Georgetown and environs. The members of Congress, gladly gave up their seats for such fair auditors, and either lounged in the lobbies, or round the fire places, or stood beside the ladies of their acquaintance. This sabbathday-resort became so fashionable, that the floor of the house offered insufficient space, the platform behind the Speaker's chair, and every spot where a chair could be wedged in was crowded with ladies in their gayest costume and their attendant beaux and who led them to their seats with the same gallantry as is exhibited in a ball room. Smiles, nods, whispers, nay sometimes tittering marked their recognition of each other, and beguiled the tedium of the service. Often, when cold, a lady would leave her seat and led by her attending beau would make her way through the crowd to one of the fire-places where she could laugh and talk at her ease. One of the officers of the house, followed by his attendant with a great bag over his shoulder, precisely at 12 o'clock, would make his way through the hall to the depository of letters to put them in the mail-bag, which sometimes had a most ludicrous effect, and always diverted attention from the preacher. The musick was as little in union with devotional feelings, as the place. The marine-band, were the performers. Their scarlet uniform, their various instruments, made quite a dazzling appearance in the gallery. The marches they played were good and inspiring, but in their attempts to accompany the psalm-singing of the congregation, they completely failed and after a while, the practice was discontinued,—it was too ridiculous.

Not only the chaplains, but the most distinguished clergymen who visited the city, preached in the Capitol. I remember hearing Mr. E. Everet, afterwards a member of Congress, deliver an eloquent and flowery discourse, to a most thronged and admiring audience. But as a i8oo] PREACHING AT THE CAPITOL 15

political orator he afterwards became far more eloquent and admired. Preachers of every sect and denomination of christians were there admitted—Catholics, Unitarians, Quakers with every intervening diversity of sect. Even women were allowed to display their pulpit eloquence, in this national Hall.

When Frederick the Great commenced his reign, in order to enforce universal tolleration in religion, he formed a plan which he believed would promote harmony between the different and numerous religious sects. This was to erect a spacious Edefice, or temple, in which at different hours the public service of all, and each of the christian denominations might be performed. He discussed this subject with Voltair, who with some difficulty convinced him of its impracticability, and that the religious prejudices which divided christians, were too strong to be conquered by either reason or despotic power. In the Capitol the idea of this philosophic monarch has been realized, without coercion; without combination. As Congress is composed of christians of every persuasion, each denomination in its turn has supplied chaplains to the two houses of Congress, who preach alternately in the Hall of Representatives. Some opposition was made both to a Roman Catholic and Unitarian, but did not succeed. Clergymen, who during the session of Congress visited the city, were invited by the chaplains to preach; those of distinguished reputation attracted crowded audiences and were evidently gratified by having such an opportunity for the exercise of their talents and their zeal. The admission of female preachers, has been justly reprobated: curiosity rather than piety attracted throngs on such occasions. The levity which characterized the sabbath-day assemblies in the capitol in former years, has long yielded to a more decorous and reverent demeanor. The attendance of the marine-band was soon discontinued, and various regulations made, which have secured a serious and uninterrupted attention to the religious services of the day.

For several years after the seat of government was fixed at Washington, there were but two small churches. The roman-catholic chapel in F. street, then a little frame building, and the Episcopalian church at the foot of Capitol-hill; both, very small and mean frame buildings. Now, in 1837 there are 22 churches of brick or stone. Sunday used to be the universal day for visits and entertainments. Only a few, very few of the gayest citizens now, either pay or receive visits. There was one sermon delivered by Mr. Breckenridge at the commencement of the war that was deemed quite prophetic—whether inspired or not, his predictions were certainly and accurately fulfilled. This pious and reverend preacher, made up in zeal and fidelity, what he lacked in natural talents or acquired knowledge, and in the plainest and boldest language of reprehension addressed the members of Congress and officers of government present on that occasion. The subject of his discourse was the observance of the Sabbath. After enlarging on its prescribed duties, he vehemently declaimed on the neglect of those duties, particularly by the higher classes and in this city, more especially by persons connected with the government. He unshrinkingly taxed those then listening to him, with a desecration of this holy day, by their devoting it to amusement—to visiting and parties, emphatically condemning the dinner-parties given at the white-house, then addressing himself to the members of Congress, accused them of violating the day, by laws they had made, particularly the carrying the mail on the sabbath; he ennumerated the men and horses employed for this purpose 18oo] BRECKENRIDGE'S PROPHESY 17

through the union and went into details striking and impressive.

"It is not the people who will suffer for these enormities," said he, "you, the law-givers, who are the cause of this crime, will in your public capacity suffer for it. Yes, it is the government that will be punished, and as, with Nineveh of old, it will not be the habitations of the people, but your temples and your palaces that will be burned to the ground; for it is by fire that this sin has usually been punished." He then gave many instances from scripture history in which destruction by fire of cities, dwellings and persons, had been the consequence of violating the Fourth commandment.

At the time this sermon was preached, the most remote apprehension did not exist of a British army ever reaching Washington, although war was impending. His predictions were verified. The Capitol, the President's House, and every building belonging to the government were destroyed and that by fire. Mrs. Madison told me that on her return to the city, after the British had left it, she was standing one day at her sister's door, for she had no house of her own, but until one was provided by the public, resided with her sister, and while there, looking on the devastation that spread around, saw Mr. Breckenridge passing along, she called to him and said, "I little thought, Sir, when I heard that threatening sermon of yours, that its denunciation would so soon be realized." "Oh, Madam," he replied, "I trust this chastening of the Lord, may not be in vain."

I am afraid the good man's hopes were never realized, for as far as I recollect, there was not for many, many years afterwards any change in the observance of the Sabbath.

TO MISS SUSAN B. SMITH1

January i, 1801. . . . The other evening, Mrs., Miss Tingey and the Capt., Dr. May, (our Physician, an amiable handsome young man) Genl. Van Courtland2 and Mr. Holmes,3 sans ceremonie passed the evening with us, and were very merry over the successive dishes of fine oysters. Capt. T. sings a good song, his wife and daughters accompany him. As not one of these folks were either scientific or sentimental, these songs very agreeably supplied the place of conversation. Our company all appeared to enjoy themselves, and therefore I was quite content. Mrs. Tingey and the girls are most truly friendly, they are constantly urging our visiting them in a social way, and they set us a good example by often visiting us. . . . Mrs. Law has been absent for some time and I have only seen her once, within 6 weeks; excepting the evening I passed with her at the last assembly. Mrs. Law, Mrs. Tingey, Mrs. Otis, Brown, and Bailey,4 from N. Y. and myself sat together the whole evening; seated between Mrs. Brown and Law, and occasionally talking to different gentlemen, my time passed more agreeably, than if I had danced. I could not help wishing for you, my dear Susan, to accompany me; I should have derived much pleasure from seeing you in the dance; especially with such a partner, as the beautiful, graceful and all accomplished Genl. Van Courtland, who with his powdered wig, made a most conspicuous figure in the room. The first time I observed him was from Mrs. Law's pinching me and asking in a

1 Mr. Smith's younger sister.

* Philip Van Cortlandt, of Cortlandt Manor, N. Y., a Representative.

* David Holmes, a Representative from Virginia; afterwards Senator from Mississippi.

* Wife of Theodoras Bailey, of Dutchess Co., a Representative.

« PreviousContinue »