First Ladies (1)
3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson wanted things at The White House similar to what he had in Virginia; he was President of the United States and wanted to live in the President’s House.
Slaves during this time were common, and Jefferson and his wife had several slaves working for them in Virginia, he would hire his and she hired her slaves to their liking. When the President moved into The White House, the residence was near completion along with a few rooms, yet to be named; although specifically titled on the blueprint. Jefferson believed he and his wife needed more workers than those allocated, preaching, “Living in the largest home in the country would mean more help,” so the First Lady requested thirty slaves.
Her reasoning; The White House is the greatest house in the country; even if it was under construction. The final number of slaves the First Lady managed to obtain would be ten. The First Lady instructed her slaves with strict rules, but the most important rule was to stay clear of the public, not to serve them or speak to them. Once a woman slave was finished with a given chore; they were to retreat to the basement of the White House.
The President used his own slaves – but when he initially moved into The White House, the slaves were black, and he insisted on white slaves, firing those who greeted him with others.
The Author of the Declaration of Independence seemed to forget the rules within the document he signed. He liked the views of the Republican form of government, as those overseas, and to everyone’s surprise; he adopted their views, dropping what he stood for during the election.
Jefferson surprised those officials who worked for him when he greeted foreign dignitaries wearing informal dress. His appearance as President was the talk of the District of Columbia. The talk grew louder when he opened the doors to The White House to the public for public parties in the oval saloon. Jefferson gave in to all the criticism and continued to hold parties in the saloon but with the doors closed. Those who formally visited The White House for fancy affairs or a State Dinner used a smaller room for dining.
The President and First Lady spent many hours looking over the blueprints of The White House and continued to plan the outside with patios and gardens, and inside, they changed the locations of several offices, parlor, and more. By Christmas, he asked Congress, “please hurry and complete the offices,” but thanked them for the living quarters. To his surprise, the Congress told the President that he and his wife had nearly exhausted the money allotted for the house.
The architect did not want to lose his job, so he borrowed both money and materials from supply houses located at the Capitol; one example, iron, allocated for the drainage system at the Capitol. The architect would use the iron for the roof of the White House.
This was the beginning of Washington D.C., and Jefferson wanted to have the right to lay out and design the city, make changes, it would seem he wanted to be part of Washington D.C. forevermore. By the end of the summer of 1808, Jefferson lost his excitement over the President’s House but he wanted to see the completion of two specific areas; the steps to enter the house and a single wall near his office. He returned to Congress in 1808 to ask for these two things be done with, reminding them that it was a law. He continued to join others when meetings were held with architects who were laying out plans for Washington D.C.
When Jefferson left The White House, the Madison’s were moving in. At the time, the President was 58 years old, only one year older than Jefferson when he took the office of President. His wife Dolly Madison was previously married and had a son named John Payne Todd and William Temple. It was all in the plans; her sons would remain with them in the White House, and Dolly made it clear that she refused to do anything without them.
The White House itself was all on Dolly’s shoulders, just the way she wanted it. Strange enough, the Chief of Household would be the “Master of Ceremonies.” Dolly also changed walls, rooms, names of rooms, and The White House was not completed. Perhaps this is why she got away with new walls and rearranging the size of a room.
The office once used by Jefferson would become the State Dining Room. Dolly also changed the small dining room into the reception room, and Jefferson’s sitting room was now the parlor. Remember the oval saloon – a picture of George Washington hung in the saloon but Dolly would not have a saloon in The White House, so she changed it to a drawing room.
Researching those who lived in the White House, Dolly was a strong First Lady, one who managed to get her way most of the time. She had no idea all her work would one day be worthless and destroyed.
During the Madison years, the President was confronted by war, when he heard that hundreds of soldiers were on their way to Washington D.C. he ordered his wife and John to leave the White House, but Dolly refused. She loaded all that mattered into a carriage and waited. A few words made her change her mind when the British told her she would be a prisoner of war and they would place her on display in London. She hurried and gathered up all that she could, stuffed things into a satchel including silverware and left along with her son; the President would meet her.
Before Dolly Madison left the White House, she told her husband to take George Washington’s Painting from the wall so she could bring it with her, knowing her husband promised the Curtis family nothing would ever happen to the painting.
The Madisons left and the British entered, setting The White House on fire, but not before taking all they could. The Capitol had been set on fire too, and the press reported it was all the First Ladies’ fault if she did not leave the residence The White House would not have been set on fire. The press also wrote that the President was a coward.
Following the destruction of The White House and the Capitol, after the Battle of New Orleans the President signed a peace treaty, the war was over. Dolly worked diligently on The White House, but it was all ruined; inspectors finally told the press all that was left was the basement. The First Lady with all her glory – wanting to leave a mark on history had to leave her home and the President’s House – The White House had to begin again.
It would be the next in line who took the first step to reviving the Commission of the District of Columbia, what Jefferson did away with – General Andrew Jackson. A bill to reconstruct public buildings and The White House was pushed through Congress. The new President had no worries about living in The White House, but he was pleased that this time around it would be under control.
A new President took office during the month of March. It was March 1815 when the second White House began to surface. It had taken ten years to build the first White House, and they hoped this time around it would be half the time and with the commission in place, built according to the plans.
Madison and his wife and her two sons never returned to The White House and President Jackson never lived in a President’s House.