Washington, Willard's and political lieutenants, 1861
This study examines the origins of Willard's Hotel, Washington, D. C.; its growth into first-class status; and its role as a para-political agency during Abraham Lincoln's nine-day sojourn prior to his first inauguration in 1861. The research for this study was based on the Joseph Willard papers and the Willard's Hotel Register, 18601861, located in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Additional interpretation came from the Indiana Historical Society where staff members demonstrated methods that helped the investigator decipher the names in the Register. Other primary sources mere used to discover Washington, D. C., and Willard's Hotel during this period.In 1861, Washington, D. C., was considered by many journalists and visitors to be a small town plagued with many problems. Numerous uncompleted government and public buildings stood throughout the city. The diverse, transient population was based on the seasonal character of Congress. And the city continued to suffer from annoying diseases and moral bankruptcy.Another problem complicating Washington's environment was the deplorable condition of its streets. Of the numerous thoroughfares, Pennsylvania Avenue was the most popular and most often criticized avenue in the city, especially the mile and a half between the Capitol and the White House. Journalists and visitors desiring overnight room and board rushed to the Avenue in hopes of finding first-class accommodations in one of the four major hotels.The most popular of the four hotels was Willard's at Fourteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Located only two blocks from the White House, Willard's eventually became the center of social, economical and political activity in the capital. Willard's was large and impressive, with a luxurious interior, a well-trained staff and modern services to accommodate the guest. The success of the Willard's was based on the ingenious management of Henry and Joseph Willard.By 1861, Willard's reputation as a first-class hostelry attracted many high ranking politicians. More importantly, on February 23, 1861, President-Elect Abraham Lincoln stayed at Willard's until his inauguration March 4. The tempo of guests arriving at Willard's remained at a high level until the day Lincoln departed for his inaugural speech. Hordes of people crowded Willard's lobby in the short nine days, hoping to see the President-Elect. Among the crowd were sundry office-seekers in search of political patronage and favors.Perhaps most interesting of the guests were the political lieutenants registered at Willard's. Representing state and national political leaders, the lieutenants' main concerns were the distribution of patronage. Indeed, each of them attempted to manipulate the final political appointments that would be determined by the President-Elect. Interestingly enough, Lincoln was more inclined to give ear to political lieutenants than to the common office-seeker.Because of the presence of Lincoln and the political lieutenants, Willard's served as the vital place where political activities could take place. The findings of this study indicate that Willard's provided the nation's capital with a public house where decisions were made and political positions formulated which would later have direct influence in governmental policies.