Empire of Mud: The Secret History of Washington, DC
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Washington, DC, gleams with stately columns and neoclassical temples, a pulsing hub of political power and prowess. But for decades it was one of the worst excuses for a capital city the world had ever seen. Before America became a world power in the twentieth century, Washington City was an eyesore at best and a disgrace at worst. Unfilled swamps, filthy canals, and rutted horse trails littered its landscape. Political bosses hired hooligans and thugs to conduct the nation's affairs. Legendary madams entertained clients from all stations of society and politicians of every party. The police served and protected with the aid of bribes and protection money. Beneath pestilential air, the city’s muddy roads led to a stumpy, half-finished obelisk to Washington here, a domeless Capitol Building there. Lining the streets stood boarding houses, tanneries, and slums. Deadly horse races gouged dusty streets, and opposing factions of volunteer firefighters battled one another like violent gangs rather than life-saving heroes. The city’s turbulent history set a precedent for the dishonesty, corruption, and mismanagement that have led generations to look suspiciously on the various sin--both real and imagined--of Washington politicians. Empire of Mud unearths and untangles the roots of our capital’s story and explores how the city was tainted from the outset, nearly stifled from becoming the proud citadel of the republic that George Washington and Pierre L'Enfant envisioned more than two centuries ago.
population, 242 water system, 225–26 Division, The, 149–51, 154, 215, 241–42, 243–44 Dix, Dorothea, 173, 178 domestic workers, 73 Douglass, Frederick, 82, 86, 88, 90–91, 129, 214, 217, 223–24, 233–34, 235 Douglass, Lewis, 224 Downing, George, 214 draft, wartime, 168–69 drainage basin, 25 drinking water, 28 drunkenness. See alcohol Dudley, Charles, 209 dueling, 121–26, 136 Dupont Circle, 232 Early, Jubal, 188 Early Recollections of Washington City (Hines), 25 Eastern Branch, 14,
lighting it went dark due to high fuel prices, and they wouldn’t be turned back on until the next decade.85 Thus, as the District’s two glittering monuments, the White House and Capitol, rose proudly at either end, the main drag connecting them was a pothole-choked mire littered with bricks and tree stumps, unwise to cross during the day and unsafe to cross at night. The Tap Runs Dry As with its battered system of thoroughfares, the basic services and amenities that other cities took for
he made. . . . Often the owner did not know where his blacks worked; no contract bound master and employer; and no special public supervision governed the arrangement.81 Frederick Douglass took part in this system, writing in his autobiography that as a slave he learned to caulk, and then “I sought my own employment . . . made my own contracts, and collected my own earnings.”82 If a slave salted away enough earnings, he might purchase his own freedom and, in less common cases, that of family
of the new republic. Instead, Washington City inverted that dream. Between the Capitol and the White House, where L’Enfant imagined elegant mansions for statesmen and diplomats, there were filthy tenements and hovels. Where he saw useful canals and beautiful fountains, there were sewers and stagnant water. Where he saw grand avenues for strolling, there were dirty lanes and broken pavements. Where he saw smart theaters, churches, banks, and salons, there were squalid alleys, gambling halls, and
states that remained within the Union—by nine months, and 996 slaveholders came forward to get their recompense. All they had to do was prove their ownership and take a loyalty oath, so the federal government essentially rewarded them for owning human chattel and staying in town. The total cost ran to more than two million dollars—owners typically claiming their slaves were young, sprightly, and in excellent health, while bondsmen argued the opposite—but the act was much less sweeping than it