( Originally Published 1908 )
STORIES of the varying conditions under which the Presidents left the White House, after a residence there of four or eight years, or for shorter or longer terms, are interesting in the extreme. Each President's manner of farewell to his official home in Washington depended upon his temperament or upon his success in office. Washington and John Adams and Jefferson all said farewell with gladness in their hearts, for each of these was well along in years at the time, and each was glad to lay down the formalities of public life. John Quincy Adams, like his father before him, did not wait to witness the inauguration of his successor. President Johnson, weary of the attacks of his enemies, said good-bye to the White House with a sigh of relief.
Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Garfield and Mrs. McKinley all left the White House in deep mourning and profound sorrow, of course. But nearly all the other ladies of the Executive Mansion left with a feeling of genuine regret, for a careful reading of the records shows that nearly all the "First Ladies" enjoyed to the full their life in the historic home of the Presidents.
Jefferson Said Farewell With Tears of Joy
Thomas Jefferson, after two terms in the White House, said, with tears in his eyes, that he was glad, beyond expression, to return "to the clover fields of his farm at Monticello." A few days before his retirement, he wrote a letter to one of his friends, Dupont de Nemours, in which he said :
"Within a few days I retire to my family, my books and farms ; and having gained the harbor myself, I shall look on my friends still buffeting the storm with anxiety indeed, but not with envy. Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall, on shaking off the shackles of power. Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight. But the enormities of the times in which I have lived, have forced me to take part in resisting them, and to commit myself on the boisterous ocean of political passions. I thank God for the opportunity of retiring from them without censure, and carrying with me the most consoling proofs of public approbation."
Jackson's Return to His Beloved "Hermitage"
President Andrew Jackson left the White House without regret. Not that he was tired of serving his country, but that age was creeping upon him and the mental and physical strain of public life was beginning to tell upon his general health. His granddaughter, Mrs. Rachel Lawrence, who, at an advanced age, is or was until very recently, still living near her grandfather's old home in Tennessee, describes in a most interesting way, her recollections of the return journey of General Jackson and his family, from Washington to the "Hermitage," after the inauguration of Van Buren.
My grandfather," she says, as recorded in an interview in a Munsey publication, "and my mother occupied the back seat of the old family coach, and my father and. Dr. Gwynn, the physician, were on the front seat. My brother Andrew and I were in the chartered stagecoach with our nurses, entrusted to the charge of Colonel Earl and Major W. B. Lewis. The coach was overturned on the way, which caused great excitement, but no injuries.
"All along the route we were given ovations. At one place a wreath of laurel was placed upon. General Jackson's head. This wreath was stowed away in the top of the carriage and remained there until some few years ago.
"The General gave away to his namesakes one hundred and fifty half-dollars in silver, same to the mothers who presented their children; `This is our country's eagle. It will do now for the little one to cut his teeth on, but teach him to love and defend it'.
"We traveled about thirty-five miles a day, and were almost a month in reaching the "Hermitage."
"Then came delightful rides about the plantation on Sam Patch, the big gray war horse. Seated on a pillow before grandpa, Sam Patch carried us the rounds every morning immediately after breakfast; first to the negro quarters and Dun Woody's cabin for a talk about the colts, and then on to the cotton-fields, where the negroes were at work. Frequently, as we passed, they would throw up their hats and cheer for `Ole Marster'.
"Oh, those days with my grandfather ! They are set in my memory like beautiful gems ! His affection for me was returned with an ardent devotion. My love for him deepened and strengthened with my years. Child though I was, no other companionship was so delightful to me. To ride or walk with him was my great joy; but when he was employed in reading or writing I would remain contentedly near him. When the end came, my grief at his loss was inconsolable.
"It was grandpa's daily custom to visit, just before night-fall, the tomb wherein his wife rested. He would come out on the piazza standing for a moment looking out on the driveway of evergreens leading to the door,and would then slowly walk through the flowered paths of the garden to the tomb, where he stood with bowed, uncovered head in silence. As his health failed, my mother accompanied him upon this evening pilgrimage, he leaning heavily upon her for support.
"I was starting for school on the Monday preceding his death," continues Mrs. Lawrence, (referring to the time when she was thirteen years of age), "and had gone into grandpa's room to bid him good-bye. He stroked my hair and kissed me affectionately as usual, then tremblingly removed the ivory miniature of his wife from his breast, where he had worn it since her death. Placing it tenderly within my hand, he clasped them both within his own, and said : `Keep this, my baby, for her sake, whose name you bear, and for mine'. To this hour this miniature is my most cherished possession'."
Van Buren Leaves Democratically on Foot
President Van Buren left the White House on foot, becoming thus of a sudden once more an ordinary citizen, the transition taking place with as much apparent indifference on the part of Mr. Van Buren as was his coming to the White House.
An Albany (New York) newspaper of that time relates that "on Monday, March 1st, a large number of the Democracy called upon Mr. Van Buren, and were received by him in the celebrated East Room, where he bid them farewell. He walked down the avenue today (March 4th), as unconcerned as the most humble spectator in the crowd."
President Tyler Exchanges White House for Hotel
President Tyler, before leaving the White House, engaged quarters at a Washington Hotel, Fuller's, and, after welcoming his successor, President Polk, drove to his temporary home with Mrs. Tyler. About that time Mrs. Tyler, the President's young second wife, wrote to her mother, saying:
"The last word has been spoken the last link is broken that bound me to Washington, and I should like you to have witnessed the emotions and heard the warm expressions that marked our departure. Let me see where shall I begin? I will go back to Saturday, though I shall have to be very brief in all I say. Saturday then, the President approved the Texas treaty, and I have now suspended from my neck the immortal golden pen, given expressly for the occasion. The same day we had a brilliant dinner party for Mr. and Mrs. Polk. I wore my black blonde over white satin, and in the evening received a large number of persons.
"On Sunday, the President held a Cabinet council from compulsion ; on Monday a Texas messenger was despatched ; on Sunday evening Mrs. Semple arrived; on Monday, in the morning, we concluded our packing, Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Mason came up to my bedroom, and sat a little, while I made my toilette offering their. services in any way. At five in the afternoon, a crowd of friends, ladies and gentlemen, assembled in the Blue Room, to shake hands with us and escort us from the White House. As the President and myself entered they divided into two lines, and when we had passed to the head of the room, surrounded and saluted us. Gen. Van Ness requested them to stand back, and himself stept forward, and delivered `on behalf, and at the request of many ladies and gentlemen citizens of Washington, a farewell address'.
"I saw, before he concluded, a response of some kind would be almost necessary from the President, and I felt a good deal concerned, for I knew he had prepared none, and had not expected to make any; but I might have spared myself all and every fear, for as soon as the General finished, he raised his hand, his form expanded, and such a burst of beautiful and poetic eloquence as proceeded from him could only be called inspiration. His voice was more musical than ever; it rose and fell, and trembled, and rose again. The effect was irresistible, and the deep admiration and respect it elicited was told truly in the sobs and exclamations of all around. As they shook us by the hand when we entered our carriage, they could not utter farewell.
"The Empire Club, in costume, was present, and cheered again and again. They followed in the procession which was formed to the hotel, and cheered as we alighted. Among the ladies present whom you know, besides the Cabinet ladies, were Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. Beeckman,but I have not time to think and enumerate. At the hotel our visitors did not fall off. We did not attend the Inauguration Ball ; and the next morning we determined to depart from Washington, adopting `French leave' ; but when we reached the wharf at nine o'clock in the morning, the boat had gone, and we had to return, to otr regret.
All that day, which was yesterday, our parlor was thronged."
At the same time, another published account of President Tyler's last days in Washington has come down to us, stating the following :
"Hearing President Tyler had appointed this afternoon to receive his friends at the White House for the last time, I went there. I found he had engaged a suite of rooms for his family at Fuller's Hotel, to which he expected to repair about five or five-thirty o'clock. When I reached the White House, the doors were wide open, and the receiving room already densely crowded with people, among whom were a great many beautiful and fashionable ladies.
"Mrs. Tyler was looking charmingly beautiful. She was dressed in a neat and beautiful suit of black with light black bonnet and veil. I never saw any woman look more cheerful and happy. She seemed to act as though she had been imprisoned within the walls of the White House, and was now about to escape to the beautiful country fields of her own native Long Island. Among those near the President, I noticed a large number of the most respectable families all belonging to the District.
"Captain Tyler, during his four years' residence here, has, by his social and hospitable habits, endeared a large circle of private friends to him. They now assembled to express their regret at having the ties of neighborly friendship broken. As time progressed, the scene became very affecting. Several who approached him, on taking him by the hand, were seen to shed tears. Mr. Tyler stood cool and collected, receiving all who approached him with great cordiality and politeness."
President Johnson Smiles While His Friends Weep
> President Johnson, beset by enemies whose attacks had continued to harass him all during his term in office, left the White House with feelings of deep relief. Reporters of that day tell,us how, on the third of March, 1869, the day before General Grant came to the White House, "at twelve o'clock
President Johnson's private reception room was thrown open to an immense throng of visitors. The President was in the room and shook hands with all the visitors, many of whom seemed much affected, being personal friends."
President Hayes' Last Hours in the White House
Doorkeeper Pendel says that toward the close of the administration of President Hayes, the callers increased. "For the last two days I had never seen anything like it. There were more weeping people when they were about to say good-bye than I ever saw in the White House in all my life, and at the outgoing of their administration, and the incoming of the Garfield administration, I was so very busy that I did not have no opportunity to shake hands with either the President or Mrs. Hayes. They became the guests of Senator Sherman, Secretary of the Treasury, and of Mr. Sutton. The next day I went over and had the pleasure of meeting the ex-President and Mrs. Hayes. That was the last time that I ever saw her. President Hayes called at the time poor Garfield was suffering at the White House from the effects of being shot, and that was the last time I ever saw him."
When the "Baby McKees" Went Away With Harrison
In these little stories of the farewells of the President to the White House, we must not overlook the ladies. For example, when President Benjamin Harrison took leave of his official home, his daughter, Mrs. McKee, held a farewell reception on the evening preceding Inauguration Day, at which she took leave of her friends. Published accounts of the event say :
"Mrs. McKee had a charming reception last night in the Red Parlor in the White House. She had made an engagement to meet only a few friends, but these brought others, and between five and six o'clock hosts of people were coming and going. None cared to say good-bye, because it was a rather hard word to say to a hostess who had been so genuinely cordial and so thoroughly attractive in every way. The President,
who had just returned from his usual walk, joined the company in the parlor and enjoyed a chat with many whom he had not met for nearly a year. Mr. McKee, who came on the day before to accompany his family home to Indianapolis, was also at the reception."
When Grant Revisited the White House
Some of the Presidents, years after leaving their official home as the Chief Executive, have revisited the White House in the rôle, not of that of ex-president, but as ordinary citizens. This is especially true of General Grant and of Benjamin Harrison.
General Grant was one of the few ex-Presidents who visited the White House as a private citizen after having reigned there as master. So far as the records show Grant was the only President who revisited the White House after the lapse . of ten years or more.
Grant paid his visit to the White House more than twelve years after the expiration of his second term. The following account of his visit is given by Thomas Pendel, head door-keeper, who held the same position while Grant was President as he did in Arthur's administration—Grant's reappearance at the White House occurring during Arthur's term.
"The last time I saw General Grant alive," says Mr. Pendel, "was one Saturday afternoon when I met him in the main vestibule of the White House. He said to me, `I would like to take a look at the East Room'. I said, `Certainly, General, walk right in'. After he came out I said, `General, would you like to take a look through the parlors' ? He said, `Yes, I would'. After I showed him through the Green and the Blue Parlors, we entered into the Red Parlor. There was in it a very fine portrait of Chester A. Arthur. After he looked at it awhile, he turned to me and said, `Who is the artist that painted that'? I said, 'That is by LeClair of New York, an American artist of French descent'. He said, `Oh, yes ! He is a very good artist. He is painting a portrait for me now'. And that is the painting which is now hanging in the main corridor, leading to the Blue Parlor. It is full life-size, ad the best portrait I ever saw of General Grant. A singular incident this, that after he had been President of the United States for eight years, I should be showing him around through the White House."
Benjamin Harrison a Visitor Where He Once Was Master
While President McKinley was the tenant of the White House he was one day approached by one of the ushers who said :
"Mr. President, ex-President Harrison is in the East Room, just to look around, and says not to disturb you."
Now President McKinley was one of those hosts of the White House who always knew exactly what to do to make other people feel at home. Long years of devotion to his invalid wife had made it a habit with him to consider the comfort of others. Therefore, as soon as he learned that General Harrison was in the house, accompanied, it should be added, by Mrs. Harrison, Mr. McKinley at once informed the members of his Cabinet, over a meeting of which he was presiding at the moment, that the "most distinguished American in America was present in the White House."
All the more ready was Mr. McKinley to receive General and Mrs. Harrison on account of the fact that, during General Harrison's tenancy of the White House, Mr. McKinley-had himself often been a guest there for many days at a time. So Mr. McKinley now adjourned the Cabinet meeting and went to the reception-room to welcome General Harrison and his wife. He took them upstairs to the private apartments where Mrs. McKinley was engaged in her favorite occupation of sewing, and there said to his visitors :
"You lived here once. You know the old place better than I do. It must have pleasant memories for you both. I shall esteem it a rare pleasure to have you drop in on us whenever you are in town. You may be sure that you will be welcome always."