This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
In the month of October, 1800, a small " packet sloop," laden with all the records, archives and furniture which the infant Republic possessed, sailed from Philadelphia, where Congress then sat, up the Potomac to the new seat of government.
Oliver Wolcott, in a letter to his wife of the 4th of July, writes that there was at that time, 11 one good Tavern about forty rods from the Capitol, and several other houses . . . building; but I do not perceive how the members of Congress can possibly secure lodgings unless they will consent to live like Scholars in a college or Monks in a monastery, crowded ten or twenty in one house, and utterly secluded from Society. The only resource for such as wish to live Comfortably will be found in Georgetown, three miles distant, over as bad a Road in winter as the clay grounds near Hartford." Yet a belle of the times describes the former place as " a town of houses without streets, as Washington is a town of streets without houses".
The Commissioners report that on May 15, 1800, by accurate report, there were 109 houses of brick and 263 of wood. On November 15, 1801, to these had been added 84 of brick and 151 of wood, while 79 of brick and 35 of wood were building. Between 1796 and January, 1801, the Commissioners sold lots southwest of Massachusetts Avenue at an average price of $343 ; and northeast, they and the proprietors sold them at an average price of $105. Lots " binding on" navigable waters sold at an average price of $12.71 the " foot front".
This primitive condition of the city in which Congress was to take up its permanent residence furnished abundant food for wits and raconteurs. John Cotton Smith, a Representative from Connecticut, said that, " Instead of recognizing the avenues and streets, portrayed on the plan of the city, not one was visible, unless we accept a road, with two buildings on each side of it, called New Jersey Avenue. Pennsylvania Avenue, leading, as laid down on paper, from the Capitol to the Piesidential Mansion, was, nearly the whole distance, a deep morass covered with alder bushes, which were cut through the width of the intended avenue during the ensuing winter." He described the city generally as " covered with scrub oak bushes on the higher grounds, and on the marshy soil either with trees or some sort of shrubbery".
Mrs. John Adams, writing to her daughter,.says: " Woods are all you see from Baltimore until you reach the City, which is only so in name—here and there a small cot without a window appearing in the Forest, through which you travel miles without seeing a human being." Only a month later, Gouver-neur Morris writes : " We want nothing here but houses, cellars, kitchens, well-informed men, amiable women and other trifles of this kind to make our city perfect. ... In short, it is the very best city in the world for a future residence".
Congress met for the first time in the City of Washington on November 17, 1800. Not, however, until the 21st was President Adams notified that the Senate at last had a quorum; and on the next day at twelve o'clock, according to his own arrangement, he came into the Senate Chamber, where the Representatives had already taken the seats assigned them for the ceremony, and addressed Congress, congratulating them " on the prospect of a residence not to be changed. Although there is cause to apprehend that accommodations are not now so complete as might be wished, yet there is great reason to believe that this inconvenience will cease with the present session".
Both branches were then sitting in the old north wing, as that was all that was then completed, and truly their conveniences do not seem to have been of the best; for, four days after convening, Thomas Claxton was directed to erect a shelter over the fire-wood required by the two Houses so as to protect it from the weather. For the furnishing of the apartments themselves, the offices and the committee rooms, as well as for the expenses of the removal of the books, records and papers of Congress from Philadelphia, only $9,000 had been appropriated, to be expended under the supervision of the Secretaries of the four Executive Departments. These Secretaries at the same time were to see that the Commissioners prepared footways in suitable places and directions for the " greater facility of communication between the various Departments and offices of the Government".
On February 11, 1801, the Speaker, attended by the House, proceeded to the Senate Chamber to witness the opening and counting of the electoral votes for President and Vice-President. It was found that Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each had received 73 votes, John Adams 65, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney 64, and John Jay 1. The President of the Senate, therefore, announced that, according to the Constitution, it lay with the House to choose between Jefferson and Burr for President. The House then returned to their own chamber where, with closed doors, they proceeded to ballot by States. During the day Mr. Nicholson, who had been very ill, appeared and had a seat assigned him in an ante-room of the chamber in which the House assembled, whither the tellers of Maryland carried the ballot-box to enable him to vote. This was important, as his vote for Jefferson divided the State. The first ballot showed 8 States for Jefferson, 6 for Burr, and 2 divided. The thirty-sixth ballot, on the 17th, was final: 10 States for Jefferson, 4 for Burr—Delaware and South Carolina voting by blank ballots. The National Intelligencer of the 16th says: "All the accounts received from individuals at a distance, as well as the feelings of citizens on the spot, concur in establishing the conviction that the present is among the most solemn eras which have existed in the annals of our country. That confidence, which has hitherto reposed in tranquil security, on the wisdom and patriotism of Congress, stands appalled at dangers which threaten the peace of society, and the existence of the Constitution. . . . The unanimous and firm decision of the people throughout the United States in favor of Mr. Jefferson will be irresistible".