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Washington, D. C.

Seat of the government of the United States; popularly known as the “City of magnificent distances” ; co-extensive with the District of Columbia; locally governed by three commissioners acting directly under the authority of Congress; population in 1890, 230,392; in 1900, 278,718.

By act of Congress approved July 16, 1790, the seat of the national government was to be located on the Potomac River. The commissioners appointed to locate it were Thomas Johnson, David Stuart, and Daniel Carroll, of Maryland, and they gave the name of Washington to the new city. They chose the lands adjacent to Georgetown, lying between Rock Creek and the eastern branch of the Potomac [139]

Washington—scene in Pennsylvania Avenue.

along the shores of the river, and made arrangements with owners of the land for them to cede to the United States the whole, containing from 3,000 to 5,000 acres, on the condition that when it should be surveyed and laid off as a city the proprietors should retain every other lot; and for such parts of the land as should be taken for public use—for squares, walks, etc.—they should be allowed at the rate of about $75 an acre, the public having the right to reserve such part of wood on the land as might be thought necessary to be preserved for ornament; the landholders to have the use and profits of all the lands until the city should be laid off into lots and sale should be made of the lots. Nothing was to be allowed for the ground occupied as streets or alleys.

The lands were surveyed by Major L'Enfant (an engineer who had served in the Continental army), under the general direction of Andrew Ellicott, of Maryland; and the city was laid out on a magnificent scale in 1791, with broad avenues radiating from the Capitol, bearing the names of the several States, with streets intersecting them in such a peculiar way that they have ever been a puzzle to strangers. The corner-stone of the Capitol was laid by Washington in 1793, with masonic ceremonies. The seat of government was transferred to the national capital in 1800, when the President's house was first occupied by Adams and his family. It was then a dreary place. There was only a path leading from the President's house to the Capitol, which were a mile apart, through an elder swamp, along the line of the (present) Pennsylvania Avenue, and the officers of government suffered many privations for a while. Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury, wrote, in the fall of 1800: “There is one good tavern, about 40 rods from the Capitol, and several houses are built or erecting, but I don't see how members of Congress can possibly secure lodgings unless they will consent to live like scholars in a college, or monks in a monastery, ten or twenty crowded in one house.” Great inconvenience was felt at the unfinished [140] Presidential mansion. “I could content myself anywhere for three months,” wrote Mrs. Adams, “but, surrounded with forests, can you believe that wood is not to be had, because people cannot be found to cut and cart it!... We have, indeed, come into ‘a new country.’ ”

The first meeting of Congress took place in Washington in November, 1800. The act assuming jurisdiction was approved by President Adams, Feb. 27, 1801. The Monahoac and Monacon Indians once occupied the site of the city, and it was called Conococheague, meaning “Roaring

The steps of the Capitol.

[141] Waters,” from the number of brooks in the vicinity and the falls in the Potomac near. The site of the Capitol was once owned by a man named Pope, who gave it the name of Rome, and the eastern branch of the Potomac, that flows near, he called the Tiber. The eminence on which the Capitol stands might have been properly called, in that connection, the Capitoline Hill. The city was incorporated May 3, 1802.

The Capitol was built of white freestone. It is upon an eminence, about 80 feet above tide-water, in the centre of a large square. It is composed of a central edifice, with two wings. The north wing was begun in 1793, and finished in 1800, at a cost of $480,000. The south wing was commenced in 1803, and completed in 1808, at an expense of about $309,000. The central building was not begun when the two wings were burned by the British in 1814. The length of the front, including the two wings, was 352 feet. The construction of the central building was begun in 1818, and completed in 1827, at a cost of $958,000. The wings were rebuilt, and were ready for occupancy, and were first occupied by the two Houses of Congress, Dec. 6, 1819. The whole edifice covered the space of an acre and a half, exclusive of the circular enclosure for fuel, which forms an elegant area and glacis on the western front. An enlargement of the Capitol was begun in 1851, when the grand master mason (B. B. French) used the apron and trowel, in laying the corner-stone of the enlargement, made use of by Washington in 1793. The corner-stone was then laid by President Fillmore. The extension, made at each end of the old Capitol, was finished in 1867. The old building now forms its centre, with a grand portico composed of twenty-four Corinthian columns. The entire length of the Capitol is now 751 feet, and the greatest depth, including porticos and steps, 348 feet. From the centre rises a cast-iron dome, 135 1/2 feet in diameter, to a height of 287 1/2 feet above the basement floor of the building. The dome is surmounted by a bronze statue of Liberty, by Crawford, 19 1/2 feet in height. Beneath the dome is the rotunda, 96 feet in diameter, containing numerous historical paintings.

When the battle of Bladensburg ended in victory for the British, and the Americans were dispersed or in full retreat, President Madison, Secretary of State Monroe, and Secretary of War Armstrong, who had come out to see the fight, and, if possible, to give assistance, hastened back to Washington as fast as fleet horses could carry them. The race created much merriment at the time. A writer in a New York journal said:

Should some Walter Scott [his Marmion had recently appeared, and was then very popular], in the next century, write a poem, and call it Madison, or the battle of Bladensburg, we should suggest the following lines for the conclusion:

Fly, Monroe, fly! run, Armstrong, run!
Were the last words of Madison.

The President and his fugitive party were the first to announce to the citizens the loss of the battle and the march of the victors on the capital. Up to this time the conduct of the British had been in accordance with the rules of modern warfare. Now they abandoned them. Ross left the main body within a mile and a half of the town, then containing about 900 buildings. The commanding general, accompanied by Cockburn, the marauder, entered the city at 8 P. M., accompanied by a guard of 200 men. From a house near the Capitol, they were fired upon by a single musket, and the ball killed the horse on which Ross rode. The house was immediately demolished by the exasperated soldiers. Then the same fate overtook the office of the National Intelligencer, whose strictures upon the brutality of Cockburn had excited his anger. These and some houses on Capitol Hill, a large ropewalk and a tavern, comprised the bulk of the private property destroyed. Ross had come to destroy the public property there, in obedience to the orders of his superior, but even that was repugnant to his humane nature. Fortunately for him, he was accompanied by one who delighted in such cruelties, and Admiral Cockburn became, literally, his torchbearer. The unfinished Capitol, the President's house (a mile distant), the treasury buildings, the arsenal, and barracks for about 3,000 troops, were soon in flames, the light of which was seen in Baltimore, 40 miles distant. In the course of a few [142]

Remains of the Capitol after the fire, 1814.

hours nothing was left of these superb edifices but their blackened walls. Of the public buildings, only the patent office was saved. The President, in a proclamation (Sept. 1, 1814), submitted the following indictment: “They wantonly destroyed the public edifices having no relation in their structure to operations of war, nor used at the time for military annoyance; some of these edifices being costly monuments of taste and of the arts, and others depositories of the public archives, not only precious to the nation as the memorials of its origin and its early transactions, but interesting to all nations as contributions to the general stock of historical instruction and political science.” The people of Great Britain deplored this barbarity of their troops, and their best

Remains of the President's House after the fire, 1814.

writers denounced the act. Ross was urged to it by Cockburn, who declared that it was the wish of Sir George Prevost, governor of Canada, that further retaliation for the burning of Newark (q. v.) should be inflicted, he not being satisfied with the retribution of desolating the entire Niagara frontier and the massacre of the garrison at Fort Niagara. The government of England (seldom in accord with the people) thanked the actors in the scenes, caused the Tower guns to be fired in honor of the event, and on the death of Ross, not long afterwards, ordered a monument to his memory to be erected in Westminster Abbey. While the public buildings in Washington were in flames, the national shipping, stores, and other property were blazing at the navy-yard; also Long Bridge that spanned the Potomac from Washington to the Virginia shore. Commodore Tingey, who was in command at the navy-yard, had received instructions to set the public property on fire rather than let it fall into the hands of the invaders. He applied the torch at about the same moment when Ross and his guard entered the city. Property valued at about $1,000,000 was destroyed. The value of the entire property destroyed at Washington, by the Americans and the [143] British, was about $2,000,000. For these calamities the public were disposed to hold the Secretary of War responsible. The clamor against him was so great that he resigned, Sept. 6, 1814.

At the close of 1860, when South Carolina had passed an ordinance of secession, the enemies of the government were bold and defiant at the national capital. Secession cockades appeared in the streets. The newspapers there were generally filled with seditious matter. Virginia newspapers had already suggested the capture of Fortress Monroe, the Gosport navyyard, and the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, preparatory to the seizure of the national capital and its archives. The Confederates were so confident of the success of their scheme that a leading Virginian said openly: “Mr. Lincoln will not dare to come to Washington after the expiration of the term of Mr. Buchanan. The city will be seized and occupied as the capital of the Southern Confederacy, and Mr. Lincoln will be compelled to take his oath of office in Philadelphia or New York.” The veteran journalist Duff Green, the warm co-worker with Calhoun, said to Joseph C. Lewis, of Washington: “We intend to take possession of the army and navy and of the archives of the government; not allow the electoral vote to be counted; proclaim Buchanan provisional President, if he will do as we wish—and if not, choose another; seize the Harper's Ferry arsenal and the Gosport navy-yard simultaneously, and, sending armed men down from the former and armed vessels up from the latter, seize Washington and establish a new government.” The Confederates believed the President was pledged not to interfere, and that the seat of government of the Southern Confederacy might be established there without governmental resistance. But all were not satisfied of the co-operation of the President. Some South Carolina spies in Washington could not trust him. One of them, writing to the Charleston Mercury, said: “I know all that has been done here, but depend upon nothing that Mr. Buchanan promises. He will cheat us unless we are too quick for him.” Nor would they confide implicitly in each other. The same writer said: “Further, let me warn you of the danger of Governor Pickens making Trescott his channel of communication with the President, for the latter will be informed of everything that transpires, and that to our injury.” Washington society was at that time thoroughly permeated with the views of the Confederates, and the Southern members of Congress, in both houses, formed the focus of the disunion movements in the slave-labor States which soon created civil war. Yet, with all this tide of open disloyalty surging around the national capital, the President, seemingly bound hand and foot in the toils of the enemies

Map of Washington and vicinity in 1861.

of his country, sat with folded hands, and did not lift a finger to stay the fury of the rising tempest. Of him a writer at the capital (John W. Forney) said: “His confidants are disunionists; his leaders in the Senate and in the House are disunionists, and while he drives into exile the oldest statesman in America [General Cass] simply and only because he dares to raise his voice in favor of the country, he consults daily with men who publicly avow in their seats in Congress that the Union is dissolved and that the laws are standing still.” [144]

Confederates destroying bridges near Baltimore.

Pennsylvania sent the first troops to the capital for its defence. Massachusetts was equally ready and determined, and some of her troops reached the capital on the day after the arrival of the Pennsylvanians. Some troops were sent by Massachusetts (April 17, 1861) to Fortress Monroe, in Virginia, then in imminent danger of seizure; and thirteen companies, under General Butler, started for the city of Washington. Rhode Island, through which these troops passed, was in a blaze of excitement. Governor Sprague had promptly tendered to the government the services of 1,000 infantry and a battalion of artillery; and the legislature, assembling on April 17, promptly provided for the State's quota and appropriated $500,000 for war purposes. The banks offered adequate loans to the State; and within a few days Rhode Island troops were on their way towards WashingtonColonel Tompkins's Rhode Island Marine Artillery, with eight guns, and the 1st Regiment of Infantry, 1,200 strong, under Colonel Burnside. Governor Sprague accompanied these troops as commander-in-chief. Connecticut was equally excited. The patriotic Governor Buckingham issued a proclamation, on the very day of the President's call, urging the citizens of his State to volunteer their services in support of the government. So warm was the response of the banks and the people that, in a message to the legislature on May 1, the governor averred that forty-one volunteer regiments had already been accepted, and that a part of these were already in the national capital. New York was equally prompt and patriotic, and its troops soon pressed forward to Washington. New Jersey was equally aroused. Governor Olden, inspired by the enthusiastic loyalty of his people, issued a call for his State's quota two days after the President's proclamation. The Trenton banks tendered a loan to the State, and the authorities of Newark appropriated $100,000 for the maintenance of families of volunteers, and $15,000 for the equipment of the soldiers. On the 30th the legislature met and appointed Theodore Runyon commander of the New Jersey forces; and then the movement towards Washington began. Pennsylvania, under the guidance of her energetic governor (Curtin), had appropriated (April 12) $500,000 for arming and equipping the militia of the State; and when news of the attack on Fort Sumter reached Philadelphia the excitement of the people was intense. The President's call for troops increased the enthusiasm, and before the legislature met in extra session, April 30, thousands of Pennsylvanians were enrolled in the Union army, and hundreds of them were in the city of Washington. The legislature authorized a loan of $3,000,000 for war purposes. The States of the West and Northwest were equally enthusiastic, and within a few days after the President's call thousands of volunteers were on the way to Washington.

Immediately after the battle at Bull Run energetic measures were taken to place defenses around the city of [145] Washington that should make it absolutely secure from attack. Gen. George B. McClellan had been called to the chief command of the forces at and near Washington. With the assistance of Majors Barry and Barnard he projected a series of fortifications at prominent elevated points, and the two officers named were detailed to construct them. Not an eminence near the capital was long without a fortification upon it. So vigorously was the enterprise prosecuted that in the course of a few months not less than fifty-two of these military works were

Map showing the defences of Washington.

completed. At no time afterwards during the war did the Confederates ever seriously attempt to assail them. At no time was the capital in danger from external foes. See “on to Washington!”

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