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A Tour of Washington City

by A Jewish Soldier

It is now more than a twelvemonth since the eyes of the entire American nation were hopefully directed towards the city of Washington, first, with the confident expectation, that the legislature there assembled would by some judicious compromise, prevent the dissolution of the Union, afterwards, with intense anxiety for the safety of the Capital, and the success of the federal army. We still remember, with what feverish excitement the daily intelligence was looked for, throughout the country, when first it was intimated that the Southern army was marching upon Washington, and all communication was cut off with the North, leaving the President and Cabinet at the mercy of the rebels. Those exciting events, together with the subsequent military movements in this city, have given to the Capital a national importance, and not only intensified our interest in all its concerns, but rendered it actually the criterion of the national integrity and honor. Such are the changes of revolutionary times. Heretofore, none but politicians and office- seekers thought of visiting the banks of the Potomac; at present, the soldier is encamped there, and the patriot looks with eager curiosity towards the spot, from which our army is to advance with the hopes of a free people dependent on its success.

But apart from these points of interest which the present time attaches to the Capital of the United States, this city has special claims on the attention of the world, more so perhaps than any other American city, on account of the magnificence of its public buildings, and the scientific collections contained within its precincts. Had all the government buildings been erected in close proximity to each other, without any thing to obstruct a full and complete view of their symmetrical proportions, the whole would furnished a spectacle of architectural beauty, unequalled by any other group of edifices in the most famous capitals of Europe. It is said that the government offices were advisedly erected at a considerable distance from each other, in order to prevent corruption or collusion in political affairs among the paid officials, and if this evil has actually been prevented by that process, we can readily reconcile ourselves to the loss of a beautiful spectacle, in consideration of the national advantages that are supposed to have been secured thereby. Nevertheless, a good view of all the public buildings may be had from the gardens of the Smithsonian Institute, which, being erected on elevated ground, affords a favorable opportunity for surveying a large portion of the city. This Institute is one of the ornaments of the city, and may be compared to the Museums that are generally attached to the Universities in Europe. It is built in the Elizabethan style of architecture, and contains a choice collection of chemical instruments, of stuffed birds and animals, of minerals classified with great care and accuracy, also a collection of portraits of Indian chiefs, a colossal barometer, and a lecture room, which is said to excel all other halls in this country for its excellent acoustic arrangements. This very hall affords an illustration of the Revolution that is agitating our country, for, in place of the strong Southern party speeches that used to attract the leading citizens of the slave states, we may hear there, at present, on Friday Evenings, the oracles of the other extreme, such as Greeley, Cheever and Beecher, hurling forth their anathemas against the institution of slavery, whilst large audiences prove their concurrence in those sentiments, by liberal patronage and enthusiastic cheers. When standing on the grounds, surrounding the Smithsonian Institute, the public buildings of the city present themselves to our view in the shape of a semi- circle, of which the Capitol and the White House form the extreme points.

The Capitol, with its unfinished dome and incomplete wings, presents but an imperfect picture of what its appearance is ultimately destined to be, yet, in its actual condition, there is good ground for justifying the belief that it is destines to excel in grandeur and magnificence, the far famed Houses of Parliament in London. Its location has been well chosen, on elevated ground, with spacious gardens surrounding its base, containing exquisite specimens of statuary, hot houses with a collection of rare flowers and plants, and numerous seats for the accommodation of visitors, who crowd there in the summer months to listen to the music of the Military bands, and seek repose in the shade of oak and chestnut trees. The interior of the Capitol gives evidence of great artistic skill. In the Rotunda, under the dome, there are some superior paintings, representing various interesting incidents in the History of this Continent, such as the discovery of America by Columbus, the discovery of the Mississippi, the baptism of Pocahontas, the voyage of the Pilgrim fathers, the Declaration of Independence signed by Congress, Washington resigning his commission, besides a large number of portraits and busts of famous Americans. The President's room, which is remarkable for its elegant decorations and rich furniture, contains the portraits of Washington's Cabinet Ministers, surrounded by emblematical figures, indicative of our national aspirations, painted in the richest and chastest colors.

The corridors and committee rooms are also remarkable for the beauty of the decorations, the former containing the portraits of distinguished citizens, the latter representing in allegorical devices the various subjects to which they are devoted, such as agriculture, military affairs, finances, etc. The House of Representatives and the Senate Chambers, which are reached by marble or bronze staircases, are comparatively plain, though extremely appropriate for deliberative assemblies; and of the same character is the library, which consists of works, illustrative of American history, jurisprudence and geography.

Next in interest among the public edifices, is the Patent office, a magnificent structure of Greek architecture, of colossal proportions, yet so symmetrical, that its size does not deprive it of that graceful air which is more frequently found in the smallest, than in the largest buildings. But the building itself sinks into insignificance when compared with the transcendent interest of the numerous articles that fill its halls. Among the subjects of historical importance, we may mention the original Declaration of Independence, the original commission of Washington, as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. forces, the uniform worn by him, his tent, writing desk, etc., the uniform of General Jackson, the various treaties between the U.S. and the Foreign powers, rare coins, etc. The principal object of the building is, however, to deposit specimens of the various inventions patented, and which of course, embrace every article that is manufactured, as well as every instrument used in manufacturing. There is nothing in this country that gives such a favorable idea of American civilization as this exhibition, and no one could pass through those extensive halls, without feeling an increased confidence in the capacities of the American nation, which, in the few years of its existence, could enrich the world with inventions of such varied usefulness and remarkable ingenuity. Steam engines of all kinds, with improvements in every detail, steamboats, clocks, electric telegraphs, light houses, weaving machines, hats, dresses, toys, furniture, firearms, hardware, in fact every thing is to be seen there in small models, neatly arranged and classified in glass cases, with labels attached, specifying the nature of the inventions, and the year of the patent. It is somewhat remarkable, that there are comparatively few models from the slave states, whilst, New England furnishes the largest proportion, not only of implements used in manufactories, but also in agriculture. At present, the basement of the Patent Office is used as a Hospital for the soldiers, and many an invalide may be seen perambulating the corridors, whose blanched cheeks and withered frame, remind us of the horrors of the war in the midst of the evidences of former prosperity.

The White House or Executive Mansion, as the residence of the President is generally designated, is a plain and neat building surrounded by gardens, and commanding a fine view of the Potomac. The reception rooms are large and elegant, the furniture and draperies are extremely tasteful; and we were gratified to learn from the attendant, that they are the work of our co- religionists, Messrs. Solomon & Hart, New York. It is altogether an appropriate residence for the President of this Republic, though much of the pleasure it afforded its former occupants, must be lost to Mr. Lincoln, whose position has hitherto been pregnant with care and sorrow, full of difficulties and responsibilities. Let us hope, that the end of his presidential term may be as joyful as the commencement has been productive of grief, and that, in this favorable change of his private position, the nation may see reflected a brighter day, the re-union of the alienated states, and the restoration of our former liberties!

Sketches from the Seat of War