The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

“Our Splendid Misery”: Louisa Catherine Adams in the White House

Many Americans have strong opinions about the White House. It is simultaneously a government building housing the executive branch and a private dwelling for the president and his family. As its care and maintenance falls to the public, both public access to and perception of this building, and its inhabitants, has long been a sensitive subject.

In April 1825, Louisa Catherine Adams wrote a colorful letter to her son, Charles Francis, on her impressions upon moving into the White House:

It is and has been ever since I first saw the House a matter of wonder to me how a Lady of so much delicacy as Mrs. Monroe could endure to live in a house in which I declare from what I saw she had not the comforts of any private mechanic’s family and I believe it would be difficult to find such an assortment of rags and rubbish even in an Alms House as was exhibited to the Publick after their departure—

The State of things was such that knowing the impression on the publick mind concerning the general splendour of the Mansion I thought it best to throw open the House and by admitting the people to see it in the real state correct the absurd and preposterous notions which had gone abroad by giving them the opportunity to judge for themselves— Some people pretend I have done wrong but as we are pretty much in the situation of the Man and his Ass in the Fable I do not care at all who likes or who dislikes. I respect my Masters the Sovereign People with great sincerity but I am not so much alarmed at the idea of going out at the end of four yeas as to desire to make any sacrifice of actual comfort for the sake of prolonging my sojourn in this would be magnificent habitation which after all like every thing else in this desolate City is but an half finished Barn— . . . I am obliged to close my Letter with a wish that you had seen our splendid misery which on the subject of Internal improvement certainly would have inspired you to do it ample justice—

Louisa’s lively wit, jabbing at her new residence, the public’s misimpressions, along with a controversial political topic of the day, internal improvements, reveals a political climate not so far removed from our own.


permalink | Published: Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 1:00 AM


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