the elders.
As the President's wife, Mrs. Eliza McCardle Johnson, was an invalid, the management of the house was given over to her daughters, Mrs. Patterson and Mrs. Stover, who successfully carried out the customary social practices. President Johnson was above the medium height, and rather stout. He had brown hair, and light, expressive eyes, and a face denoting decision of character.
The White House was completely refurnished when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, of Illinois, became President in 1869, and for eight years it was the scene of unceasing festivity. President Grant and family sought in all ways to make the house attractive to the gay society of the city of palaces," and the dinners and fetes were upon a splendid scale. Mrs. Julia Dent Grant proved an admirable hostess, easily winning the esteem of all who enjoyed her hospitality.
In 1877 Rutherford B. Hayes, of Ohio, began his term as President. At his first reception there was a very large assemblage. Mrs. Lucy Webb Hayes " received " in a plain black silk dress, and it was said that Mrs. Madison in her time, in her pink satin and feathers, commanded hardly more admiration." On the 31st of December, 1877, President Hayes and wife celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of their marriage—the first silver wedding " ever held in the White House.
James A. Garfield, of Ohio, assumed the Presidency in 1881. His family circle included his venerable mother, Mrs. Eliza Gar-field, who was the first mother of a President to have a residence in the White House. The sudden closing of Garfield's promising career, is firmly impressed on the memory of the American people.
Chester A. Arthur, of New York, Vice-President, succeeded to the Presidency on Sept. 19, 1881, and served to the end of the presidential term, 1885.
Grover Cleveland, of New York, became President on the 4th of March, 1885. The marriage of President Cleveland and Miss Frances Folsom took place in the White House on the evening of June 2, 1886. It was the first marriage of a President in the history of this famous residence.
The list of occupants of the White House ends at the present time with President Benjamin Harrison, of Indiana, who with his wife and some of their children and grandchildren, comprise an interesting family group.