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.
Liquor has been sold in the Capitol from the earliest days. It was sold in the crypt by the apple-women soon after its erection; and later, the old-fashioned desks used in the committee rooms became private sideboards tempting in the extreme. Owing to the abuse of this privilege, however, an obscure room was set apart northwest of the crypt, which received the now oft-used title "a hole in the wall." It was easily accessible from the old Supreme Court chamber, just across the corridor, and from the Senate Chamber above, by means of the private staircase, which is now used in the ascension to the dome. A similar room in the old south wing is remembered to have been set aside at one time for the better accommodation of the Representatives. These rooms became useless when the marble extensions were erected and provision was made for the present cafes. Here also, by joint rule, restrictions were at one time placed upon the sale of liquors, but the matter was easily evaded by the statesman's proverbial " cup of tea".
One of the liveliest contests upon this question, affecting the rights of man in the Capitol, occurred on April 11, 1866, when Mr. McDougall made a speech on the floor of the Senate which is worthy of perusal, whether one agrees with his conclusions or not:
" Mr. President, it was once said that there are as many minds as men, and there is no end of wrangling. I had occasion some years since to discourse with a reverend doctor of divinity from the State which has the honor to be the birthplace, 1 think, of the present l'resident of this body. While I was discoursing with him, a lot of vile rapscallions invited me to join them at the bar. I declined, out of respect to the reverend gentleman in whose presence I then was. As soon as the occasion had passed, I remarked to the reverend doctor, ' Do not understand that I declined to go and join those young men at the bar because I have any objection to that thing, for it is my habit to drink always in the front and not behind the door.' He looked at me with a certain degree of interrogation. I then asked him, ' Doctor, what was the first miracle worked by our great Master?' He hesitated, and I said to him, ' Was it not at Cana in Galilee where he converted the water into wine at a marriage feast?' He assented. I asked him then, '.After the ark had floated on the tempestuous seas for forty days and nights, and as it descended upon the dry land, what was the first thing done by father Noah?' He did not know that exactly. ' Well,' said I, ' did he not plant a vine ?' Yes, he remembered it then.
" I asked him, ' Do you remember any great poet that illustrated the higher fields of humanity that did not dignify the use of wine, from old Homer down ?' He did not. I asked, ' Do you know any great philosopher that did not use it for the exaltation of his intelligence ? Do you think, doctor, that a man who lived upon pork and beef and corn bread could get up into the superior regions—into the ethereal ?' No he must Take nectar on high Olympus And mighty mead in Valhalla.'
I said to him again, ' Doctor, you are a scholarly man, of course—a doctor of divinity—a graduate of Yale ; do you remember Plato's symposium ?' Yes, he remembered that. I referred him to the occasion when Agatho, having won the prize of Tragedy at the Olympic Games at Corinth, on coming back to Athens was feted by the nobility and aristocracy of that city, for it was a proud triumph to Athens to win the prize of Tragedy. They got together, at the house of Phivdrus, and they said, ' Now, we have been every night for these last six nights drunk ; let us be sober to-night, and we will start a theme'; which they passed around the table as the sun goes round, or as they drank their wine, or as men tell a story. They started a theme, and the theme was love—not love in the vulgar sense, but in its high sense—love of all that is beautiful. After they had gone through, and after Socrates had pronounced his judgment on the true and beautiful, in came Alcibiades with a drunken body of Athenian boys with garlands around their heads to crown Agatho and crown old Socrates, and they said to those assembled, ' This will not do ; we have been drinking and you have not' ; and after Alcibiades had made his talk in pursuance of the argument in which he undertook to dignify Socrates, as I remember it, they required (after the party had agreed to drink, it being quite late in the evening, and they had finished their business in the way of discussion) that Socrates should drink two measures for every other man's one, because he was better able to stand it. And so one after another they were laid on the lounges in the Athenian style, all except an old physician named Aristodemus, and Plato makes him the hardest-headed fellow except Socrates. He and Socrates stuck at it until the grey of the morning, and then Socrates took his bath and went down to the groves and talked Academic knowledge.
" After citing this incident I said to this divine, ' Do you remember that Lord Bacon said that a man should get drunk at least once a month, and that Montaigne, the French philosopher, indorsed the proposition ? '
" These exaltants that bring us up above the common measure of the brute, wine and oil, elevate us, enable us to seize great facts, inspirations, which, once possessed, are ours forever; and those who never go beyond the mere beastly means of animal support never live in the high planes of life, and cannot achieve them. I believe in women, wine, whiskey, and war. Let the Senator from Massachusetts [Mr. Wilson], if he chooses, drink his wine, as his fathers did before they cut down all the apple trees in Massachusetts. Because apple trees raised apples, and apples made cider, and cider made brandy, they cut them down all through New England ; but in his grandfather's time every gentleman of Massachusetts, or every man who was able to afford it, had on his sideboard a bottle of good apple brandy and he offered it to his guests the moment he received them. Those were the good old times when gentlemen were abounding in the land. This kind of regulation tends to degrade humanity and to degrade the dignity of the Senate".