White House - Later 'first Gentlemen' And Their Day's Work
( Originally Published 1908 )
Lincoln Always Accessible
THE PRESIDENT is accessible to private individuals who desire to see him on business, and he has also set apart an hour or two on certain days in each week for receiving the friendly visits of the public. The President never accepts invitations to dine, or makes social visits. An invitation by the President is accepted, notwithstanding a previous engagement."
Thus wrote a Mr. Morrison, following the latter's visits to the White House during which he had a talk with Mr. Lincoln.
Years afterward, the late Dr. T. Dewitt Talmage wrote of his meeting with Lincoln at the White House, saying :
"We followed into his room a committee who had come to Washington to tell the President how to conduct the war. We do not know who the committee was. The President was the saddest looking man I ever saw. He had a far away look. He evidently, while standing under the fire of an address which was being made to him, saw the battlefields and hospitals and conflagrations and national bereavement.. One of his great trials was that of being subjected to advice by people of all ` sorts who had no qualification for giving advice. When one of our party asked for his autograph, he cheerfully gave it, asking, `Is this all I can do for you?'
"At that time he was the most abused man in America. Today he is the most admired man in all our country's history, with the exception of Washington,"
Grant Always A Soldier
General Grant remained a soldier even in his statesmanship. He was a plain man and he said so. The etiquette of White House life was ever most difficult for him to adhere to. On one occasion he was induced to dance. It was at a State ball and when some asked him to repeat his performance, he replied "I would rather storm a fort than attempt another dance!"
A dress suit was to him a thing to be abhorred. He would never put on such dress unless actually compelled to. Often he would go into the White Lot behind the White House and join the boys who happened to be there playing ball.
Of President Grant's daily routine at the White House, the announcement was made, early in his administration, that:
"The President has set apart the morning up to ten A.M. to attend to his private business, telegrams and official correspondence; from ten to twelve he will receive Senators and Members who may call, and after hearing them, such civilians as may call on general business. From twelve to three the President will attend to official business, and at three he will leave the public rooms in the White House, and see no one thereafter on business or political matters. On Sundays, no business is to be transacted, nor any visitors to be admitted to the Executive Mansion."
President Hayes the Hospitable
President Hayes is described as tall and strongly built, with high, broad forehead. He had brown hair and beard, an aquiline nose and bushy brows.
There were two children in the White House in President Hayes' term. These were the President's son Scott, aged five ; and his daughter Fanny, aged eleven. Three grown sons were also members of the household, these being Rutherford, Webb and Birchard.
Some idea of the daily life in the White House in Hayes' administration may be gained from the following account, written by a contemporary :
"It is a household noted for its hospitality, and one generally enlivened by the presence of guests. Mrs. Hayes takes great interest in public matters, has a pride in keeping the house attractive and in superintending its decorations for official occasions. It is a family simple in its tastes and cordially united in its members. The sons are young men of most correct and industrious habits, affable, free from frivolity and without any of the affectation which so often attaches to the position which they occupy. The family is regular in its attendance upon church ; and the White House on Sunday is as quiet and orderly as any American home.
"The President is a most affectionate father, and a day seldom passes that he does not devote some time to games with the younger children. He is an exceedingly busy man, rising early and working late. He is a close student of all phases of public affairs and an industrious reader of the histories of previous Administrations. He is a strong and clear talker, and has decided ideas on all questions, which he expresses with force to those with whom he feels free to talk. He frequently walks in the morning, and rides for a time before dinner, and thus, by much exercise in the open air, he maintains his strength for the a long siege of each day's listening to the countless applicants, who pass in and out of his room in ceaseless procession for six days of the week. He carries on a large private correspondence and writes his own important message and State papers. Much of this work he performs before breakfast.
"Callers on public business are received from ten o'clock, and business hours either for the public or for members of Congress, do not cease till three o'clock. Cabinet officers and members of the press upon urgent business and others by special appointment are received at any time up to ten o'clock and sometimes as late as eleven o'clock at night. All working days are thus filled with business of the most varied and often perplexing character. And yet, through it all, the President maintains unvarying equanimity, and the endless routine does not wear upon him."
Garfield's Social and Business Habits
Mr. E. V. Smalley years ago wrote a vivid description of White House life, both as to its social and business divisions, under President Garfield. In the course of his remarks, Mr. Smalley has this to say :
"The external appearance of the Executive Mansion does not change from Administration to Administration, except that its freestone walls get a fresh coat of white paint now and then. Going up to the portico to-day, I saw in its iron tripod on the wall beyond the carriage drive the empty bombshell in which a pair of swallows built their nest during the war and gave the Western poet, John J. Piatt, a theme for his `Nests at Washington.' Within the house the carpets and furniture are renewed once in eight or ten years. To my mind the old mahogany sofas and chairs which were in the State Parlors in Lincoln's time, were better than anything that has come in their place. At least they were quiet and dignified.
"The old staff of servants which President Hayes employed are still on duty. I get a friendly nod from the doorkeeper, and passing to the left from the wide entrance hall into the little cross hall, go up the narrow stairs leading to the offices on the second floor. The door into the East Room is open, and facing it hangs Huntington's new picture of Mrs. Hayes, whose bright happy face looks smilingly down at the scene of her former social triumphs.
"But I have only a glimpse of the picture as I go up the stairs. The atmosphere is close and heavy on this stairway and affects one singularly. Perhaps the sighs of the disappointed office seekers who for more than half a century have descended the steps, have permeated the walls and give to the air a quality that defies ventilation. There are crowds in the ante-room and crowds in the upper hall. All these people are eager-eyed, restless and nervous. They want something which the great man in that well-guarded room across the hall can give if he chooses, but which they fear they will not get.
"Congressmen and other persons of some note are shown into the private secretary's office, while the miscellaneous multitude impatiently ranges about the ante-room and halls. Beyond this office and down a flight of three steps, is the room where Cabinet meetings are held and where the President receives most of his business calls. Seeing him for the first time since the election, I naturally look for traces of excitement and worry on his face. There are a few additional lines about the eyes, perhaps, but he wears his old robust, hearty, frank look, stands as straight as a soldier, and greets his friends with the same cordial, strong, magnetic grasp of the hand they all remember. In his new situation General Garfield has to learn to be a good listener, for all day long arguments and appeals are poured into his ears.
"The routine office work of the White House constantly increases. The early Presidents were not allowed even a private secretary by law. They had to pay for all clerical assistance out of their own salaries. Afterward one secretary was provided for; then an assistant was added. From Administration to Administration the work-force grew by the addition of clerks, or the detail of Army officers until what is practically a Bureau of Appointments has grown up. Including the Private Secretary there are now seven persons attached to this bureau and their places are no sinecures. Often they are busy until late at night bringing up the day's work.
"In length of service the oldest member of the White House staff is Mr. W. L. Crook, the executive agent and disbursing clerk, who dates back to the end of President Lincoln's Administration ; but there is among the servants of the house a man who was appointed by President Fillmore ; he is the fireman, and his name is Herbert; and the principal doorkeeper, Mr. Loeffler, was put in his place by President Grant in 1869.
"The exchange reader does his work behind a big screen in the general reception room. The private secretary Mr. Brown and Mr. Headley have a room to themselves with two bay windows looking out on the Potomac and the Virginia hills, and a door leading to the President's room. Adjoining is a smaller room where Mr. Pruden, the assistant private secretary, keeps, with the aid of two clerks, the record of appointments and removals in formidable leather-bound volumes like the ledgers in a counting-house. Besides the staff of secretaries and clerks there is what might be called an official staff of servants who are appointed by the President and whose salaries are provided for by Congress in the annual appropriations. It consists of a steward, doorkeeper, four assistant doorkeepers, a messenger, four assistant messengers, two of whom are mounted, a watch-man and a fireman. There is also a telegraph operator detailed from the Signal Service Corps. The other servants of the household, such as the coachman, the cook and the waiters are paid by the President. The repairs and the general good order of the house, its furniture and its conservatory and grounds are attended to by the Commissioner of Public Buildings and Grounds.
"The family and social life of the Executive Mansion goes on quite apart from the routine official work, and is measure ably secluded from it by the big mahogany doors which cut off the portion of the upper hall where the offices are located. There is also a great deal of curiosity in Washington when a new President comes in, to learn how the lady of the White House is going to treat the public. Naturally, the social public is eager to be entertained and honored by opportunities to call and chat and talk afterward about what is going on in the Presidential circle as much as possible. Naturally, too, the wife of a President, while wishing to perform well the duties of her station, is desirous of keeping her family life from being wholly broken up. So there is a conflict of forces going on for a time. Mrs. Hayes settled the question in favor of the public, and gave it, I think, much more of her time than any of her predecessors. Mrs. Garfield seems disposed to draw the line so as to divide her time fairly to herself and her family. She will give only two evenings in the week to receptions, and is, I hear, deter-mined to keep up as much as she can her old home ways—her reading of books and magazines, her oversight of the education of the children and her care of her household and all its inmates.
"No one who has a home and appreciates its ties and duties will find fault with her. The hospitality of the White House will, perhaps, be less unlimited than of late, but those who are so fortunate as to enjoy it will be able to do more than exchange a bow and a pleasant phrase with the mistress of the Mansion. If there is less society, there may be more real sociability.. The Garfields during their long life in Washington were never at all fond' of fashionable society because it was fashionable, but were always exceedingly sociable when sociability was elevated to an intellectual plane.
"A President's family belongs so much to the public by custom and necessity that I cannot fairly be accused of overstepping the proper limits of a correspondent's field of observation in thus glancing behind the partitions that separate the official from the domestic part of the Executive Mansion. Perhaps I may safely add that the family is re-united now, the two oldest boys having left their Concord school to finish their preparations for college under the charge of a tutor. They are both to enter the Freshman class at Williams, their father's alma mater, next September. Harry (now, 1908, President of Williams' College) eldest, whose household name is `Hal', will be a lawyer if his inclinations do not change during his college course. James (now, 1908, Secretary of the Interior in President Roosevelt's Cabinet), has a taste for mathematics and the practical sciences which point to an active business career. The younger boys, Irwin and Abram, are enjoying themselves famously on their velocipedes or ranging through the big parlors and broad halls of the Mansion. The daughter Mollie may be seen any morning hastening to school with her books under her arm as pretty a picture of youth and health as can be found in Washington.
"The new Mistress of the White House shows the quiet dignity and grace and the adaptability, to the requirements of a social circle suddenly expanded' to a hundred fold, which all her friends knew she would display. And the `little mother' mingles as much or as little as she pleases in this circle. Her place at the table is beside her son and his arm is always ready for her support. Her room is the pleasantest in the house, with its three windows looking out on the drive, the lawn and the gray walls of the State and War Departments. Among all the occupants of the White House, I question whether there is any one as happy as she. An intelligent observer, and a keen but kindly critic of persons and events, she finds life as full of interest for her as it is devoid of worry or care." (See Chapter headed "First Ladies" and Presidents' Widows.)
Arthur, Handsomest of Presidents
President Arthur, handsome and possessing wealth, came to the White House equipped to play the part of President in each and every one of the social duties involved. The niceties of society were things of which he was master. As a man of the world, he insisted upon surroundings of elegance, and it was he who caused the White House rooms to be re-decorated in good taste. His entertainments were sumptuous, some historians say, "the most sumptuous"—"dipping deeply into his private means to defray the cost of a mode of life which, as he felt, befitted the dignity of his office."
A contemporary wrote of this President that:
"In General Arthur we have a new type of man in the White House. There have been Presidents of all kinds. We have had stately Virginia gentlemen of the old school and self-made men from the West. We have had soldiers of several varieties, rural statesmen and frontiersmen, but the `city man', the metropolitan gentleman, the member of clubs—the type that is represented by the well-bred and well-dressed New Yorker the quiet man who wears a scarf and a pin in it and prefers a sack coat to the long tailed frock coat that pervades politics, and a Derby hat to the slouch that seems to be regarded in various quarters of this Union as something no statesman should be without this is a novel species of President."
Benjamin Harrison a Tremendous Worker
That Benjamin Harrison, during his term as President, continued to work hard, as had always been his habit, is shown in the records of his day's activities, one of which says :
"The new President's possessed an enormous capacity and even avidity for work."
And another record goes on to say that :
"President Harrison's methods of work are cool, systematic and constant. He is a sensitive man, but a man of nervous temperament. He wastes neither time nor energy in fretting, is never fussy, and never in a hurry to finish up things at the last moment.' He has not lost a day by illness since he entered the White House. He begins his day's work at nine o'clock and there is little to which he does not give his personal attention."
President Cleveland left the following autobiography, though it is written in the third person. It is a brief story of his own career, in which he sums up life-work as follows:
"I knew a man who, when quite young, determined to acquire a college education and enter the legal profession.
"The door to a college education was inexorably closed against him.
"He at once set his heart on studying law without collegiate training. When it soon appeared that even this must be postponed, he quite cheerfully set about finding any kind of honest work.
"After an unsuccessful quest for employment near home he started for the West. He had adversity in abundance.
"He had plenty of willingness to work, plenty of faith and a fair stock of perseverance in reserve. He had no misgivings.
"After securing a temporary job, he was handed Black stone's Commentaries and turned loose to browse in the library of ,a law office.
"When, on the first day of his study, all the partners and clerks forgot he was in a corner of the library and locked him in during the dinner hour he merely said to himself : `Some day I will be better remembered'.
"He actually enjoyed the adversities.
"Even then he was called stubborn. After he had become President of the United States he was still called stubborn, and he is accused of stubbornness to this very day."
McKinley's Daily Routine
The habits of President and Mrs. McKinley, all during their term in the White House, were invariably characterized by almost Jeffersonian simplicity. They breakfasted at about half-past eight. Some time during the morning Mrs. McKinley would usually take a drive. bunch, a simple meal, was served in the upper corridor, the guests sitting informally with the family. After lunch the President would resume work in his private office, while Mrs. McKinley retired to her private apartments.
In the afternoon Mr: McKinley would go for a drive, after which he usually ran through the newspapers, rested a little time, then dressed for dinner. His evenings were as often as possible given to quiet, social pleasures. Quite frequently, too, informal dinners were given in the White House. Except when taking his afternoon drive or walk, Mr. McKinley was rarely seen out of the White House.
Referring to Mr. McKinley's even temper and amiability, one correspondent, while this President still lived, wrote :
"Of all the men who have occupied the White House, he is almost the only one of whom it can truthfully be said that nobody has ever seen him in a passion. It would be hard to find one who had ever known him to display ill temper or betray irritation. This characteristic of McKinley's is not due to complaisance. He has trained himself to it until it has become almost second nature with him ; but it is not a natural gift. Years ago he was as impulsive as others ; but for a quarter of a century he has been adapting himself to conditions with which few are confronted.