5
IN CONGRESS ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE WAR

Like most other visitors making their first trip to Washington in the early nineteenth century, Webster was disappointed. "It is not the wealth nor the People which I expected," he wrote to a college friend. "From Baltimore to this place, the whole distance, almost, you travel thru woods & on a worse road than you ever saw. There are two or three plantations looking tolerably well -- all the rest is desert."1

There was abundant reason for Webster to have been put off by his first impressions of the new capital. Accustomed to tidy New England villages and the Georgian elegance of Portsmouth and Boston, he was appalled by the emptiness and unfinished quality of Washington. Five miles of scattered shacks and houses interspersed with woods and gravel pits, it looked "more like Hampstead Heath than a city." The main government buildings, in various stages of incompletion were separated from each other in a manner consistent with the principle of the separation of powers, and the distances between them were so great that on at least one occasion a party of congressmen lost its way within a mile of the Capitol and spent the night floundering in the gullies, thickets, and swamps that composed so much of the local terrain.

Then there were the people. New Hampshire had abolished slavery when Webster was one year old. The 24,000 people in the District of Columbia in 1812 included more than 5,500 slaves and 2,500 free blacks, and the slave market had become one of the liveliest forms of commerce in the city. Most of the other business in Washington was almost as unsavory, since it in-

-56-

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