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America Under Fire: Aftermath

America Under Fire: Aftermath

Once the British left Washington, James Madison publicly downplayed the disruption caused by the British attack. In September 1814, he arranged for the House of Representatives to meet for an emergency session at Blodgett's Hotel--the city's only available building--in a room so small that the members occupied "every spot up to the fireplace and windows." House members soon approved a resolution, sponsored by Representative Jonathan Fisk of New York, to appoint a committee to inquire into whether the entire federal government should temporarily leave Washington. Members from Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina vehemently opposed the measure, which they construed as a cowardly ploy for permanent removal. The House, dogged by strong southern opposition and effective lobbying by Washington business interests, eventually voted the issue down. With victory at the Battle of New Orleans and peace sealed by the Treaty of Ghent in 1815, official life in Washington resumed. By the end of 1819 the White House and Capitol had been restored and stood as symbols of national unity.

"The City of Washington once very beautiful to my eye is now an odious miserable object. It is the dreadful monument of an unfortunate and illy timed war, and the unerring evidence of a weak, incompetent and disgraced administration."

Maryland Federalist Sen. Robert Henry Goldsborough in a letter to his wife Henrietta, September 15, 1814.

"When the news of peace arrived, we were crazy with joy. Miss Sally Coles, a cousin of Mrs. Madison, and afterwards wife of Andrew Stevenson, since minister to England, came to the head of the stairs, crying out, "Peace! peace!" and told John Freeman (the butler) to serve out wine liberally to the servants and others. I played the President's March on the violin, John Susé and some others were drunk for two days, and such another joyful time was never seen in Washington."

President Madison’s servant Paul Jennings on the atmosphere after Madison signed the peace treaty, February 1815

The Monroes left a residence that reflected splendor, social form and gentility. President Monroe purchased furniture from France as part of the refurnishing of the White House after the fire of 1814. He imported a suite of gilded beechwood furniture by the noted Parisian cabinetmaker, Pierre-Antoine Bellangé (1760-1844) as well as of a table plateau, vases, clocks, tables, gold centerpieces, and candelabrum to create a splendid setting for social events. Many of these pieces are in the White House Collection today. Reconstruction, repairs, and refurbishing of the burned President's House continued well into the 1820s. James Hoban completed the south portico for Monroe in 1824 and the north for Andrew Jackson in 1829-30. The exterior of the main core of the White House has changed little since that time.