Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 46 Jefferson--or Burr?

JEFFERSON arrived in the city of Washington on the evening of November 27, 1800, and took lodgings in the boardinghouse of Conrad and McMunn on New Jersey Avenue, Southeast, and about two hundred paces from the Capitol building.1

Coming thus late, he was fortunate to find any lodgings at all, and he modestly took his place at the end of the crowded table during meals, even though it was farthest from the fireplace and therefore bitterly cold.2

The capital city could hardly be called a city. It was a place of magnificent distances interspersed with a few scattered buildings; a quagmire of mud when the sun shone and a sea of frozen ruts during the winter nights. The Capitol building rose still gaunt and skeletonized on the brow of the hill; surrounding it and making the sum total of the Federal city were seven or eight boardinghouses, a tailor shop, a shoemaker, a printer, a washerwoman, a grocer, a stationer, a dry-goods establishment and an oyster house. Swamps on all sides emitted the putrid odors of decay and from them rose at breeding seasons the clouds of mosquitoes responsible for the fevers that periodically swept the town.

The President's house, "a very elegant building," stood on the road to Georgetown; and strung along that road were a cluster of public offices and new residences in various stages of completion. Since these were ar some distance from the Capitol where Congress met, most of the legislators crowded into the boardinghouses within the "federal city."

Conrad & McMunn's seemed the most popular. Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania, Republican leader in the House, shared a room with another Congressman and found the charges high. For room, board, firewood, candles, and liquors, he paid $15 a week. The beef, he complained, was "not very good; mutton and poultry good"; and there were "hardly any vegetables."

Some thirty boarders crowded the establishment--practically all men, and members of Congress--and, were it not for two women in the group, they looked to Gallatin like a refectory of monks.3 This was the place in which Jefferson, accustomed to the spaciousness and lavish foods and wines of Monticello, now found himself.

The campaign of calumny against him had risen to shrill heights during his long vacation in Virginia, and there were those among the Federalists in Washington who stared at the newcomer as though they expected to see literal horns and rail sprouting in the proper places from his tall, lank

-646-

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